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Many of Indiana’s residents still remember the Palm Sunday tornadoes of 1965. This brief article touches upon the Palm Sunday Tornadoes of 1920. Similar to the 1965 tornadoes the 1920 tornadoes struck Indiana late in the afternoon and followed multiple paths across the state but today’s Weather Service estimated an intensity of F5, which is the most intense and devastating rating for a tornado.

Palm Sunday in 1920 fell on the date of March 28th. There was no warning system in place but all of the ominous signs were present such as high humidity, unusually warm temperatures and the wind being “sucked” towards the clouds approaching from the West. Based upon the time shown on the face of clocks stopped when the tornado struck, it is determined that the 1920 Palm Sunday tornado that devastated Allen County, Indiana entered Allen County shortly after 5:00 p.m. EST.

The Allen County tornado crossed into Allen County, after causing extensive damage in Wells County, at the Southeast corner of Marion Township. It crossed the St. Mary’s river and then attacked the town of Middleton. Roof damage was extensive but there were no fatalities in that town. Middleton was a utopian vision that had it’s own electric generating plant, college, etc. Throughout the mid-1900s it failed and all the buildings except the generating station disappeared and returned to farm fields.

As the tornado crossed the highway now known as U.S. 27 it ripped up the interurban tracks and the electrical lines powering the interurban trains. It was several days before service was restored between Fort Wayne and Decatur.

After it’s initial entry into the county it continued on a slightly twisting path that was almost a perfect northeasterly direction. It destroyed a Lutheran Church south of Hoagland and then passed just east of Hoagland and completely destroyed a community known as Marquardt. That community was never rebuilt. Several fatalities occurred along this path. A barber in New Haven remembers hearing stories about how it destroyed his ancestor’s orchard east of New Haven.

As it continued its northeasterly path damage records show its path to be between a half-mile and a mile wide. It destroyed the small community of Four Corners, where the four townships named for four Presidents meet, and lifted roofs off across an area from Zulu to Monroeville. From there it hit the thriving town of Townley where it killed six people, injured countless others, totally flattened the grain elevator, the grocery, the tavern, the blacksmith shop, and all homes in Townley. Today there are a couple of homes rebuilt plus a restaurant and tavern doing a good business. What is puzzling about the newspaper reports is that there are no reports about Tillman even though it too was in the tornado’s path. Perhaps that was considered part of Four Corners. The Fort Wayne to Van Wert interurban was put out of service to where it was destroyed near Zulu.

From Townley it continued to Edgerton, Indiana destroying all in its path and taking more lives. In Edgerton the grain elevator was filled with grain but it still destroyed it leaving a stub that was about a fourth as high as its original height. Again all commercial and residential structures were destroyed. Clocks show that it left Indiana and entered Ohio at 5:30 p.m. It continued its destructive path for a considerable distance into Ohio.

Two-way radio was nearly non-existent. Telephone lines were open wire on poles, and railroad telegraph lines were cut-off. Once the extent was known the Fort Wayne Fire Department sent crews and at least one engine east to help out in Monroeville and Townley. One of the problems was that homes were heated by coal or wood fired room stoves although I personally doubt that they would have been lit on a warm day. In any event many of the damaged structures burned and my guess is that they ignited by the kerosene cook stoves used so commonly in that area. Supper would have been in the early stages of preparation when the tornado struck.

A morgue was set up in Monroeville but the newspapers did not say where that was at or how it was administered. The Red Cross’ role wasn’t today’s role of food and shelter as families, churches, and the Grange filled that role. What the Red Cross did was to arrange for brick masons and carpenters to respond to repair roof damage and reset chimneys. Nothing was said about debris removal but I’d again make a guess that most of it was burned. No mention was made of looting, politicians getting their photos taken, federal assistance or the other things we experience in today’s disasters.

Well that was 86 years ago followed by the next big Palm Sunday Tornado outbreak in 1965. If we follow the same pattern it looks like we have another four years before we have our next 45-year tornado.

The Waynedale News Staff
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Dick Loney

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