Archived Story

Event pays tribute to FF cyclone

Published 11:26am Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 22, 1919 was perhaps the most fateful day in Fergus Falls’ history, and next week, a new event will be held commemorating that tumultuous time.

On that hot Sunday, the oppressive heat yielded to a funnel cloud that later generations would call the Great Fergus Falls Cyclone. Killing or injuring many residents and causing massive property damage, the tornado forever changed the lives of the town’s residents, and its effects are still remembered today.

With that in mind, the Otter Tail County Historical Society is putting on Cyclone Days, a five-day celebration of city’s cyclone history.

“This was the most significant event to ever happen to the city of Fergus Falls, simply because it killed over 50 people, damaged two thirds of the city, (caused) hundreds of injuries, and forever altered the streetscape of the community,” said Chris Schuelke, executive director of the historical society, which is holding the event in cooperation with Walmart, Otter Tail Telcom, Service Food, Otter Risers Kiwanis and the Fergus Falls Noon Rotary.

“It also has created a culture of urban legends, so to speak, and tales of the cyclone,” Schuelke added – particularly legends of lost treasure that was caught up in the storm and buried below the silt of Lake Alice.

The event, which will last from June 18 to 22, aims to combine fun and education. Different presenters will come to the history museum to talk about storm chasing and the 1918 flu pandemic, and Fergus Falls cyclone historian Lance Johnson will be showing his program on the local tornado on the 21st. On the 19th, Schuelke himself will get in on the act.

“I’m going to be doing several tours of Lake Alice, complete with some historical characters,” he said.

The centerpiece of Cyclone Days will come on June 20 with a barbecue at the museum from 5 to 7, as well as authentic old-fashioned games taken directly from newspaper accounts. The barbecue will cost $7, but many events throughout the week will be free, thanks to the event’s sponsors.

The historical society is holding Cyclone Days this year instead of the old fashioned 4th of July celebration. Schuelke believes the new event should be lots of fun for all ages.

“It’s uniquely Fergus Falls, and it directly relates to our heritage,” he said.

For more information about the event, call the historical society at (218) 736-6038 or visit

All events except the Lake Alice Cyclone Tour take place at the historical society. The full schedule is as follows:

• Flu Pandemic of 1918 with Myron Broschat, noon Monday (free)

• Lake Alice Cyclone Tour with Chris Schuelke, 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, meet at St. James Episcopal Church ($5)

• Community Barbecue and Games, 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday ($7 for adults, $5 for children 11 and younger)

• Storm Chasing Adventures with Eric Whitehill, 7 p.m. Wednesday (free)

• The Great Fergus Falls Cyclone with Lance Johnson, 7 p.m. Thursday (free)

• Discounts at OTCHS store, Friday

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