World War I veteran William L. Schmidt returned to his hometown of Fergus Falls on June 19, 1919.
Tragedy struck just three days later, on June 22, when a cyclone and four of its tornado funnel clouds descended on the Fergus Falls area.
Schmidt’s daughter, Maxine, spoke fondly about her late father on March 1 during one of the ongoing programs about the cyclone held at the county museum in Fergus Falls.
“My father worked as a farmer before and after the war,” Maxine said, “and his reference to the cyclone was the last thing entered in his World War I era diary.”
Presentations about the 1919 cyclone will take place Friday mornings at 10 a.m. through March 22.
An exhibit on the Fergus Falls cyclone can be seen Monday through Friday at the county museum from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“This is a captivating subject from a century ago,” said Fergus Falls retiree Eldon Kratzke.
A second printing of Lance Johnson’s 1982 book about the 1919 cyclone is in the works. The book will be available prior to the 100th commemoration of the cyclone on June 22.
Notes from the March 1cyclone presentation
County museum employees who have done a lot of research about the 1919 cyclone spoke on March 1 on behalf of the Otter Tail County Historical Society.
They include Executive Director Chris Schuelke, Research Assistant Vicky Anderson and Curator of Collections Kathy Evavold.
Sadly, 57 people lost their lives during the cyclone that struck on June 22 a century ago this coming summer. Seven people died along Maple Avenue, just west of Lake Alice which was strewn with wood following the cyclone.
“Farmers brought in wagons to haul out debris,” Anderson said.
It’s speculation that dump grounds were likely located not far from Fergus Falls after the cyclone struck on June 22 a century ago.
St. James Episcopal Church near Lake Alice was hit by one of four tornado funnels. The church bell reportedly ended up in the lake.
Over the past 100 years people have surmised about what might have been blown into the lake, from pianos to jewelry.
“Dredging the lake is unlikely so we’ll probably never know,” Schuelke said.
The more than 150 people who were injured were cared for at Wright Hospital, located at what’s now a parking lot near Otter Tail Power Company, at St. Luke’s Hospital which is now Lake Region Healthcare and at the state hospital which later became the Regional Treatment Center.
Many homes, businesses, churches and government buildings were destroyed or damaged by the cyclone. The Minnesota governor dispatched members of the National Guard to Fergus Falls to help restore order and prevent looting.
Household items were stored in places such as school basements and in buildings located at the county fairgrounds where Kennedy Secondary School now is located.
Fergus Falls Mayor Frankberg provided outstanding leadership following the tragedy.
“The mayor pledged that Fergus Falls, with the help of many civic leaders, would rebuild and become a better community,” Schuelke said.
Within two years the post office was busy with close to 600 address changes.
Minnesota residents support Teddy Roosevelt Library
Many of us who are residents of west central Minnesota, and who love visiting Medora in western North Dakota, strongly support Gov. Doug Burgum and legislative efforts to help fund the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.
Gov. Burgum recently noted, “This is a way to honor our adoptive son.”
Adds Fargo Forum columnist Zack Zaleski, “Theodore Roosevelt, the Badlands and North Dakota are forever joined at the historical hip in one of the most captivating sagas in American presidential lore.”
Once construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is completed, Otter Tail County residents and others here in west central Minnesota will have another reason to head back to Medora in western North Dakota.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.