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Indiana Historical Bureau

IHB > Historical Markers > Find a Marker > New Albany Tornado, 1917 New Albany Tornado, 1917

New Albany Tornado,  1917New Albany Tornado,  1917

Location: New Albany Children's Academy at the corner of Pearl and Union, 1111 Pearl Street, New Albany. (Floyd County, Indiana)

Installed: 2007 Indiana Historical Bureau, Floyd County Historical Society, and Caesars Foundation of Floyd County.

ID#: 22.2007.1

Text

Side one:

Tornado struck city at approximately 3:30 p.m. March 23, 1917. Moved through north side of town, affecting roughly ninety blocks. Mayor and others formed Citizens Relief Committee. Next morning Red Cross joined forces with Committee; within hours, workers deployed throughout affected area. Red Cross nurses treated injured at St. Edward Hospital.

Side two:

Tornado killed at least 45 people, injured hundreds more, destroyed approximately 300 homes and buildings, left 2,500 homeless, cost over $1,000,000 in total damage. At this site, "Olden Street Colored School" collapsed during the storm, trapping teachers and students; there were several deaths. Tornado ranks among deadliest to strike Indiana since 1900.

Keywords

Nature and Natural Disasters

Annotated Text

Side one:

Tornado struck city at approximately 3:30 p.m. March 23, 1917. (1) Moved through north side of town, affecting roughly ninety blocks. (2) Mayor and others formed Citizens Relief Committee. (3) Next morning Red Cross joined forces with Committee; within hours, workers deployed throughout affected area. (4) Red Cross nurses treated injured at St. Edward Hospital. (5)

Side two:

Tornado killed at least 45 people, injured hundreds more, (6) destroyed approximately 300 homes and buildings, (7) left 2, 500 homeless, (8) cost over $1, 000, 000 in total damage. (9) At this site, "Olden Street Colored School" collapsed during the storm, trapping teachers and students; there were several deaths. (10) Tornado ranks among deadliest to strike Indiana since 1900. (11)

(1) American Red Cross and New Albany Citizens Relief Committee, Tornado Relief, New Albany, Indiana, March 23rd, 1917, Joint Report (July 1917) (B050026) [hereafter referred to as Joint Report].

(2) Joint Report B050026); "Indiana Weather History “ March, " National Weather Service “ Indianapolis, http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ind/tdihma.txt (accessed December 19, 2005) reports tornado was "1000 feet wide" (B050025); Ferdinand J. Walz, "Tornado of March 23, 1917, At New Albany, Ind., " Monthly Weather Review (April 1917): 169-171 [hereafter referred to as Walz, MWR], states length of storm was 3 ½ miles (B050034); "New Albany Tornado, " Blue River Gazette (Fredericksburg, IN), March 29, 1917 reports tornado "cut a path about three blocks wide across the city" (B050038).

(3) Mayor Robert W. Morris and other citizens formed the Committee on Friday evening after the tornado had passed through. Joint Report (B050026).

(4) Joint Report (B050026).

(5) Joint Report (B050026).

(6) There are some discrepancies in reporting how many people were killed. Two reports from the National Weather Service (Indianapolis, IN), "20th Century Weather Highlights for Indiana, " National Weather Service Indianapolis, IN, http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ind/wxhistory.txt (accessed December 14, 2005) (B050002) and "Indiana Weather History “ March" (B050025); three newspaper reports in the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News, "Tornado Disasters in Indiana, " Indianapolis Star, November 7, 2005, sec. A, p. 8, c. 2 (B050494), "Fastest Tornado on Record Hit Indiana, " Indianapolis News, May 7, 1953 (B050055), and "Roaring through Indiana, " Indianapolis Star Magazine, November 15, 1953 (B050048); and Walz, MWR (B050034), all indicate that 45 people were killed in the tornado. Joint Report indicates two death totals. Joint Report claimed there were "45 deaths altogether, " in its written summary of the event. This number is contradicted by information about the immediate aftermath of the tornado and the number of persons who died later in the hospital. Joint Report claimed 40 people lay dead in the debris of the storm and that 6 later died in the hospital due to the tornado, bringing the total to 46 (B050026).

Four later newspaper articles appearing the in the 1960s list the total number killed as 46. "Terror of Tornado Known to Indiana, " Indianapolis News, July 15, 1960 (B050054); "Weathermen Outline Tornado Safety Tips, " Indianapolis Star, March 7, 1961 (B050044); "Nerves Go Twang as Wind Does Twist, " Indianapolis News, April 4, 1963 (B050053); "Tornadoes Have Killed 281 Hoosiers, " Indianapolis News, March 29, 1965 (B050051).

With regard to injuries incurred from the tornado, both National Weather Service reports (B050002, B050025) list 250 injured while the Joint Report lists 200 (B050026).

(7) "Indiana Weather History “ March, " states 200 to 300 buildings destroyed (B050025). Among the businesses destroyed were Kahler Wood Working Company, Woolen Mills, Rasmussen's Nursery, New Albany Hosiery Mill, and Jacobson's. Joint Report (B050026). The Joint Report lists "492 houses hit, 300 totally demolished" (B050026). Walz, MWR states 200-300 houses were destroyed (B050034).

(8) "Indiana Weather History “ March" (B050025) and Walz, MWR (B050034).

(9) Joint Report (B050026).

(10) There are some discrepancies in reporting how many people were inside the school when it was struck by the tornado and how many were injured or killed. Joint Report states the school collapsed on a hundred children (no mention of injured, dead, etc.); (B050026) Walz, MWR lists 40 teachers and students inside the building, with 12 dead; (B050034) and "Schools Lost $7, 000 in Storm, " New Albany Ledger, April 11, 1917 lists thirty-five children inside the school when the tornado struck, and two children dead as a result of the tornado. (B050032) (11)"Tornado Disasters in Indiana, " Indianapolis Star was included in the coverage of the November 7, 2005 tornado in Vanderburgh and Warrick counties. "Tornado Disasters" lists the nine deadliest tornadoes in Indiana, with the earliest listed occurring in 1886. The 1917 New Albany tornado ranks fourth, behind the Palm Sunday Outbreak of 1965 (137 killed), the Tri-State tornado of 1925 (74 killed), and the Super Outbreak of 1974 (21 tornadoes hit 39 counties, killing 47) (B050494).

According to one local newspaper account at the time, this tornado ranked as one of the three worst national disasters in Red Cross work history. "Disaster is Third Greatest in U.S., " Louisville Evening Post, month, day, 1917 (B050033). See also, "20th Century Weather Highlights for Indiana, " National Weather Service Indianapolis, IN, http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ind/wxhistory.txt (accessed December 14, 2005) (B050002).

Ten days before the New Albany tornado, the Indianapolis Star provided a list of Indiana's most destructive storms of the last 10 years. The deadliest listed was March 23, 1913 in Terre Haute, in which 17 were killed and 200 injured. Indianapolis Star, March 13, 1917 (B050050).