THE 1957 DALLAS TORNADO

Recollection

Originally established to document the importance of the tornado to science, this Web site attempts to accomplish that task by recording event times to decent accuracy, by locating geographic positions relatively precisely, by describing property damage with whatever exactness reliable records can provide, and by complaining about other people's past failures to do all of these things.

This is OK, I guess -- if the tornado is a historical object from which you might learn something interesting, but which had little personal effect on you. If, however, you witnessed it, frightened by its fantastic danse macabre or by the twisted and splintered debris it left behind; or if it lashed out at your home or the home of someone you knew or loved; or if the last thing you saw before your body was broken by flying wood and stone -- or if the last thing you ever saw -- was a monster that had fallen down on you from the sky; if any of these things was the case, such a cool and detached approach doesn't actually say much of anything at all. For anyone who wishes to know what has gotten left out, the following personal recollection, which I received on April 2, 2007 from Victoria Duncan (emailed just after 4:00 p.m.), is provided. Some sources insist that the tornado appeared at time X, while others claim it was actually time Y. Don't worry about that. Ms. Duncan tells you, in the first few words of her second paragraph, the real time.

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Find a toddler, say about 30 months old, and watch her play for a moment. Certainly there's little about this particular toy or game or day that will stay in her memory longer than dinner time, right? There is nothing about this moment that she'll recall with exactness a half-century later.

 

Unless, a bit before dinner time, she finds herself in the front doorway with her grandfather, watching in growing alarm as the dark cloud which rumbles on the southwest horizon grows louder and closer. Unless her grandfather stands with his hands on his hips and mutters, "Yep, here it comes, it's gonna hit us," and then when answering his wife's call, "What's going to hit us, Henry?" he shrugs and replies laconically, "the cyclone." Unless her grandparents take the bed pillows, and make a nest for her behind the claw foot bathtub, and push her into the space, and hunker down next to her and wait for the cyclone to hit. Unless, after the storm picks up and misses them, she rides the half-dozen blocks with her family and neighbors in a borrowed Ford sedan and sees the mangled cars in trees, and hears the sirens screaming, and feels her grandmother shaking as she sits in her lap and peers out the car window.

 

If that happens on her otherwise unremarkable day, she'll be able to recount with absolute clarity how her grandmother had been cleaning out kitchen cabinets and was wearing dungarees and a red polka-dot scarf on her hair. That her grandfather had taken the "Hampton"-route bus from Dallas into Oak Cliff from his job with the City of Dallas and was standing on the southwest corner of the porch, wearing khaki work pants and a white singlet undershirt and was barefoot, when the funnel dropped from the wall cloud twenty blocks away. That the black, painted cross-piece on the screen door was way over her head and the door screen smelled of dirt as she pressed her face against it. That there was never going to be any charm at all in the tornado scenes in the Wizard of Oz, and the movie would always be scary. That when she was grown, and her own children were grown, she'd still turn her face to the sky during storms to look for purples and greens and roof shingles and dirt. And that her children would laugh and say, "Look at Mama! I bet if you handed her a shovel she could dig her own shelter!" 

 

Then, fifty years to the moment, she will be able to write a message, and tell someone,

 

"I was there."

 

-Because I was.

 

4:30 PM

319 W. Pembroke Ave.

Dallas, TX.

April 2, 1957



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Last updated 5 March, 2010