Sunday, October 11, 2009

More Natural Disasters



On April 21, 1967, a twister hit Oak Lawn and nearby towns. According to WGN's website, "The storms resulted in 58 fatalities. The Oak Lawn twister continued across the Dan Ryan Expressway at the height of the evening rush hour, knocking a semi off an overpass, before proceeding out over Lake Michigan."

I don't have any memory of this. I was less than two. But I do remember my parents talking about this. We lived in Guidish Park mobile homes, across from the old Zayre on Harlem. If memory serves, the twister ended up ripping through a nearby trailer court, maybe where Chicago Ridge Mall is now? (I know it's no longer called Chicago Ridge Mall, but to me it will always be Chicago Ridge Mall, just as the Sears Tower will always be the Sears Tower.)

Amazingly, there's some footage of the twisters on YouTube. Here's one:



The closest I ever came to a twister was at a drive-in flea market, way south on Harlem (I believe), around Tinley Park. (I could be wrong about the specific location, so if anyone knows what I'm talking about, help me out here.) Anyway, my father and I were selling stuff at the flea market when we saw a twister heading toward us. It sounded like a freight train approaching very quickly. We got into my dad's truck and remained there until the twister had gone by. When we finally opened the truck's door, we saw that everyone's tables and most of the stuff they were selling had been blown all the way to the back chain-link fence of the drive-in. The twister had gone around us, but the wind was powerful enough to blow everything away. Also, there were dollar bills all up against the fence. And coins. Everywhere. Flea marketeers tended to keep money boxes next to their chairs, and these, too, had blown away. We retrieved what we could of our own stuff. I want to say this was late 1970s, but, again, my memory could be failing me here. I remember not being very afraid since I didn't know how much damage a twister could do. I guarantee you, I would be a hell of a lot more afraid today.

(Photo above courtesy of Paul Wrubel, which, in turn, is courtesy of the Oak Lawn Public Library.)

11 comments:

Penultimatina said...

Thank you for posting this! People always look at me crazy when I tell them about numerous tornado warnings in Homewood, where I grew up. I spent many nights in the basement, on a hide-a-bed that felt (and looked) like it was stuffed with antlers.

John McNally said...

Hi Mary: I forgot to mention all the tornado drills we had in school, and since I was a fat kid in grade school, it was always a miracle of physics and anatomy that I could, A) fit under a desk, and B) still breathe.

Scott Batzel said...

The Oak Lawn Library has a terrific collection of tornado photos viewable on the internet under the Local History link.

I was also too young to remember the tornado but my parents and older brothers often spoke of it and therefore it is etched into my memory. As a kid, I was terrified by tornadoes as a result of all the talk anytime there was threatening weather. My grandmother's house on 93rd and 52nd Ave. was severely damaged and had to be razed because of the tornado. She was at home when the tornado struck but thankfully she was unhurt.

For many years I had a special section the Sun-Times published after the tornado outbreak. It contained one of the most ominous photos of the tornado and was taken right near where you lived at 87th and Harlem! The photo appears to have been taken in the parking lot of the Southfield Shopping Center. In the foreground you can see a building with large neon letters spelling out Z-A-Y-R-E-S and in the background looms the massive, black tornado. This had to be minutes (seconds?) before the tornado hit the Starlite Drive-In where Chicago Ridge Mall stands today.

Scott Batzel said...

I think the trailer park you were referring to was called the Airways Trailer Park. It was located about 91st on the east side of Cicero next to the Oak Lawn Roller Rink. Both the trailer park and roller rink took a direct hit which resulted in many fatalities. The roof of the roller rink collapsed killing several kids. Fortunately it was still early in the evening and not many skaters were there when the tornado struck. Likewise, St. Gerald Church at 93rd and Central was scheduled to conduct a Confirmation Mass later that evening. The empty church was severely damaged but had the tornado occurred a bit later during the Mass, there may have been many injuries and deaths there.

Anonymous said...

I was about 5 years old when the Oak Lawn tornado hit.I remember it vividly.Though we lived a couple of miles from where it hit(79th and Laramie)I remember hiding under the dining room table with my mom.My Dad was a volunteer rescuer and spent time at the roller rink after the tornado hit.He never did like to talk about it.

Anonymous said...

Little did I know that the twister originated on the block I live on now (Palos Hills around 103rd). Good times everytime the sirens go off now--we grab all the animals, the baby, and hit the dirt in the bathroom.

Anonymous said...

I remember that April day in 1967. We lived on 102nd Place in Chicago Ridge. I was 6 years old. The thing I remember most was my mom standing in front of our large window in the living room. She pointed outside and said to me and my 2 brothers,"Look!That's a tornado!" It was a huge funnel. I will never forget that sight. After that we got in the closet, but it didn't hit our neighborhood. The tornado did tear up the drive-in which was about 1/2 mile away.

Ed said...

I lived on the south side until age 7, when we moved to Oak Lawn. I remember well the tornado drills in school, and the stories of the '67 tornado. The total number of fatalities was 33. The collection at the Oak Lawn library is worth perusing, but be warned-- some of the accounts are pretty grisly. I also seem to remember a plaque inside the Oak Lawn Roller Rink, in memory of the kids who were killed when part of the roof caved in. Wonder if the Hooters (built on part of the site of the former roller rink) has any such memorial...

Anonymous said...

I was 5 years old but I still remember the day of the tornado. We lived at 83rd and Lawndale. The tornado was The tornado went through Evergreen Cemetery at 87th St. a few blocks to our south. We were out front playing and I remember my mother telling us to come inside. She brought us to the basement, so we never saw the tornado. I am not sure, but I seem to think the television was on saying the tornado was headed towards 83rd St. It was traveling up Southwest Highway, but took a easterly path towards the lake instead. That was a heck of a year with the big snow in January, then the deadly tornado in April.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Hello from Burbank, sir. I moved here in 1999, previously having lived near 85th and Pulaski. I recall the air raid sirens that day and it wasn't until much later that I read about Oak Lawn High School being destroyed.

I'm a writer, too, and came back from Peoria two summers ago to find out there had been three tornadoes in Tinley Park the day before.

All the best,

Wayne

Anonymous said...

My family was in the Zayres store in the Southfield Shopping Center during the tornado that hit Oak Lawn in 1967. I was thirteen years old. The sky turned black,the big plate glass windows started buckling and the doors blew open. The clothes on the table I was standing next to whipped around in the air. We never heard sirens or knew that a tornado had passed over the building until we got home (Nottingham Park),until we heard it on the news that evening. I would love to see the photo of the tornado that passed over Zayres that day.