Sunday, March 23, 1913 marked the happy religious celebrations of both Easter and the Jewish holiday of Purim. The joy ended at 6 pm when a monster tornado, one of six in Eastern Nebraska, virtually obliterated the new industrial suburb of Ralston and cut a wide ribbon of death and destruction through the heart of Omaha.
Moving in a northeasterly direction, it swept over West Lawn and Bohemian cemeteries and collided with the city proper near 56th and Center Streets. Damaging or destroying virtually everything in its wake, it crossed Leavenworth east of Saddle Creek Road and swept up the hill to wreak havoc in the fashionable West Farnam area, 38th to 44th Streets. It then moved downhill through the 38th Street Gold Coast area and across the Bemis Park neighborhood, 33rd to 36th Streets. Ruthlessly it reduced densely populated, ethnically diverse, working-class neighborhoods of North Omaha to rubble – from 30th and Lincoln Boulevard, to 24th and Lake, to 16th and Maple, across Carter Lake and on into Iowa.
Newspaper headlines of the time proclaimed from $3 to $10 million in property loss. The damage included ten churches, five schools, three convents, and a hospital. Of the more than 2,000 houses struck by the tornado, some 750 were destroyed, rendering over 2,000 people homeless. The twister demolished railroad rolling stock and roundhouses; poles and lines of the electric, telephone and telegraph, and the traction companies; and a large number of automobiles on the streets or in their garages. It carried debris up to 90 miles away in Iowa.
Death counts ranged from 94 to 170, plus the scores of horses, mules, cattle and wildlife, as well as pets; dogs, cats and birds. Low casualty numbers resulted from not including individuals who subsequently succumbed to injuries caused by the storm and by not reporting deaths of out-of-towners to the county coroner. The best estimate for the city proper probably rests at slightly over 100 and nearly 150 for the greater Omaha area. By all measure, the tornado of 1913 endures as one of the worst calamities in Nebraska history.
In March of 1913, Midwesterners endured extensive death and destruction from episodes of violent weather. Approximately 1,600 people died in floods that inundated almost all of the river towns in Indiana and Ohio. On March 21, a cluster of tornadoes blew through Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana and Alabama, killing approximately 60 people.
Number of Tornadoes 6
Number of Killer Tornadoes 4
Total Number Killed 168
Total Number Injured 590
Total Dollar Damage 6 million
The worst tornado disaster in eastern Nebraska and southwest Iowa occurred on March 23, 1913. This tornado is the 13th greatest killer tornado on record in the U.S.
Data courtesy of DCHS Ribbon of Destruction; 2013.
The pastor conducting a wedding ceremony at the German-English Lutheran Church at 28th and Parker successfully herded the celebrants to the basement. The bride and groom had rushed to their car to drive away but returned and survived. Their car was not found.
Mail carrier Cliff Daniels, his wife and their two children perished I the wreckage of their home at 2814 N 19 Avenue. The funeral procession went from Pearl Memorial Methodist Church to Forest Lawn Memorial Park.