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TBT: This 1920 Tornado Blew A Grand Piano Across Dunning

By Alex Nitkin | August 24, 2017 7:56am
 The remains of a home at 5040 N. Meade Ave. in Jefferson Park, after the Palm Sunday tornado of 1920.
The remains of a home at 5040 N. Meade Ave. in Jefferson Park, after the Palm Sunday tornado of 1920.
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Northwest Chicago Historical Society

CHICAGO — The threat of tornadoes doesn't tend to keep Chicagoans up at night, although maybe it should.

For a reality check, they can look back nearly a century to the year 1920, when an epic twister ripped through the city's Northwest Side, claiming dozens of lives and leveling entire city blocks.

The storm touched down in suburban Elgin around noon on March 28, while Christians observed Palm Sunday. After it wreaked deadly havoc through the city's western suburbs, the tornado swept into Dunning, where the Northwest Chicago Historical Society picks up the story:

Palm Sunday services had just ended at St. Pascal Church on Irving Park Road. Mrs. McGuinnes was babysitting her grandchild while her son was attending services at St. Pascal Church. While sitting in her rocking chair hold the child a wooden beam came through the window, killing her but not harming the child.  Others who died in the storm were Edward Jameson of 3827 N. Nottingham Avenue, Mr. & Mrs. Alfred H. Hansen of 3842 N. Nottingham Avenue, sixteen year old Elizabeth Laufenberger and two year old Vincent Laufenberger of 5655 N. Menard Avenue of Jefferson Park

The twister hit a two-story house in the Dunning neighborhood, taking out a full size piano through the front window and depositing it one and a half blocks away. Days after, people would be seen sitting out in the field playing the piano.  Sarah Nelson of 3740 N. Neva Avenue, was only slightly injured when the storm blow off her clothes.

Anna Hansen, of 3842 N. Nottingham Avenue, was in her living room waiting for her husband to come home from church, while her four children were playing, when the tornado hit.  Pictures started banging against the wall and the wind began to roar, then suddenly the children were outside in the mud.  The roof was gone with only a few rooms of the Hansen home left intact with Mrs. Hansen dieing with a gash in her neck.

Mrs. Peter Rossozski lost her baby in the storm but the child was found unharmed three blocks away in the middle of Nora Avenue near Irving Park Road.  Mrs. Agnes Augustine was in her house when a lightweight car came smashing through the side of the house.  William Peterson was lying in his cellar and had two kitchen stove from nearby homes on the roof of his house.

The first injured people were taken to a garage at 3813 Nottingham next to Gideon Seylert’s grocery store. Twenty-two people were taken to this garage and given temporally aided until the state hospital for the insane at Dunning opened its doors.  The brick buildings of the hospital survived the high winds of the storm.  More then 200 homes were destroyed in the Dunning neighborhood.

Seventeen-year-old Robert E. Shearin, was driving down Milwaukee Avenue with a friend in Norwood Park when the storm hit. “First we were pelted with hail stones as big as pigeon eggs,” said Shearin. “Then we saw a funnel shaped cloud coming toward us. Then we saw shingles flying off roofs. Chickens carried high up in the air. Telephone poles snapped off and went swirling off in a cloud of dust. Houses shook and collapsed. One of them seemed to fold right up. Another jumped up in the air and fell down all in pieces. We jumped out of the car before it turned over and we were both blown into a ditch.

The storm moved northeast to Wilmette and then out into the lake into the history books.

DNAinfo is partnering with the Northwest Chicago Historical Society for a new history post each month. All photos are the property of Northwest Chicago Historical Society unless otherwise indicated.

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[Northwest Chicago Historical Society]