Pitcher Hill Tornado
September 15, 1912
The Tornado of 1912
September 15, 1912
On Sunday, September 15th, at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the tornado touched down near Long Branch on the western end of Onondaga Lake. This was just west of the Village of Liverpool which is located on the north shore. The old Long Branch was located on the south shore of the lake at its western tip. Despite the northerly path depicted in the map, the stories of the victims and the damage, described a tornado that was moving northeast from Long Branch to Bear Road and then turned southeast to Pitcher Hill and then on to Collamer. Residents of Thompson Road and the intersection of East Molloy Road, near Collamer, claim that the tornado came out of the northwest. There are some fairly good pictures and many interviews with the people who had lived through the tornado, including lengthy interviews with brothers Peter and William Michaels. The latter Michaels brother had been outside, on the way to his barn, when the tornado struck his farm on the old Cicero Plank Road, across from Trolley Stop #4. He had been knocked down several times until he finally gave up and just hung on to the ground, waiting for the tornado to pass.
Quoted below are the stories from the The Herald, from Monday, September 16, 1912, that were related to Pitcher Hill and a few from Collamer.
“At Pitcher Hill the scene to-day is indescribable. … Planks have been ripped from the plank road and lie in puddles, stately trees and houses are strewn over the roadway. The work of years and years has gone forever, and all in a few hours.”
“As the center of the tornado’s path is reached it is impossible for any kind of a vehicle to pass. People on foot find it hard to get around fallen trees and woven telephone and telegraph wires. Corn fields are swept to the ground from whence living corn came. Huge tree trunks bar the roads, the paths and the fields.”
“An area of 1,000 feet wide and three miles long was swept by the terrible harbinger of death. Even the grass itself is swept to the ground. Water is everywhere. There is not a dry spot on Pitcher Hill. The residents are prostrated with grief, terror and broken nerves.”
“One of the first signs of the tornado comes to view as Pitcher Hill is seen in the distance. Sign boards are torn from their fastenings and thrown to one side. The very roadbed, bereft of its planks, is almost impassable, so muddy is it. But the view from a distance, with its broken and smashed in houses and barns, broken trees and destitution on every side does not compare with what lies beyond. It is impossible to aptly describe in print the devastation.”
“The road turns and winds, a giant poplar is seen lying broken in half across the road. Its branches shoot upward, downward, sideways. It lies in water and mud. Nothing can be seen beyond. A way is found around the fallen tree. Another lies beyond bigger and once more magnificent. Then comes another and another and another. Every poplar on Pitcher is either down or partially so and there are a number of them, all old and good, if standing, for a hundred years to come.”
“Strange to say, although strewn trees of other varieties lie on all sides, their very roots bereft of dirt by the wind and rain, the maples in nearly every instance remain unharmed, save a few shorn branches. Had axmen worked for two weeks, leaving trees and destruction in their wake, the scene could hardly have been equaled so far as the road and its surrounding are concerned.”
Wrecked Homes Everywhere
“But the houses, the homes of the farmers and workers in the vicinity, present the most heart-rending appearance. Here a home, the result of years of labor, of saving and of striving, lies on its side. The roof was the first to go and rests yards away in mud. The foundations, if they remain, are ready to fall at a heavy gust of wind or a kick from a foot while the frame is shattered and broken, splintered and torn, of no use for anything but kindling.”
“Here and there a home escaped destruction. With the eyes half closed it would be possible to imagine that everything was all right and that destruction was not on every hand. One look to either side. In front or in back, dispels the illusion. Next door a house may have been torn from its foundations and twisted to one side, the shingles may be off or the house twisted out of shape.”
“It makes no difference which direction is chosen the scene is the same. To the north, east, west or south and half directions, house and barns can be seen either wrecked or nearly so.”
“In summary of the damage done on Pitcher Hill, the swirling mass of broken timbers, branches, dirt, bricks, shingles, fruit and even livestock which the tornado swept in its path in less than half an hour had demolished over 40 buildings, felled acres of woodland, killed horses, cattle, a man, ruined a square mile of crops and cut off all communication with the city and the outside world.”
“Hundreds flocked to the hill early this morning. There were people in automobiles, people on foot, people riding, Walking, Driving, people on motorcycles, in every vehicle and in every kind of conveyance. Some watched the scores of linemen busy trying to repair the damage done to the wires, others went at once to the homes and offered assistance, in most cases gratefully refused. Some stood and gazed about them. Everyone was ready to help.”
“Sunday there stood a little frame store and dwelling on the site of the present devastation. William Chapman with his family has lived on Pitchers Hill for about 10 years, and was well liked for his thrift and his square dealings.”
“To the rear of the store and house was an old feed mill which he operated years ago, but which was given up. Oddly enough this abandoned old structure was left practically unharmed with its rusted old machinery in place.”
“The tornado came and twisted the store and house from the foundations. The structure turned on one side, it flopped completely over and lies in that state to-day. On all sides are the remains of the store’s stock; broken flour bags, chewing tobacco, cigars, cigarets, candy, broken dressers, chairs, an organ, the contents of the house and store strewn together without discrimination.”
“This morning the occupants of the house when the tornado broke were too grief stricken, too nervous and excited to tell a clear story. Questions, when leveled at them, were received with waving of arms and broken answers.”
“Charles Chapman, who died in St. Josephs Hospital Sunday night, was alone in the little grocery. Upstairs were his wife, a sister, three girls and three boys. Mrs. Chapman remembers dimly crawling over a writing table and wrenching through a window, which was nearly blocked by a great mass of brick and debris. As she reached the outside part of a chimney fell on her head, but although stunned, she kept on her way. Her head was cut severely. All the others received bruises about the face and body.”
“Mr. Chapman had just finished waiting on a customer. The wind was howling outside and the rain was coming down in torrents. He was standing near the front of the grocery and had no time to escape from the building.”
“Mrs. Louise Haber, one of the occupants of the house, remembers seeing Miss Laura Hazelmeyer grab little Edna Odin, aged 12, and throw her from and upstairs window. The child landed on the grass and was uninjured.”
“Miss Hazelmeyer was seriously injured. Her left leg was badly cut and her face was lacerated by glass.”
“Clarence and Leonard Healey, two of the boys in the house, made a rush for the stairs leading to the store and reached the first floor just as the building became a wreck. They crawled to safety.”
“Miss Hazelmeyer tried to follow the others down stairs. She tripped and fell the whole length.”
Pulled From Ruins
“Mr. Chapman and Miss Hazelmeyer were still in the ruins of the wrecked house and men began a hurried search for them. Miss Hazelmeyer crawled from beneath timbers at one end of the house as they did so. Mr. Chapman was found unconscious near the south corner of the building. A beam was lifted from his back, but another across his legs could not be moved”
“A saw was secured and after several minutes’ work the weight was released and Mr. Chapman was hurried to the hospital. The occupants of the house were given medical attention as soon as possible.”
“Early this morning , as related above, Mrs. Louise Haber, a sister of Mr. Chapman, was on the spot directing the work of searching for valuables. Seven mirrors were found unbroken, although the very frames in which they hung were broken and jammed. Under a bureau was found a pocketbook. Under a table lay a gold watch, its crystal unbroken, its hands marking the hour as though nothing had happened. In one corner stood a keg of nails. Not a one had been lost. Nearby a crate of fruit lay mashed and bruised, while boxes of cigars were littered, scattered, water soaked, useless.”
Field Strewn With Wreckage
“To the south of the Chapman home, littered wreckage strewn, is a cornfield. Not a stalk is standing to-day. In the exact center of the lot is a 10-pound stove fragment. How did it get there? To one side is the entire top of a cook stove. It must weigh close to 200 pounds. The tornado took it, carried it, flopped it. Bottom down in the midst of the field. Three lids are off and one is on. Another freak of the storm’s playfulness.”
“To the east of the demolished Chapman store can be seen a line of wood. Almost in the exact center is a cleared space. At first glance it might be taken for a roadway, but looking again, noticing the wrecked home in the near distance, it is readily seen that the spot is where the black funnel passed, tearing, ripping and plowing until the woods were reached. Then through like a comet, leaving a hole in the center, passed onward, still destructive, with the wake of the storm following, sweeping, destroying.”
“Perhaps the greatest loss on Pitchers Hill, barring the Chapmans, was suffered by William Merrill, who himself took a ride on the wings of the cyclone.”
Merrill Home Gone
“His home is gone with all its furnishings, all scattered by the wind. He was standing in the barn working over his horses. The structure began to rock. It swayed, the roof opened above his head and he could see the black smoke outside. His hired man, named Kronder, was struck by a beam. One horse was thrown completely over another one. Suddenly Merrill was lifted from his feet. One of his wagons sailed past him. Timbers, trees, debris of all kinds filled the air at his side. Strangely enough he was not injured to any great extent, but reached ground in safety.”
“John Wilkinson, who owns property near the district school, was also badly injured. He walked up and down near the ruins of his home Sunday night unable to speak with any degree of intelligence. He has a sprained back and a broken rib.”
“Others, about whose experiences columns might be written include Albert Jewell and family. Earl Bence (Benz?) and family, Fred Zwicki, William Davis, Frank A. Odin and John Geiger. All lost severely in one way or another.”
Shivering Child Met With
“A party of newspaper men came across a little girl. She was dressed in a wrapper only. Her little feet were blue with cold and her pitiful eyes were wet with tears. In her hands, clutched tightly to her breast, was a doll and she whimpered, for fear had not left her.”
“Her father, she said, worked on a nearby farm. He was busy helping clear away the wreckage. Her mother was ill from the effects of the storm and so, neglected, she had been left temporarily to take care of herself.”
“An old farmer sat at the side of his cornfield. It was strewn with wreckage, swept bare of possible products and a wreck for this season at least. He mumbled to himself and when asked for details of his loss mumbled indistinctly and resumed his survey of the cornfield.”
“A woman worked hastily, feverishly in the wreckage of the Chapman home. She was a sister of Charles Chapman, who was killed by a tornado. Assisting her were many willing neighbors. The woman wore no coat. Her dress, scanty, fitted for the warmest of days, a mere wrapper, was shaken with every passing breath of wind. Her hair uncombed, her face unwashed, the trace of the night’s events in her eyes and in her manner, she directed the work of recovery calmly.”
“The family of Will Michaels, who lives to the south of the wrecked Chapman home, had every door and window locked this morning. The house had been rocked on its foundation, but remains today as one of the miracles of the storm.”
“Looking at the frame dwelling from the front its twisted shape presents an idea of what might have been. The home was filled with people in the night. Every member of the large family was there.”
“The funnel like cloud swept about the house but did not touch it. The tornado demolished the barn in the rear, killing a horse and snapping the roof from the frame, the walls caving. Around and around the house it continued, gripping at an edge of the structure, ripping out a stone from the foundation there and shingles from the roof there. The plaster from the walls fell in a shower. Windows were broken and, queerest of all, the front porch remains intact with its overhanging roof, but every wooden pillar has been moved from its place.”
“William Michaels was finally enticed from a survey of his wrecked home, and he told the story of how the tornado came and went.”
“He was just starting for the barn from the house when a blast of wind blew him from his feet. He recovered his footing and saw the barn leveled like a stack of cards. A long, narrow column, like smoke swept by him. First he thought there was a fire in the neighborhood, then he thought it was the end of the world as the barn caved toward him. As he looked at the house it trembled and moved a trifle. There was a wrench and a grinding noise but the structure remained on its foundation. He saw shingles fly from a corner of the roof and he threw himself on the ground, face downward. He prayed for his wife and his little ones. Then he tried to reach the house but was struck by boards and timber. The wind carried him off his feet and he saw trees falling and heard other homes going with the onward rush of air and rain. Every time he tried to get to his feet the wind lifted him into the air again and so he laid on the grass and cried like a baby.”
“He could hear the earth shake and tremble, the cries of the neighbors came to his ears and through it all he did not lose consciousness. When it was over he crawled to the house, there to find his wife and family, shaken and bruised, but safe.”
“Every other resident who was seen told of similar experiences. A silo at the Henry Morey farm went spinning. The house was torn from its foundations, but settled back again. The noise was like a battery of artillery in action. With the calming of the wind the men, women and children went nto the fields, crying, calling and grief stricken. Horses and smaller animals ran about as though crazed, as indeed they were. Everywhere the way was impassable.”
“The trees were torn from their root fastenings with a series of sharp reports and ear splitting explosions. Everything material seemed to be going and more than one soul gave up for lost, only to find that there was yet hope.”
“Leaving aside the overturned homes, some in process of building, but mostly used as residences for the past 20 years, the wreck of the Chapman store and house presents probably the most pitiful sight of all.”
[1912-09-16] - The Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, NY, Monday, September 16, 1912.
[1912-09-16] - "Terror And Death In Tornado's Path," - Part 2 - The Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, NY, Monday, September, 16, 1912.
[1912-09-16a1] - "Tornado Kills 3," - Part 1 - The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Monday, September 16, 1912.
[1912-09-16a2] - "Tornado Kills 3," - Part 2 - The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Monday, September 16, 1912.
[1912-09-16b1] - "Town of Salina Devastated," - Part 1 - The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY, Monday, September 16, 1912. The damage map shown on this page is distorted, the streets are labeled incorrectly and there are extra roads shown that did not exist. And of course, as a result, the damage locations are incorrectly placed. The map is corrected in this document.
[1912-09-16b2] - "Town of Salina Devastated," - Part 2 - The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY, Monday, September 16, 1912.
[1912-09-16c1] - Short Summary. Amsterdam Evening Records and Daily Democrat, Amsterdam, NY, Monday, September 16, 1912.
[1912-09-16d1] - Bennett and Wendell stories. The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Monday, September 16, 1912.
[1912-09-17] - "Tornado Cleaned Out Keith Barn," The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17a1] - "Sunday Cyclone Property Loss About $150,000," Part 1 - Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17a2] - "Sunday Cyclone Property Loss About $150,000," Part 2 - Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17b0] - "New Buildings Soon To Rise Out Of Ruins," Part 1 - The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17b1] - "New Buildings Soon To Rise Out Of Ruins," Part 2 - The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912. "School House Bell Rings As It Flies Away," Part 1 - The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17b2] - "School House Bell Rings As It Flies Away," Part 2 - The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17b3] - Pictures (Poor quality) - The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17b4] - Pictures (Poor quality) - The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17c1] - "Tornado Swept Through Area of 500 Acres," Part 1 - The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17c22] - "Tornado Swept Through Area of 500 Acres," Part 2 - The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-17c3] - "Tornado Clause Not In Policy," The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.
[1912-09-18] - "Tornado Wrecked Summer Cottages," The Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, NY, Tuesday, September 17, 1912.