O’Tuck Tornado Devastated Community
By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week. I switched columns today since Berry let me know about the death of Kathy Ward and Bill Trusty.
After the first column I wrote came out, I received a letter from Kathy Ward telling me how much she enjoyed it and also from time to time she would send me items that I could use in future columns. She invited me to visit in her home and she fed me some of the best pies I have ever eaten.
We stayed in touch over the years and I didn’t realize how serious her condition was last time I saw her. Kathy will be missed by me and I’m sure by everyone who knew her. I offer my condolences to the family.
My only contact with Mr. Bill was by phone once in a while, and the conversations were always interesting and instructional. I’m sorry he didn’t make that hundred year birthday, but hewas a strong presence for many years. My condolences to Sarah Nell and Elvis.
Since I get my Herald so late, I just learned of the death of my cousin, Donna Harding. My belated condolences to the family. Several years ago she had a mini family reunion for my cousin, David Cooper, from Chicago and his son David, Jr. and I. I called him today and he had not heard about her death.
As I’ve done over the years, occasionally I’ll refer back to a previous column and I’d like to do that this week. Most of you will get your Herald this Wednesday and I’d like to take you back to 69 years ago on March 16, 1942.
I was going to Camp Ground and our bus driver was Paul Reynolds. It had been a sultry day with dark clouds moving in and I noticed as each bus got loaded they drove off quickly. I don’t remember being concerned because I really didn’t think too much about weather conditions then.
It got worse as we drove along. Mr. Reynolds delivered each child and drove quickly away to the next stop. When we reached the Palestine Cemetery, the rain came down in torrents with high winds. Mr. Reynolds parked the bus by a large white oak tree in front of Palestine Church–in retrospect the worst possible place in the world to park. But, he thought he was protecting us.
As I remember the only kids left, in addition to me, were the Higgins family, John Ashford, and a Williams girl whose first name I don’t remember after all these years. The bus rocked with the wind and we could look south and see a black cloud and a copper colored line under it. We didn’t realize it then, but at that exact time the O’Tuckalolfa community was being devastated.
We learned later that at about the time we were boarding the buses at Camp Ground, Superintendent Ferrell at O’Tuckalofa school was pacing the floor until the last bus was loaded and on its way. They had infant twins and he held one and Mrs. Ferrell the other. Later they found his body still holding the baby. Mrs. Ferrell and the other baby survived.
The Wright family were dear friends of ours. Mrs. Wright and five children crowded into a storm shelter that looked barely big enough for two. Mr. Wright was on his way home from the field with a team of horses when he saw the twister and he got in a ditch. When it passed he found one horse dead and the other alive.
Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Barber had a small store and Mrs. Barber was severely injured but recovered. Mr. Barber survived and was elected sheriff of Yalobusha county in 1959. The only ambulance service in town was the funeral homes and they used every vehicle and even called on The Oxford and Grenada funeral homes to help.
The City Auditorium on Railroad Street was turned into an emergency aid station and Dr. French, Dr. Cooper, and Dr. Leo Brown treated the victims there while Dr. George Brown and Dr. Ramey attended those in the hospital. Many people donated sheets, pillows and blankets, and some assisted the doctors in treating the patients. There were so many injured that some were carried to Memphis.
Hamric Henry was working at the McLarty funeral home and he was getting ready to make a trip to Memphis to pick up a body and a black man approached him and asked if he could ride with him to Memphis.
When they got to Batesville, Hamric stopped to get a sandwich and he asked the man to have one and he replied, “Thank you kindly, Mr. Henry, but I just buried my wife and children and I haven’t eaten anything since and I don’t know if I’ll ever eat again.”
The school was completely destroyed and for the balance of the school term some were sent to Water Valley, some to Jeff Davis, and some to Camp Ground. The next year most were sent to Water Valley.
Theron and Gene Gail Bratton are the only surviving students that I know and I’d appreciate hearing from any of you that were part of that student body. O’Tuckalofa rebuilt and today there is no evidence of the disaster that occurred on March 16, 1942.
Let me hear from you as my email address is still email@example.com or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.