Column: The tornado of 1939 hits Cedar

The city of Anoka is famous for the tornado that ripped through that town on Father’s Day, June 18, in 1939 damaging 240 homes and businesses and killing nine people.

Lesser known victims of that very same storm were the citizens of Cedar.

Bob Burman, who later served on the St. Francis School Board and Anoka County Board, was 11 years old at the time of the tornado.

Here is his handwritten account of that storm:

“We had recently moved to our present farm in then Oak Grove Township from a farm in Section 22 three miles northeast of Cedar in Oak Grove Township in 1939.

“The old farm had been purchased by my grandfather and grandmother who had been born in England.

“When the threat of this storm came, my mother Emma got us all down in the basement.

“This included my sisters, Roberta and Joan, my brother William, myself, and my uncle Willy.

“My father, Alvin, was out in the horse barn letting the horses loose into the pasture. (It should be noted that we farmed with horses up to 1947.)

“As my mother was closing the cellar doors she could see things up in the sky over Cedar which was a quarter mile from our home.

“The next day my father brought us with him to Cedar.
“We were surprised because the National Guard was present to prevent looting.

“I was particularly moved because Arlene Johnson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Emil Johnson, was crying.

“The tornado had totally taken their home.

“Their house did have a basement and Mrs. Emil Johnson and Arlene made it down into the basement, but Emil did not make it all the way down in time and was carried a distance away by the tornado.

“He was taken by ambulance to the hospital. He never fully recovered from his injuries.

“The Richard Gallagher home, which was close to the Emil Johnson home, was totally taken by the tornado.

“They were, luckily, out of town at this time.

“The two-room school I attended in Cedar was severely damaged by the tornado.

“All the students, including myself, had to attend school in the old Commercial Club building in Cedar after the tornado.

“The Methodist Church was completely destroyed by the tornado.

“I attended Sunday school and church there in my childhood years.

“The tornado also took the roof off the creamery.

“The creamery in Cedar was formerly owned and operated by Emil Larson.

“Donald Larson informed me that the Larson family watched the tornado from the living quarters above the grocery store which they operated at this time.

“The tornado carried a great deal of material out into Swan Lake.

“I remember helping retrieve such items as horse collars, clothing, and pieces of metal.”

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. Join her and other docents for more history in a spine-tingling Ghosts of Anoka Tour by calling ACHS at 421-0600.

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