Anoka County history: Same tornado, another town – Bethel

Last week I related Bob Burman’s eyewitness account of the tornado that struck the town of Cedar in 1939 after first roaring through Anoka.

Following is another eyewitness account of that same tornado first related to The Herald by Mrs. Frank Gardner who said that newspapers and a great many people seemed to think the tornado spent its fury at Cedar, but it still had plenty of pep left when it reached West Bethel.

The following is her account of the storm in that vicinity.

Although the article isn’t dated, I believe it was published in The Herald shortly after the event.

“At the Ralph Gardner farm, Mr. Gardner had fortunately driven the stock from the barn as they saw the black cloud approaching, and 16 people sought refuge in the root cellar.

“They were Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Gardner and their two children, along with Ike Gardner, Mrs. Earl Main and her six children, Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Waite and their two daughters from nearby St. Francis.

“The tornado struck with a mighty roar and it took the combined efforts of the three men to hold the inner door closed.

The cellar was filled with dust and the approach to the cellar was damaged.

When they came out everything was flat except a corn crib full of corn.

The house had been toppled to the north clear of the foundation; the kitchen floor was moved east.

Nothing remained of the Earl Main bungalow but the bare floor.

Both houses had been recently wired for electricity.

“The tornado traveled in a north-easterly direction across fields and struck the Ernest Stahlberg home where it drove a limb through the wall and demolished the outbuildings and two cars.

“Next in line was Wallace Donahue’s where all the outbuildings and some trees were destroyed.

“Sheep and old and young chickens were killed.

“The Donahues, having a good view of the storm in the distance, went to the cellar.

“At Frank Gardner’s home where the buildings were in a beautiful grove of shade trees, they did not see the cloud until the air was full of boards from the Donahue farm.

“Visiting there were Mr. and Mrs. Melvin Wallin and children.

“It was near four o’clock but it became necessary to light the lamps.

“The group was about to set down to an early lunch when they experienced two or three quite terrifying minutes when window glass, plastering, 30 trees and outbuildings came down.

“The storm crossed over the creek and traveled through the woods due north mowing everything in its path, crossing the road east of Cooper’s Corner.

“Mrs. Abel Johnson who viewed the tornado across the field from her home described it as appearing much like a passenger train hanging in the sky with black smoke rolling over it; the tail end gradually becoming smaller until it was cone shape.”

Having spent most its fury in Anoka County the much diminished tornado continued eastward into Wisconsin where it dissipated.

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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