this special website, you can read stories of the ’66 Topeka Tornado and
tell stories of your own. Use the email link at the right side to send in your
story and enjoy reading the tales of others posted here.
Anderson was tending bar at the Seabrook Tavern when the tornado hit. “I
could hear the sirens in the distance…I grabbed the cash box and locked
up the bar. After about thirty minutes, I returned and unlocked the tavern. It
was then that I discovered that we had inadvertently locked one of the patrons
in the bar during the whole crisis. The guy didn’t talk to me for months
after that, but we noticed he had put a good dent in the Budweiser during his
-- Bob Anderson
graduated from Washburn University on June 5, 1966, and was waiting for Washburn
Law School classes to start in a few days. My wife Donna LaMar Bender, and I lived
at 1710 Washburn right across from the campus. I was watching TV and became
aware of the storm approaching Manhattan and progressing toward Topeka.
Of particular note just before the storm hit was the fact that all traffic stopped
and all the birds quit flying and it became very still and the we heard what sounded
like a freight train approaching. Our duplex had a basement which was shared
with Jerry and Janet McElroy and we gathered there together as the storm approached.
As the tornado went by our home it opened and closed a basement window and sucked
the dryer vent out the window and of course we heard all kinds of noise outside.
I ventured out after I though it was safe and I soon found it otherwise as I saw
a house on the north side of 17th street which had been turned completely over
rock to one side and then fall and the various items came falling out of the sky.
I quickly returned to the basement.
A woman who I did not
know approached and advised that there was a Senior Recital that was being held
at McVicar Chapel and that there were lots of people trapped. Our phone was dead
as was the one next door and I advised I couldn't call anyone. I went over
to McVicar and found that in the confusion those that had been in the recital
had gone to the southeast corner room in the basement instead of what had been
known as the safe spot the southwest corner. They were lucky because the building
fell into the southwest corner. Kansas University did a study after the storm
and concluded the standard advice was not the best.
finding those at McVicar were O.K. I went to the northwest corner of 17th and
Washburn and helped dig Bertha Whitney out of the rubble of her home. She
was on the way to the basement when the tornado hit. We put her on a door
and carried her to a station wagon and I rode with her and the physician whose
vehicle it was. We went a long way east before we could get through and eventually
she was delivered to St. Francis. There were injured everywhere and long
lines of the injured awaiting medical care. Mrs. Whitney was put in a small room
with another patient and I talked with her and she said to me I should go be with
my family. I left and spent the night working with the American Red Cross.
I was shocked to read in the morning paper that Mrs. Whitney had died.
next morning I collected items from the law school that had ended up in my yard
including final examinations, graded and ungraded and legal memorabilia belonging
to Professor Fowks.
My cat Phouska wandered outside
sometime during the excitement but returned without a voice. He would open
his mouth but no meows were forthcoming from then on. We don't know what happened.
Did the wind damage his vocal cords or did he step on an electrical line? We have
I did spend my entire law school career in the
temporary trailers which were erected on the Washburn University campus. I was
able to see the new law school built but never had a class there.”
– Jack Bender III
“The tornado sirens went
off. The sky was a sickening greenish color and it felt like something was wrong.
I went in the old barrack apartment where we lived and turned on the TV. Bill
Kurtis stepped in front of the weatherman who was giving his regular report. Bill
calmly explained a large tornado was on the ground and headed our way.
gathered my wife and our child in the only new car we ever owned, and drove to
Stoffer Science Hall on the Washburn campus, our assigned place of shelter. We
laid on the basement floor along with Helen Kurtis and her baby and about 200
other people. When the tornado hit the building, sand from the cigarette ash can
blew all over us, and Helen and her baby were sucked up against the elevator door.
the storm was over and we hadn’t died, I supposed it was really no big deal
after all. As we started up the stairs, I was struck by the shape of the steel
doors at the bottom of the stairs. They were bent outward at the bottom by the
force of the vacuum. The security guard held the handles during the storm keeping
the doors closed – protecting us. When we got outside, the scene was such
that my mind couldn’t completely wrap around it. The old rock building just
to the west, built before the era of structural steel, with rock walls at the
bottom five feet thick or more…its three stories had been reduced to little
more than one.
we looked around at the electric lines sparking in the water and wondering where
we’d stay that night I spotted our new car roughly at the bottom of a pile
of 50 or so cars that had been parked in the parking lot. The day before, I’d
have been real upset about a scratched fender. Today, happy we were alive and
watching bloody people crawling out of the crumbled building, it didn’t
seem to matter anymore.”
– Hon. D. Keith Anderson
"I moved to Topeka on June 1, 1966. I was sixteen. My
mother and I were visiting friends in a central neigborhood near the capitol when
the tornado struck. We heard it coming and there was no doubt what it was although
it was my first and only tornado. We just got a wheelchair-bound person down the
basement steps when it was upon us. A south facing basement window, hinged at
the top, flipped up and debris flew in with great violence. I tried to push the
window down. I barely moved it against the awesome pressure. As I looked out,
just above ground level I saw large pieces of roof with joists attached and large
tree limbs going by horizontally, not falling at all. The tornado's sound and
fury had a ferocity I had never imagined. After it passed we checked on neigbors
amid the destruction. A house across the street must have been in the eye. It
was a big square two and a half story house and still intact. But it had been
rotated 45 degrees off its foundation and moved about ten feet toward the northeast.
What had been the southwest corner of the house pointed west and sagged into the
basement, leaving the southwest and northwest corners of the basement exposed.
We found the couple who lived there trapped in a little framed bathroom in the
northeast corner of the basement. The man's arm was wedged between studs in the
corner of the wall. I imagine when he saw the whole house move above him, he grabbed
the wall through the spreading studs and held on for dear life. We spread the
studs to free his arm. Both were uninjured. I heard that an automobile was found
on the roof of the six story Columbian office building. A few weeks later I went
up to the observation deck of the State Office Building which had been in the
storm's path. Looking southwest and northeast, it seemed as though a giant had
gone through the city with a lawnmower. Fortunately, our house, located two blocks
north of Washburn's campus, was undamaged. I started college at Washburn two years
later and attended many classes in the trailers. "
"I went to Topeka West High School.
At the time of the tornado, June 8, 1966, I was sixteen and enjoying the privilege
of driving around Topeka.
That evening I had driven downtown
to a meeting after supper. The Masonic Building was just south of the capitol
building along 10th St. (where the Kansas Judicial Center stands now). I was in
a girls version of a Masonic organization and we were practicing choral
music. We were to leave the next day for state convention, and were to compete
in a choral competition.
The sky that evening was unforgettable.
I've never seen weather like it before or since. The sky churned green and yellow,
and then the air was deathly still. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that a
serious storm was developing. The adults were listening to a portable radio. When
they heard that a tornado had touched down near Burnett's Mound and was headed
our way, they herded us into the temple's basement.
storm hit the Masonic building, but it was well built. We heard the roar of the
storm and heard glass imploding, but I never felt the uncomfortable feeling that
air was being sucked out of my body--something I heard from those who experienced
the storm in less-sturdy structures.
After it had been
quiet for several minutes we came up and surveyed the damage. The windows were
all blown out, but the structure was undamaged. Some cars outside were severely
damaged by downed tree limbs, but my car could still be driven. First I tried
to call home to say I was okay, but the phone line was busy, so I just headed
I lived at the dead end of Randolph near KNI,
at 2534, near where the TARC building stands now. Our house was destroyed--but
I wouldnt know it until I got home.
I took a girl
friend with me. We'd heard on the radio that her area of the city, near 29th and
Gage, was hard-hit by the storm. She was frantic to get home and had no transportation,
so I told her I'd drive her. I drove west on 10th St. and south on College Blvd
right up to the entrance of Washburn University's campus at 17th and College.
There I had to stop. I could not go straight, nor right, nor left, because downed
tree limbs blocked all three directions. No one was out yet to direct traffic.
The storm was just over.
My friend and I stared at rubble
where there had been large, old buildings. There were strange, gapping spaces
where there had been dense trees. Everything was leveled. Trees left standing
were stark and twisted. Buildings, especially MacVicar Chapel and Thomas Gym,
which I could see from the intersection, were just piles of stone. Carnegie Hall
looked badly damaged.
Seeing Washburn's destruction was
a shock to us. We realized this storm had been worse than we'd imagined. There
was nobody else in sight. It was very quiet and still daylight, because June 8th
is near the longest day of the year.
My adrenaline began
to pump. I had to get home! I backed down College Blvd. and then turned west on
16th St. to head southwest toward home.
People were attempting
to secure the area. They stopped us at 21st and Randolph. They said we'd have
to leave my car and walk if we wanted to go further south. I found my neighborhood
friend, Patti, among those people milling at the intersection.
asked her, "How is your house?"
She said, "What
house?" It's gone." My stomach sank.
my car and my other friend and I got out to walk. We were warned to be careful
walking because power lines were down. As we walked the blocks toward my home
we were nervous we'd step on a power line or a line would fall on us and we'd
As I neared home I was frantic to find
my parents. I couldn't recognize my house! I remember having to count houses from
the corner to figure which one was ours. Everything was covered in mud, and there
wasnt enough detail left to recognize anything. There were no people out
The house that had stood two doors north of ours
was simply a hole in the ground. The house next door south was gone from the floorboards
up. The trees were broken and leafless, all the grass was pulled out by the roots.
Our house had no roof, no south side, no east side--just naked, mud-caked interior
walls and a front façade. Most rooms were open to sky. Our freestanding
garage had buckled and collapsed over the car parked inside it.
parents had taken refuge in the crawl space under the house (none of the homes
in the area had basements). After the storm my dad had helped Mother out of the
crawlspace. He'd told her to stay put by the corner of the garage and not move.
Then, since he couldn't drive the car, he jogged toward downtown on foot--along
the direct path of the storm--to find me. He'd heard on his portable radio that
the tornado had hit the 10th and Kansas area near the Masonic Temple and, with
Mother safe, I became his priority.
My mother saw my friend
and me standing in the road and called to us. She warned us not to come nearer
because of the possibility of downed power lines. Hearing her voice helped me
spot her. She was the first person I'd seen in the area. She shouted that Dad
had gone downtown on foot in search of me.
My friend was
very, very anxious to get home. We decided to walk back down Randolph St. to the
car and I would try to drive her home. Light was fading rapidly.
the intersection of 21st and Randolph we finally connected with Dad. He had arrived
at the Masonic Temple, heard I'd left, and adults there had offered to drive him
back to Randolph St. He was on foot, still winded from his jog downtown, when
He was very, very happy to see me safe and greeted
me with a big hug. If I ever doubted he loves me (and I haven't) I knew through
his actions that night that he loved me dearly.
to drive my friend home in the car Id parked near 21st and Randolph. When
we arrived we found her home had little damage. It was west of the severe damage
done at 29th and Gage.
It was dark by the time Dad and
I headed back toward Randolph. I asked, "What are we going to do?"
answered, "I don't know."
I'd always relied on
him for answers to problems. It was memorable that he had no plans at all in this
That is when our relatives stepped in to help.
By the time we got back to 21st and Randolph, Dad's many brothers and nephews,
most of whom lived north of the Kansas River, had started arriving unsolicited
to help us.
Mama had been retrieved from her perch near
the collapsed garage. A relative drove her and me to my grandparents home
in North Topeka to sleep. Dad and his brothers worked through the night to salvage
what they could of our possessions.
The next days
newspaper carried photos of the carnage. A neighbor, John Scheibe, was dead. He
had just graduated from high school a day or two before the storm. We later heard
from his family that he'd been asleep alone at home. Apparently the storm did
not waken him. He was found "wrapped around a tree" in his front yard.
He had a severe head injury. He was taken to the hospital, but never regained
consciousness and died within a few hours. His mother's hair literally turned
The newspaper said that the Washburn campus
was particularly hard-hit, but I knew that first-hand.
devastation was widespread. The tornado had been solidly on the ground from the
time it rushed around Burnett's Mound at the southwest corner of our city of 125,000
until it dissipated northeast of the city. In places the path of total devastation
was two blocks wide. Ancillary damaged spread for 5 or 6 blocks on either side
of the destruction line--a swath a mile wide through town from one end to the
other, with millions of dollars in damage to property and 16 deaths.
course, we watched TV at Grandmas and read everything we could about events
in the next few days. I still have a copy of a special supplement that was printed
by the Topeka Daily Capital. Amazing personal stories floated concerning details
of the storm and its damage.
The National Guard was mobilized
immediately. They monitored neighborhoods in an attempt to discourage looting.
Of course, there was lots of looting anyway. Also, the guarding made it harder
for people with legitimate reasons to go into damaged neighborhoods and do what
needed to be done.
For days the Red Cross passed out sandwiches
and coffee to cleanup workers. The Mennonites came from the Hutchinson area and
worked hard to help with cleanup.
Dad's large family all
pitched in to help us. Anything salvageable was taken to my Uncle Chris' house.
The women did loads of laundry and tried to clean household items, removing the
mud that caked them. Cleaning furniture uncovered horrible scars in the wood.
Much of what we had owned was simply gone. We gratefully accepted used clothing
and basic personal items from tables set up at University United Methodist Church,
17th and College.
Several days after the storm I stood
talking with a next door neighbor when something in the mud caught my eye. I fished
it out, and immediately recognized my mother's wedding ring. She had not been
wearing it at the time of the storm. Rather, it was on her dressing table in her
bedroom, a room hard hit in the storm. The ring had been presumed lost. (Unfortunately,
I did not find her engagement ring.)
Such ironic storm
stories were bountiful.
The media tried to discourage sightseeing.
They got in the way of cleanup. Many people had come from out of town. No doubt
many were concerned about Topeka friends and relatives and had come to check on
them. Power and telephone services were out in storm areas for quite some time.
Thoughtful persons stayed out of the way of cleanup, or pitched in to help.
church member offered a home to us. Her father was out of the state visiting relatives
and we stayed in his home for a week. We appreciated the kindness. Then Dad found
a house we could rent for the summer. By the time school started in the fall he'd
bought another house, on 12th Street and still within Topeka West High Schools
boundaries, and we started over.
For a long time I had
bad dreams about storms and losing people and things I loved most, but, after
37 years, those dreams no longer plague me.
What I remember
now about the aftermath of the tornado: how wonderful, helpful and supportive
people were after the storm. The community pulled together. Places were rebuilt.
Trees were planted. We survived."
-- Carol Yoho
"We lived north of town, by the Goodyear Plant,
in 1966. We had no basement, but went across the street to the neighbors. We weren't
in any immediate danger, so we stood outside and could see the tornado making
its path across Topeka. My father was working construction in Kansas City. He
and four of his fellow workers were eating their supper at a restaurant, when
the waitress told them that Topeka had been hit by a large tornado. She said,
"It must have been bad, because they said the Huntington Apartments were
leveled!" One of the guys lived within a few blocks of those apartments.
All four of these men jumped in a pick-up truck and started driving home. Of the
four, my father was the only man who had a house left. When they got to Topeka,
they somehow managed to get down into town, but they could not tell where they
were. One of the guys jumped out of the truck, because he thought they were close
to his house around 15th and Topeka Blvd. My dad said he just took off running
through all of the rubble. They went on and got up on the I-70 bypass under Burnett's
Mound. But by then the police were not letting anyone though. My dad and his friends,
just pulled the pickup truck to the side of the highway, jumped out and ran down
the embankment to try and get to the one's home. My dad said later, that they
didn't even consider the "downed" power lines and dangerous debris everywhere.
When they finally found the street the man lived on (after several times of being
lost), his house was totally gone. The only thing left was the three small walls
surrounding the basement door. All of the houses on his side of the street were
leveled, but all of the houses on the opposite side of the street were still standing.
His family survived, and were waiting with others at a close by elementary school.
Weeks later, the roof of their house was found over in the Oakland area."
-- Marta Barnett
1966 I was about 7 years old. My family and I had just gotten home from a trip
to Topeka. My folks turned on the radio and the reaction that my folks had about
hearing about Topeka's tornado is just something that stayed in my mind over the
Everywhere we had been was hit by it. I also
remember later visits throughout the years and into middle schools when we made
trips and would go up to observatory area over in the state building and you could
look out and still see the path it took. There were no trees in the path area."
-- Donna Drummond
Mayor when the tornado hit, I was also on the Board of Regents. Three months before
the tornado, the Board reinsured every building on the Washburn campus for the
maximum, so when the tornado swept away some of the buildings, Washburn had a
nice insurance check. I worked closely with President Henderson to restore the
campus and to secure mobile classrooms from the Federal government. After the
mobile classrooms were on site, I went to Washington. Dr. Henderson asked me to
see if we could get air conditioning units in the mobile classrooms, so I met
with former Florida Governor Ferris Bryant, head of the Office of Emergency Planning
(OEP, today called FEMA). I thanked him for all the help his office had given
and said that I had only one request. He said, "What's that Mr. Mayor."
I said, "Sir, we need air conditioning units for the classrooms." Then
he said, "Well, Mr. Mayor, you will just have to park them under the trees,"
to which I replied, "Sir we had a tornado and don't have any trees!"
So we got the air conditioning units.
Following the tornado,
Topeka was besieged by fly-by-night repair people, so to protect our city from
their unscrupulous deals, I initiated the Better Business Bureau of NE Kansas.
I called Joe Burkhead, head of the BBB in KC, Mo. and told him of our need. He
was in my office within an hour and thus the NE BBB was started, and I am proud
it has prospered yet today.
When the tornado hit I was
at a Kiwanis meeting in Tecumseh. At about 6:50 p.m. we got a call that a tornado
had struck at 29th and Gage, so I immediately got in my city car and headed for
the sub-basement of the Courthouse. When I arrived, Civil Defense Coordinator
Bob Jones was waiting for me. He wanted to know how we were going to stop any
looting, so I put out the word on the radio that anyone suspected of looting would
be shot on sight. Then he wanted to know how we could keep sightseers out of the
tornado areas. So I ordered that only persons with a drivers license with an address
in the tornado areas would be permitted to enter. Later that evening, Police Chief
Dana Hummer and I got in his unmarked car and drove south on Gage. When we got
to 25th Street, there was a soldier from Forbes with his rifle at the ready. The
Chief introduced himself and me and said, we wanted to enter. The soldier asked
for our licenses, which we didn't have, so we didn't get in. Then we noticed lights
were on at the Maude Bishop school. Stopping to investigate, we saw the electricity
was from a portable generator from Bern, Kansas, a little town north of Topeka.
Kansas City, MO sent all of their Park Dept., equipment, men, etc. to help in
cleanup and they stayed in Topeka for a month. We housed them in the Topeka High
School gym. The Mennonites from Newton also did a fine job in the cleanup, bringing
with them equipment, their people and their own tents. Topeka and Washburn owe
a great deal to our neighbors for their wonderful help after the tornado.
asked the Ks. Air Natl. Guard for a Helicopter at 6 a.m. the next morning. As
we flew over our damaged city, I was struck by the tremendous damage. It looked
like someone with a six-block wide lawnmower had gone right through the city.
The sight was so awesome that I am not ashamed to say it, I cried.
in the early 1950's the City had adopted a Master Traffic Plan, which showed a
trafficway from 29th & Gage up through Billard Airport, to connect with U.S.
24. Since the tornado either paralleled or coincided with its destruction, I thought
it would be well for the City to right away buy all the vacant property, but we
didn't have seven million dollars to do so. I went to Washington and Sen. Frank
Carlson took me before the Senate's Ways and Means committee. Sen. Proxmire from
Wisconsin was its chairman. When I showed them the map and the route of the tornado,
I said we didn't have time to float a bond issue for the 7 million, so we wanted
a loan of the money. He leaned over his desk and said, "Mr. Mayor, the Federal
government isn't in the loan business," so we didn't get the money and the
trafficway still hasn't been built, and probably will never be built. I personally
believe Topeka missed a golden opportunity, presented by the tornado, to carry
out its Master Traffic Plan."
--Charles Wright, Former Topeka Mayor
"I was just three years old but can vividly recall
my mother hustling us up the street to a neighbors shelter. We lived within a
mile of Washburn and the noise from the storm was very intense. What stuck in
my mind was the parents had began to sing "Home on the Range" to drown
out the storms noise and to calm the children. My father was in the Dakotas working
and told me that when he watched the national news and saw the devastation he
was very concerned because we lived so close to the path of the storm. He drove
home immediatly as the phones were down for weeks."
-- John Fitzpatrick
"I was 16 years old
in 1966. As sirens blew, my parents and I took cover in our Potwin area basement.
I was talking on the phone to a friend who lived in the Oakland area. He had helped
his mother move residents that she cared for, into their basement. There was one
man that could not be moved, so they placed a mattress over him and moved his
bed against an inner main floor wall. We resumed talking on the phone, and he
joked that he did not need to go to the basement. After several minutes, his voice
became concerned as he indicated that the neighbor's roof just flew by. I then
heard loud noises and the phone went dead. Assuming he was still joking with me,
I was not really concerned that the tornado might have struck his home. As the
evening progressed, we listened to the news reports and realized just how much
damage had been done to the city. A knock came on our door. There stood my friend,
covered in mud and exhausted. He had ridden a bicycle with two flat tires from
his house to mine, to see if I was all right. He said that as the phone had gone
dead, the basement door followed him down the steps into his basement. The tornado
ripped his house from its foundation, leaving nothing standing except the invalid
man on his bed with the mattress, and the interior wall. We tried to drive to
the Oakland area to take my friend back to his family. Streets were nearly impassible
and security personnel were discouraging travel. I will never forget that evening,
the distructive force of a tornado, or the courage and compassion of my friend.
-- Diane (Hart) Albert
"My cousin and I were living at the Huntington Apts.
at about 30th and Gage. She worked at a beauty salon just behind the apt. complex.
I was home at the time when it started pouring rain. I was worried, and looked
out the south windows and saw what appeared to be a huge black curtain in the
sky, hanging over Burnett's Mountain. As I looked at it, I could see that the
sides seemed to be "boiling", and I suddenly realized it was a monster
tornado on the ground, heading right at us. I called the beauty salon and yelled
for them to take cover, then, like a dope, worried that they wouldn't take me
seriously, ran over there. Thankfully, the salon had emptied by then. At that
point, I didn't think I had time to run back out, plus I was scared and disoriented,
so I hunkered down against an inside wall and decided to try to ride it out. Then,
lucky for me, the owner of the salon ran back in to get the salon's receipts.
He grabbed me, and off we went, down to the basement of a nearby building. My
cousin was already there, and I can remember that we just had time to clutch each
other's hands when it roared over us. Strangely, neither of us can remember hearing
the roar of the tornado, or the screaming of everyone huddled together. When all
was quiet, we had quite a time getting out of the basement, as the outside stairwell
was full of debris. As I recall, there were at least two deaths there: one man
in his apartment and a man at the service station. We were right in the eye of
the tornado and it looked like a war zone everywhere around us. Everything was
gone. An amazing sidebar: when my car was dug out two days or so later, we found
items from our bathroom in the trunk! I've lived in Kansas all my life and that's
the only tornado I've ever witnessed."
-- Jan Griffin
" Being 11 years old and
growing up in Topeka, I was used to tornado sirens and going to the basement.
So when the sirens sounded that evening of June 8, 1966, I didn't think anything
of it until my sister and I went out to the garage to retrieved our two mother
cats and their 8 newborn kittens. I noticed the sky was the eeriest green I had
ever seen and I felt this night was different from all other nights.
we got all the kittens down to the basement my Dad told us to sit against the
wall and he started putting boards against the wall making a lean-to over the
family. It was at that moment that I knew this was not just a casual tornado warning.
I remember my Dad stood at the basement window while we all listened to the radio
Then I heard my Dad announce, "Here it
comes," as he ran under the lean-to with the rest of the family. Within seconds
we heard what sounded like the biggest freight train I had ever heard. The debris
hitting the house sounded like thousands of baseball bats being thrown against
the house. It was the scariest sound I had ever heard.
we all ventured out into the yard, I was stunned by the eerie quietness that surrounded
us. And the damage was unbelievable for my 11 year old eyes to comprehend. The
top of our tree on the patio had been torn off and was now on top of our garage
causing it to cave in, all the northside windows of the house had been shattered,
a 6" splinter of wood was "nailed" into our porch post, our porch
chair was found a block away, and the yard was so full of debris that it took
us about two weeks to clean it up. Just three houses south of us the entire roof
We were without electricity for two weeks but
the houses across the street had power so we were able to keep our perishables
in the neighbor's fridge. We cooked hamburgers on an old kerosene stove on the
back porch. I remeber walking down to a Red Cross station at the end of our block
where they were serving goulash and I wanted some so badly because I was so sick
of eating just sandwiches and hamburgers but my Mom said, "No, that is for
those who don't have anything to eat and we have food to eat."
few days after the tornado hit, my Dad took the family for a drive around the
city to see all the damage and by the time we got over to the Washburn campus,
I was so sick to my stomach from seeing all the devastation. That evening is etched
in my mind forever."
-- Margaret Cochrane
"I was 12 years old in 1966. I lived on the 400
block on Emmett with my parents, my Grandmother, and my sister and her newborn
son while her husband was stationed in Labrador. I remember the sky and how awesome
it looked. I remember that evening making a cake. While it was baking, I went
outside to look at the sky some more. We had a 2ft. sidewalk that went from the
house to the street. We lived on the west side of the street, the house facing
east. I remember jumping on one side the sidewalk and it being cool, and then
jumping on the the other
side of the sidewalk and it being hot. I thought
this was so cool, and jumped back and forth for a while. I went in and cooled
the cake and frosted it, and as soon as I was finished, the sirens went off. All
5 of us went to our small rock basement, and our two dogs. Daddy was at work.
The neighbor lady across the street with her two daughters ran over also and joined
us in the basement. We were down there a little while listening to the radio,
when we heard a noise up stairs and someone running across the floor. I was the
lady's husband. I remember his face when he came down the stairs, full of fear.
He only said, 'It's here, and it's a big one.' A few seconds later we heard what
sounded like alot of trains. I did not know until later that was the tornado.
It became so loud, and then faded off just as fast as it came. When it was clear
to go back upstairs, I remember the sky but it was different then before. I remember
trash all over, but the only thing we saw wrong at our house at first, was a broken
window that the
neighbor man broke to get in. I also remember going into
town the next day, I think we went to the bank. Soldiers with guns we everywhere,
mom said people were stealing and they were here to help. Just 2 blocks from our
home people were not so lucky. They lost everything. I will always remember that
night and what I saw the days following. It could of been us. And when I hear
a siren for a tornado, I remember June 8th 1966, and then I run to a basement
-- Kathy Slater Keesee
"When the tornado hit, I was just sitting down
to an awards steak
dinner at the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The man next
to me had just been served his steak, when someone said "Go to the basement,
tornado, tornado." I was hesitant about leaving the table because I knew
that my steak was on the way. I went to the basement and waited with the others.
The lights went out and we heard lots of wind followed by what sounded like gravel
falling on a back entrance. Then it was all over that quick. Someone said "All
Clear" and we all went upstairs to find everything in the place broken and
thrown around. A couple of employees who weathered it out upstairs had cuts and
bruises all over. My date and I went to check out my vehicle and found that it
didn't have much damage except that there was no glass intact anywhere in the
After contacting our families we walked to Stormont-Vail Hospital
and acted as messengers trying to reunite families.
was really quite an experience that will be ingrained in my memory forever."
-- Rod Hunt
"My family lived across from Washburn University
at 2045 MacVicar, where the Weatherwood Apartments now stand. Our home was made
of steel and was virtually soundproof when it was closed up as it was that day
with the air conditioner running. My mother and grandmother were watching a Kansas
City television station and had my father and brother not been out on the front
porch, we would not have heard the sirens.
Our house did
not have a basement so we headed next door to the neighbors and downstairs into
their storm/bomb shelter. My dad stayed up at our back door watching the storm
come in. My brother went back up to get him and wanted to get our year-old Irish
Setter who was in his pen in the backyard, but there was no time. The minute they
got down into the shelter, it hit.
The window blew out
of the room we were in and there was a ball of fire when our house literally blew
up. A man who had come in off the street to take refuge stood in front of me with
his overcoat stretched over me to protect me. I can remember feeling the wind
blow things onto my feet and the deafening sound the tornado made.
walked up the stairs to find nothing of the house that we had been in...the tornado
took the house, picked it up, and threw it in the backyard. There was no carpet,
linoleum, or anything except the plywood decking left. Looking to the south, we
saw what was left of our house and the neighborhood. I asked my mom where we were
going to live, and she said "I don't know...I just don't know..."
we made our way through the downed trees and massive debris to the front porch,
there stood our dog, Laddie. The tornado picked him up out of his pen (all of
which including the large tree within was totally gone) and set him down on the
front porch, directly behind a downed tree. His coat was black as coal and he
had some glass embedded in him, but otherwise he was okay and he went on to live
a long life.
There were steel panels from our house twisted
around trees all over the campus and the neighborhood for quite awhile afterward.
believe I became a weather watcher that day, at age 7."
1966- My brother James Eric was born that morning at St. Francis Hospital. I remember
the excitement of having a baby
brother. I was 6 yrs old at the time. While
mom was in the hospital I stayed with Aunt Hazel and Uncle Robert just south of
Lake Shawnee (37th & Croco). My baby sister, Felicia was with relatives in
Oakland. I remember being in the basement watching TV. As the adults listened
and watched, we stepped outside and looked to the north, in time to see the tornado
in Oakland (it would be some time before we knew family members in Oakland were
okay). I was amazed by the darkness and how huge the funnel cloud was. This site
has made a lasting impression on my life, from being very scared and afraid of
tornado watches and warnings as a youngster to being a spotter as a police officer.
My mother tells a story of this special day in our family. While in the hospital,
patients were placed in the hallway during the warning (no basement!) My father
worked in the emergency room at St. Francis, so he was really busy helping the
injured. Mom said he was covered in blood when she did get a chance to see him.
While a tragedy for the City, a special day for the Marcelino Anguiano family."
-- John P. Anguiano
transferred to Washburn for the fall semester of 1966 and found a vibrant faculty
teaching in less than ideal conditions. I attended classes in the Field House
and in trailers lining the outskirts of the Stoffer parking lot. Eventually we
had classes in other buildings and the new women's PE facility. I lived a short
distance from campus in an upstairs apartment on Throop Street and worked afternoons
at Blue Cross-Blue Shield while attending classes in the mornings and evenings.
The quality of instruction provided was superb and I truly believe that the physical
conditions did not lessen the overall quality of education provided."
-- Roberta "Bobbie" Flaherty
"I was a student at Washburn in 1966 and lived in
the Seabrook area with my family. I am a veteran and attended school at Washburn
and graduated in 1970. I attended school full time and worked full time at Goodyear
Tire and Rubber Co. 1966 was a memorable year for many reasons. First, the tornado
destroyed McDonald Baseball Field - we had worked extremely hard to prepare to
start the Stan Musial Baseball League in Topeka. Many college players and ex-college
players were looking forward to the season starting June 8, 1966. After the tornado
destroyed the field, we played many of our games in Rossville and ball parks we
could find. Our team was C&W Market. Davey Lopes, a former major league player
and coach was a member of our team. Second, I arrived on the campus just a few
hours after the tornado hit. I was at work at Goodyear andmy family was at home
and were terrified by the noise created by the storm. They got to safety in a
church basement near our home. When I drove through the campus a little after
11 P.M., it looked like we had
been hit by an attack from the war. I will
never forget the buildings that were destroyed and the trees completely gone.
It changed Washburn forever. Many students - older students -
the younger ones that Washburn would come back better than ever. It has certainly
proven that to be the case.
Third, in August, 1966,
I fell from a three-story house just south of the Capitol Building and broke my
back and shattered my left foot. I was able to return to school in the spring
of 1967 and finish my degree. While I was in casts, our third son was born October
3, 1966. I recovered and graduated from Washburn University in May 1970. I have
been teaching since I graduated from college. My oldest son graduated from Washburn
and was an All-American in baseball in 1984. His name is Timothy Taylor. Currently
I am chairman of English Department in a large high school in Dallas, Texas. Timothy
is an English teacher in a large high school in Dallas and head girls softball
coach. I coached until 2001. I will be retiring from teaching in one more year.
While I was in Kansas - 20 years - I started the Kansas High School Baseball Coaches
-- Donald R. Taylor, BED, 1970
"I was a sophomore at Washburn and I was looking
forward to attending the Washburn Summer Session that summer of 1966. I was living
at home on the south side of Topeka (close to White Lakes Mall) at that time and
I remember when the sirens went off early that evening.
After the storm
had passed, I drove to the campus, and it looked like a war zone. I was a physics
and astronomy major, and I was concerned about the status of the Crane Observatory
on top of Stoffer Science Hall. When I arrived, I discovered the dome had been
blown completely away. Most of the buildings were either completely destroyed
or badly damaged.
I ventured into Stoffer Science hall and discovered
Dr. Alexander had already removed the objective lens from the 12-inch telescope
and was examining the damage. (The lens was pitted in several places).
In the next few days there was talk about W.U. closing down totally because of
all the damage and the possibility of the loss of many of the academic records
and files. But, this did not happen. W.U. Summer session started the next week
at Topeka West High School. It was an incredible effort to recover and bring the
campus back over the next couple of months (and years).
I was also in
the University band and Jazz Workshop (Mr. James Van Slyke - conductor) and I
really missed our rehearsals and concerts in McVicar Chapel. It was a very unique
time to be attending Washburn during the late 1960's and to be a part of this
-- Frank Van Vleck
"In June, 1966, I was a student at Washburn,
living in the duplexes on West 29th Terrace (just East of Gage). Although I had
been born and raised in Topeka, I had very little knowledge of, or interest in,
tornados. I was young and infallible! That, of course, all changed in an instant.
The day was extremely hot and humid, and by afternoon
the skies were looking ominous and rather "greenish," enough so that
I cut my shopping in Holiday Square short to get home. Those skies were the tipoff
that this evening was probably going to be different from most hot, summer nights,
and would be life-changing for many in Topeka and the surrounding areas.
had dinner planned with a friend that evening and would be away from the house.
So I listened to the radio weather warnings, and fed my cat, and left for my dinner,
hoping that the rain wouldn't leak in my window as it sometimes did. I had barely
arrived at my friends home at 6:30 as Bill Kurtis, the weatherman on WIBW TV,
described damage from "extremely high winds" in towns southwest of Topeka.
But, of course, Topeka was protected from tornados by Burnett's Mound, or so we
had always been led to believe, "so Topeka itself was in no danger,"
At 6:45 it became clear that Topeka was directly
in the path of
these "winds" and would likely suffer some damage,
and so I determined to run back home to put my new patio furniture inside the
house to protect it. I arrived home at about 7:00, having borrowed my friend's
car to make the quick trip! A regrettable decision on her part! And so, after
a race down Gage Blvd, with dirt-black clouds churning behind Burnett's Mound,
I rushed in the front door with the tornado sirens wailing only a few blocks from
my house...no chance of missing them!
Forgetting about the new patio
furniture, I grabbed the cat, and
headed for my basement in which was stored
several large wardrobes full of my aunt Daisy Hindman's clothes, which were still
there since her death the previous summer. I had a radio down there and turned
it on in time to hear Rick (the DJ) on the radio saying that "It's coming
down Burnett's Mound AFTER ME!" At the same time, on my TV Bill Kurtis was
warning, "For Gods Sake! TAKE COVER NOW!" And I thought, "Oh my
God! I've never even HEARD of anyone living through a Tornado and I'm #$^#$@ gonna
After a quick peek out of the basement window, I could see
nothing but black clouds, with Rick hollering in the background on the radio,
and Bill K. repeating his steady, serious warning. I crouched down in the SW corner
of the basement, pulling one of those big wardrobes full of clothing down on top
of cat and me! Cat, by that time, had decided that this was not to her liking,
and she decided she wanted to CLIMB out, over me and over the wardrobe! However,
in that same moment, I heard "the train" and it was as if I was lying
next to the train tracks as it passed...I heard no glass breaking, no wood splintering,
nothing but the thundering roar and the ground-shaking of something
happening. At that same moment the extreme drop in pressure made my ears pop painfully.
Air evaporated. I could barely breathe.
I stayed motionless
for a moment or two, moving various body parts to make sure that I was, indeed,
alive, and that the parts were actually working! Suddenly, I recognized the smell
of gas and thought, "Oh NO! Now I'm gonna be blown to smithereens or burned
to death! I gotta get outta here!" And so, with Cat still under one arm,
I shoved the heavy wardrobe away and started up the stairs, wondering why there
was "something" floating in the air, pieces that were slapping and stinging
As I reached the top of the stairs I was stopped dead
in my tracks by the spectre before me, and at that moment relaxed my grip on Cat
and she dashed off in one hysterical leap! My carpet (new) had gone from pale
green to brown. Splinters filled my living room where antiques a few minutes ago
had been, and the walls were gone. The only wall left standing was the center-beam
wall that separated the duplexes. Needless to say, the patio furniture was probably,
by that time, in Missouri! I was utterly speechless.
like the creatures of habit we all are, as I ran out of the
toward my neighbor who lived to the South of me, I went and knocked frantically
on his back door. Suddenly his face appeared around a jagged corner laughing and
asking me why I was knocking on the door when it was the only wall left standing!!!
Two steps to the right and I'd have been in what was left of his living room!
dear friends were approaching my neighborhood from Gage Blvd as the storm struck
and, because they got there in record time, before the police, they got through
and came to "rescue" me. They did, and thus began a long sequence of
events that saw us walking down 29th to Burlingame, to Washburn and across the
now-ravaged campus IN THE DARK, HOLDING HANDS with all of the downed power lines,
to get to my dinner-partner-friend's house to tell her that her car was gone!
Somehow it seemed important at the time.
were many pets killed that night, many in my own
neighborhood who were outside,
three days after the storm, my beloved Cat returned to our home, and reluctantly
let me "catch her." She was a mess, having gotten into some kind of
tar mixture that I was told came from telephone poles. But she was alive, and
so was I. She lived another 10 years after the storm. I finished my degree in
Social Work and went on to grad school, but June 8th NEVER passes without my notice
and without a moment of thanks for having survived that night when 17 others died.
It could have so easily been me. As with so many others with whom I have spoken
over the years, June 8, 1966 was a life-altering experience. Life eventually got
back to normal for me, and for the City, and for Washburn, but it took years.
And it was never the same, nor was I."
-- Judith A. Miller, BA
"I was between
my junior and senior years as a Washburn student when the tornado changed campus
life. I was out of town when it hit, but returned shortly afterwards to find a
campus unfamiliar in appearance, but very much alive!
people have seen the pictures of the actual damage to campus, but having walked
the grounds, the pictures don't begin to tell the story. Of course, the buildings
being destroyed left such a void, but the loss of the trees made such a remarkable
difference in the appearance of the campus. The almost "forested" campus
was de-nuded and seemed so barren. The air on campus smelled of freshly-cut cedar
for a long time after the tornado since there had been so many cedar groves on
Going to class at "Trailer Tech" (as
we often referred to WU in the
next few years) presented some interesting
experiences. The trailers were organized into villages named after the destroyed
buildings and were relatively comfortable. However, inclement weather made getting
to the trailers challenging, as we often had to use boardwalks instead of sidewalks
to reach our classes. And the mud was everywhere, it seemed. Professors had to
shout over the sound of the rain hammering on the flat roof surface of the trailers,
too, and some just gave up and dismissed class when the noise from the rain was
too loud for a lecture to occur. Needless to say, some students prayed for rainy
Surprisingly, campus activities did not suffer, for
worked around the clock to ready the campus for students returning
to campus in the fall of 1966. The Union, Moore Bowl, Whiting Fieldhouse all had
some damage that was repaired in time for the start of school, so football games
were held, basketball teams competed, bridge and coffee in the Union were possible
and the usual sorts of organizations continued their activities. Some sorority
members were displaced because of destruction or damage to their houses, but town
members invited many to share their homes and some rented apartments or houses.
Lack of space encouraged lots of "closeness" among members!
word of appreciation should be given to all the members of the
administration who kept Washburn alive despite the
and challenges. As students, we noticed only minor inconveniences, but I know
that faculty members lost precious books, papers, research materials, etc. and
were displaced from offices. The administration made certain that enrollment happened
smoothly, finances and financial aid were handled well and student needs were
This was, by any measure, a remarkable accomplishment of truly devoted
employees of the University. It is their legacy to the Washburn of today."
-- Carol Vogel, BA 1967
was an adjunct instructor in Geology at that time. I still am. We
yet completed enrollment at the time the tornado hit. I and the Dept. Head enrolled
students at Topeka West High School and I taught Geology over there that summer.
I transported all my rock and mineral samples over to West. By the time the Fall
term started, Washburn had Stoffer Hall repaired and mobile class rooms were in
place just east of the Stoffer parking lot."
-- Al Stallard
"I was working on the WU
building and grounds crew for Lloyd Durow that summer, as a summer job after my
junior year at Topeka High. We certainly had our work cut out for us after the
storm. I am a WU Law grad, practicing here in Topeka, and a WU adjunct, teaching
a couple of military history courses. My guess is that not too many WU employees
during the tornado are employees today."
-- William Barker
"I personally am neither
from Topeka nor a native Kansan, but here in Iowa, I definitely remember hearing
the news of the June 8th tornado as a nine-year-old child. Several months later,
the local TV station in Mason City ran the documentary made by WIBW about the
disaster that included the film footage of Bill Kurtis saying, "For God's
sake, take cover!" A little more than four months after the Topeka tornado,
a massive twister struck the town of Belmond which is close to where I live, literally
wiping out almost the entire community."
-- Kevin Young
"The day began sultry -
the kind of day the old timers called "tornado weather". I was a teenager
who had just sat down to watch the Patty Duke show when the tornado sirens sounded
and the news came on about the approaching tornado. I kept watching in horror
as the reports came in from Burnett's Mound, from the Embassy Apartments, from
Washburn, and then downtown Topeka. We lived in Oakland and I knew the tornado
was making a bee-line towards us. I yelled at my mother who was outside looking
at the clouds to get into the basement. As we headed
down I could hear the
roar - something I'll never forget. We huddled near the basement window where
we could see the tornado. It was, as I believe it is now called, "roping
out" and was white. Debris continued to drop onto the house and yard, but
we did not suffer a direct hit.
After it passed, we
went upstairs to call my brother in Texas to let
them know we were OK - 20
minutes later the phone lines went out. We walked around outside checking for
damage in the neighborhood. Little did we know at the time that the Garden Park
area just two blocks south, and Billard Airport, had suffered considerable damage.
We were lucky. Although the gas was shut off for a couple of weeks, electricity
was restored sooner and we were able to watch the reports on TV. We sat in disbelief
and horror watching the video, and prayed for those who were not as fortunate.
We found papers from the building at 10th and Kansas in our yard, as well as 2x4's
and insulation among other things. About a week later, on the way home from my
summer job, there was another tornado warning. People ran red lights and were
speeding through the streets to take cover.
forget June 8th, and I now keep an eye on the skies and an ear to the weather
reports. We've come a long way in tornado warnings but June 8th is a vivid reminder
that no matter how technically advanced weather forcasting is, tornadoes can still
do incredible damage...and an F5 has been referred to as 'the finger of God'.
Let's hope we never have to see such as that again."
sixteen years old when the tornado hit. My family and I lived in the Oakland area.
My mother was working in the downtown area and my dad was working as a bartender
a few blocks from our home. I was babysitting my younger sister and four younger
brothers. My sister and I had our hair in curlers because we were getting ready
for a dance that was scheduled to be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Hall later
that evening. When the sirens went off, I herded the kids down to the basement.
We took a jug of water and the transistor radio with us. The two youngest brothers
were crying and asking for their mama.
I remember the sky was a sickly green
color. The atmosphere was thick and quiet. I was so scared but I had to keep that
to myself. The radio was broadcasting that the tornado had hit Washburn and the
downtown area. My mom was downtown! I felt sick to my stomach. But then I heard
that it was heading toward the Oakland area. When it passed over us, it sounded
like a freight train. When the all-clear was sounded, we ventured out and heard
a pounding on the door. It was my dad. I was so glad to see him. We went outside
to survey the damage. We were spared, but two blocks over we learned that the
OLG Hall had been demolished. Had the tornado hit an hour later, it would
have been crammed full of teenagers. My mother finally arrived home. She said
that someone with a car (she didn't know the person) stopped and offered her a
ride. The car was already jammed with passengers but she gratefully accepted.
When she arrived home, she almost fainted with relief to find her family and home
safe. My mother, who never sipped anything stronger than a beer, had to take a
shot of whiskey. That in itself was as much of an indicator of the power of the
tornado!! To this day, I still shake when the sirens sound."
"We were living on 30th Terr just below Burnett's Mound. We were in the southwest
corner of the basement when our father knew we had to get out of the house. My
mother, father, brother, sister, pet dog, as well as a cousin and her son that
was at the house with us, and myself got into our car and headed toward Gage Blvd
in hopes of getting on the interstate to get away from the storm. Instead, the
oxygen was sucked out of the car on Gage in front of the Embassy/Hunington Park
Apartments and the car died. We all laid over on the seats and rode out the storm.
We were actually picked up inside the tornado itself and thrown around, then thrown
against the apartments as the storm moved on. We all walked away with glass and
splitters embedded in us. My father had a nail puncture in his back from a board
that had gone from the back window through the steering wheel and out the front
window. My cousin had a board hit her in the check and cut it. Other than that
we were all OK.
When my father went back to the house
later that night, in the
southwest corner where we had been before we left,
there was over six foot of debris and most likely we would have all been killed
if we would have stayed in the home."
-- Sandra (Lollar) Dowell
"On June 8, 1966, I
was in my 19th year as a member of a two-man Associated Press staff in the capital
city of Kansas. On that fateful day, I was working alone. The other AP staffer
was on vacation. He and his family were in Levelland, Texas, visiting relatives.
Normally I would have worked until about 6:30 p.m. But, the U.S. Weather Service
had issued a tornado watch for northeast Kansas and it seemed prudent to stay
on the job in case something developed.
The AP office
was a small room to the north of the Topeka Capital-Journal news room. On the
east side of the news room was a row of teletype machines, most of them bringing
in news and features. One, however, was connected to the Weather Service office
at Topekas Billard airport. These teletypes were equipped with bells that
would signal important news, or in the case of the weather teletype, possible
severe weather developments. A jangle from the weather teletype just after 7 p.m.
signaled an urgent message. I rushed to the machine and read that a tornado had
entered the southwest side of Topeka, in the area of Burnetts mound. Immediately,
I sped back to the AP office and filed a bulletin on our teletype to get the news
to the outside world.
Several Capital-Journal employees
were standing at the windows on the south side to view the storm. Suddenly, they
let out a cry, Here it comes. We all made a dash to the basement level.
In almost no time the storm was whirling by. Doors and it seemed that even
the building shook. Then it was quiet with a rather eerie twilight outside.
On return to the AP office, I found there was no telephone service, no electricity.
trip outside revealed some damage to the Capital-Journal building, but it was
obvious that the worst of the storm had been a few yards to the south. Nevertheless,
several of the cars in the Capital-Journal parking lot, including mine, had received
a buffeting. My car was a small coupe. All of the windows and the windshield had
been blown out. Small bits of glass covered the seats and the floor. Every inch
of the white paint exterior looked as if it had been pockmarked by shotgun pellets.
did not linger. All signs indicated Topeka had suffered a major
My immediate, overriding thought was to find some place where I could be assured
of telephone service to collect all the information possible and to be
able to relay that information to the Associated Press bureau in Kansas City for
dissemination to the nation and the world. With that in mind, I walked across
the Sixth Street bridge over Interstate 70 and proceeded south on Quincy Street
to the building housing the Kansas area offices of Southwestern Bell Telephone
Co. All along the way heavy damage could be sighted a short distance to the south.
I was able to reach Bill Bailey, the Southwestern Bell public relations representative
for Kansas. He agreed to let me use his office and telephone. The windows in his
office had been blown out by winds swirling on the edges of the actual funnel
path. And although it got rather chilly in that office in the wee hours of the
morning, it was evident I had figured correctly. If I could be assured of telephone
service, it would be in that office.
For the rest of that
night and much of the next day, I stayed there
gathering information by phone
from city officials, police, Washburn University officials, Topeka hospitals,
funeral homes, and other sources. As circumstances warranted, this information
was relayed by telephone to the Associated Press office in Kansas City. There
it was put in story form and sent out to newspapers, radio and television stations
all across the nation, and even the world. I think it is fair to say this was
a major link that Wednesday night and the next day between Topeka and the outside
world. This was confirmed later when the Topeka AP bureau received front pages
from major newspapers all across the country headlining the Associated Press story
on this monster storm.
I did find time to check on my family.
Our residence was well away from the tornado path, but we had a daughter working
as an aide at the Kansas Neurological Institute. Her place of work was a wooden
structure which had been built as an army hospital ward during World War II. I
was relieved to find she was safe although the tornado had cut across the grounds
of the Institute.
I worked without sleep through all of
Wednesday night and Thursday, although the AP sent in some reinforcements from
Kansas City and Wichita. As things began settling down, we determined that an
AP teletype in a press room at the Kansas Statehouse was still operational. The
AP advised me it wanted me to do a follow-up story for Sunday newspapers. I did
some interviewing on Friday, got a little sleep that night and on Saturday morning
This story was told mainly through the
experiences, actions and
reactions of four individuals who were intimately
involved with the
storm. Two of them were Mrs. Pearl Miller and Mrs. Louis
rode out the fury of the storm under a table in Mrs. Millers
home in the Embassy Apartments just below Burnetts mound a complex
badly wrecked by the storm. Also featured was David Hathaway, Topeka policeman,
who was posted to the Burnett Mound area just before the tornado moved in.. An
then there was P.N. Eland, of the Topeka office of the Weather Service, who issued
the warning and eventually had to take cover under a desk at the weather service
office at Billard Airport when the funnel passed only yards away.
I wrote, each finished page was ripped from the typewriter and
a teletype operator who sent it unedited to the Kansas City AP bureau where the
story was relayed across the nations."
-- Elon Torrence
the evening of June 8, 1966, I was working on the front desk of the Ramada Inn
on East Sixth. I had just finished my junior year at Washburn and had started
work with Ramada a week earlier.
When word of the
tornado came in to the front desk, we began lobby and restaurant announcements
and calling occupied rooms to indicate the need to go to the basement.
wind from the tornado blew open both sets of the front doors, it was suddenly
near dark, and the sound was a loud roar. Although I had grown up in Southeast
Kansas, this was the first time that I had ever gone to a basement for a tornado.
Ramada Inn had some window damage and the roof was slightly raised in the main
building. The Inn was weeks away from an intended opening of its first major expansion.
Instead, the new rooms were opened for power line and telephone workers who were
brought in late that night. The new rooms were opened with temporary numbers and
sheets to cover the windows. Most of those workers stayed at the Inn for a number
of weeks. During that time the rooms were actually completed and different permanent
numbers were installed. So the workers came back
one night to find all their
room numbers changed.
With the newspaper offices a block
way blown out, the reporter calls were routed through the Ramada switchboard.
Even so a number of exaggerated rumors still circulated on the damage. Word came
in that the top three stories of the (Docking) State Office Building and the dome
on the Capitol were gone.
When I left work at around 2
A.M., I still had no idea of the routes
open across town. I finally found
that Topeka Boulevard was open for one lane and both sides looked like a bombing
run for blocks.
I did not have damage where I was living
for the summer. However, many of the Ramada staff did have house or apartment
damage. So my next ten days was mostly spent working at Ramada with little time
to see more than the Topeka Boulevard and the Ramada area damage."
-- Bruce Roby
8th birthday was only 3 days away when the tornado hit Topeka and the only thing
I got that year was my baby brother John who was born on my birthday June 11."
-- Jim Garcia
I remember that June 8? Oh, do I remember! My name is Virgil King and my memory
is growing somewhat dim, but I do remember that evening. I and my wife, Bonnie,
along with our 6 children lived on Kincaid Road about 1/4 mile north of Seward,
that is east of Billard Airport. The Pollards lived north of us. Some were ready
to go to a Scout meeting and oh my, that storm! We all went down in our basement
and stayed. There was an outside basement door and, after a while, it began to
get real light outside. Bill Pollard walked outside and remarked, Look,
its all over! Me behind him, I turned and looked toward Oakland and
oh, my Lord the whole sky was full of Oakland. We werent slack in heading
back to the basement for cover and what a hallowed noise! It would make the hair
stand up on the back of your neck. We waited that time till it was well quieted
and all the power was off. The phone was off. Our five acres was completely covered
with Topeka pieces all perishables there was nothing solid.
Later news said a keg from Topeka set down in St. Joseph, MO. It was still intact.
How merciful God was to us. Things started raising east of Oakland and the tail
was 100 yards wide where it peeled the ground coming out of the airport not very
far north of us.
Glory to God! The only damage
to us was the windshield out of our pickup truck, 5 acres of debris, and our power
off for 9 days. Company came from Oklahoma. We survived with joy and a loan of
I was an Ironworker, working for Clemmons
Construction at the time building the Macy store on 8th and Kansas. Our crew was
called up for emergency help with a crane. They couldnt reach me that evening
but my friend, Kenneth Bell, and some of the others lifted the walls of a house
that had folded. There sat two little elderly people in their easy chairs home
free. What a way out! We hope no suffering.
All the city
buses were in the barn at that hour when the storm hit
and in a day or so
Clemmons was called to get them out and try to keep from damaging the ones that
werent hurt too bad. The building was block walls and the top was metal
trusses, which the storm had lifted up and set down on top of the buses. Stay
with me now this gets better! We had a crane in back with two ironworkers, a cutting
torch, and chokers to lift the iron. The same in front of the building and maybe
on the south side also. Now listen to this, Willis Barber and whoever was helping
him were in the back near the alley. There was a gentlemen standing by closely
observing them. The walls had folded on his building. He kept asking if they could
swing around and give him a pick. Finally they did! When one wall was raised up,
it must have been full of money because money fell everywhere! Of course, you
the gentleman wouldnt let them make another pick. That was all
Now back to the storm damage. It was a horrible
sight to drive
through Topeka where you could and see. I even saw a station
wagon sitting on the second floor of a house. Folks, we endured that storm and
let that be a lesson to us. Topeka lived under the promise of a man. Burnetts
Mound would always protect it. Folks what did God say? That storm peeled
right down the side of and all the way through Topeka. Let us watch and pray.
Bonnie said we were rated R for a few days until we got all the
picked up off our place!"
-- Virgil Lee King
"I remember being in church
the early evening of June 8th, 1966 for Wednesday night services. My father was
the minister of Pine Ridge Baptist Church located across the street from the Pine
Ridge Housing development around East 10th & Highland Street. We were in the
middle of the service when we heard the tornado sirens sound. My dad stopped preaching
and the congregation began opening windows and looking outside to see what was
going on. The sky was a strange greenish, darkish color and was filled with debri
from what the tornado was tearing up along it's path. We all stood around for
a little while either outside the church or inside looking out open windows and
watching in amazement. The church did not have a basement, so we ended up going
over to a neighbor's house until the danger passed.
that evening, my dad decided to drive to the hospitals to see if he could help.
He had been an x-ray technician for many years and wanted to assist with the huge
numbers of injured people who were streaming into the hospital. However, he had
to return home before reaching his destination because of the damage and the roads
that were blocked by the police.
A few days later our
family was able to drive around to view and
document the devastation. It
was an experience I will never
- Cindy (Rankin) Stillings
"In June of 1966, I was
the Universitys Bookstore Manager. Since the summer classes moved to Topeka
West High following the tornado, it was necessary for the bookstore to move to
that campus. A faculty member came to me and asked if there was anything he could
do to help. So, one evening he and I packed books together, he on one side of
a table and me on the other. We talked as we packed. It was a very pleasant time
for me during a stressful situation."
-- Harold Holden
"I was 8 years old
and at my babysitter's while my mom was at work. Her name was Linda and she was
not very nice. When the tornado came, it got very windy and and it was an eerie
color outside. The sirens went off and I could sense the fear. Of course, I started
When it was over, my mom called to see if I was OK. Linda told
her I could talk to her as soon as I stopped crying. My mom told her to let me
talk to her right now and she wouldn't unless I stopped crying! Needless to say,
my mom came and got me and I never had to go back to mean old Linda's again!
The next day we found out that our dog had her puppies out
on the porch during the storm. Also, a huge oak tree had fallen on a corner of
the porch. We couldn't believe a tree that big could be uprooted like that. The
only change in my life was having to go to double shifts at my school. It was
weird getting out of school after dark, but we were very lucky.
as I grew a bit older, I was to realize the complete
devastation and loss
of lives. When I was ten, we moved to the
apartments on Burnett's Mound.
There was a cross erected there with the names of the people who had died during
-- Brenda Cook Johns
"I had just finished my first year of teaching
in the Topeka Public
Schools (Parkdale School) and was taking a class at
University so that I could renew my teaching certificate. I was
home in my apartment that evening and I can remember having a really bad
headache for some reason--later I wondered if it had been from the already unstable
atmosphere. My apartment was the top floor of a house on Topeka Avenue (several
blocks south of the capitol building) and the lady who owned the house lived on
the ground floor. Elsie (I think that was her name and I can't remember her last
name) was a social worker for the state so she wasn't at home much of the time.
Fortunately for me, Elsie was at home that evening of June 8, 1966!
heard the tornado sirens go off and I turned on my new TV to hear Bill Kurtis
telling everyone to seek shelter immediately! Then my phone rang and it was Elsie
telling me to come downstairs and she and I would go into her basement. I grabbed
a magazine and took it with me so that I would have something to read while we
waited for the storm to pass by. We sat in the basement and listened to the radio
and heard that the tornado had come over Burnett's Mound and was on its way into
the city. But I still wasn't really scared--I thought it was just some small twister
that probably would't do very much damage and certainly wouldn't hit the house
in which I was living. Then soon we heard the very loud roar of what sounded like
a monster train--and the windows of the basment were blown in! We were hit by
mud and debris but not any glass. We felt the pressure of the tornado and it seemed
as though the house was going to be picked up and then smashed
on top of us again! I remember thinking that this was
probably the last day
of my life--and then the storm blew over and was on its way across town--and I
was still alive! I said a prayer of thanks for that! And I never did get around
to reading that magazine!
When the "all clear"
sirens sounded, we went upstairs and looked at our surroundings. It looked as
though we were in a war zone and that the area had been hit by a bomb! All we
could see was destrucion! Trees were broken and stripped of their leaves. People
came out of their houses and wandered about as if in a daze. People in cars began
driving down Topeka Avenue and stared at us as we stood in our house without any
walls. It was very eerie!
My apartment was pretty much
gone--a few walls were left standing but there was no roof. The closet in my bedroom
stayed so all my clothes (the ones that I had put away at least!) were still there.
Some of my furniture was still in my apartment but it was broken and muddy and
wet! The bedspread from my bed was draped over my little VW--which was parked
in the alley behind the house. A tree had fallen onto my car and the top was smashed
in--but it was still driveable. I found dishes, etc. under the area rug in the
living room--the wind had apparently lifted up the rug and deposited stuff under
it. My new TV was still there but was broken and not useable. I can remember thinking
that I was alive and that I could always buy more things--and that everything
would be okay!
Elsie had a friend who was a ham radio operator
and he came over to see if we were okay. He asked if he could help in any way
so I asked if he could somehow contact my parents who lived in Beatrice, Nebraska
and tell them that I was okay but that I would need some help in cleaning up my
things. He came back again the following morning to say that he had radioed someone
in South Dakota who then had called my parents by phone and had told them that
I had been in the tornado but was okay. My parents told me later that they had
heard about the tornado on their radio and they kind of knew that I had been right
in the path of it but there had been nothing they could do except to pray--which
they did. They had then gone to bed which is where they were when they received
the call from South Dakota. They told the person who had called them that they
would be coming to help me the following morning.
Elsie's bedrooms was at the back of the house (to the east) and there wasn't any
floor over it so the roof stayed on that room. She and I slept (I don't know if
we really slept!) in that room. I can remember the next morning waking up and
hearing birds singing as if they too were thankful to be alive.
parents did come from Nebraska the following morning and I was so very glad to
see them! They said that they had been stopped as they approached that part of
Topeka Avenue and were asked what they were doing there. They said that they were
coming to help me and they were then allowed to drive right on through to where
I was. My parents thought that this was another answer to prayer.
good friend Elly who lived in another part of Topeka (her house was out of the
tornado area) was out of town and I had the key to her house because I was taking
care of her cat while she was gone. So I called Elly who was in Boston, Massachusetts
on vacation to tell her that her house was okay--but that I was moving into her
house for the time being. I'm sure she wondered why she had ever given me the
key to her house! I later found another apartment and was ready to teach again
when the school year started. I traded in my rather sad looking VW for a Karmen
Ghia--and life went on.
After a few days, the class that
I had been attending at Washburn
started again--but in a church because Washburn
was also badly damaged by the tornado. I remember sitting in class one day and
suddenly having to just get up and walk out because I felt as though I couldn't
handle things. And for a long time after that, whenever I heard any kind of siren,
I had to just calm myself down and remind myself that it wasn't a tornado warning
but just a fire truck or an ambulance. But I also remember all the concern and
care from family and friends. It got to be kind a joke to be able to say that
when I had done something dumb that, after all, I had been in the tornado and
could therefore be excused!
I now live in Texas where
very few houses have basements--I still get scared when a storm heads my way!
I'll always be thankful that my landlady was at home on June 8, 1966, and that
I could go into her basement for shelter--or I probably would have ended up being
draped over my car along with my bedspread!"
-- Doris Claassen
1966 was our 8th wedding anniversary. We had driven in from Texas that day, watching
the clouds and often commenting that we were lucky it was not storming while we
We arrived home and Buck and our daughters,
Colleen (6) and Monica (4) went to get the dog from the kennel. I got busy unpacking
and starting laundry. When Buck and the girls got home they reported that the
neighbors had said we were in a tornado watch. Our home was 3600 SW 30th Street,
right at the crest of the hill between Atwood and Arnold. When the alarm sounded,
we raced to the basement. Buck went to the southwest bedroom window to watch while
the girls and I were in a windowless storeroom. Very quickly Buck returned and
said, "We're going to get it!" and the sound of glass breaking started.
He had watched it hit at the bottom of the hill and knew what
As soon as it was quiet, I ran up the stairs
and stepped on a nail!
The sun was out and it was a beautiful June evening,
until I looked
east at the fast moving dark clouds. Our bathroom was standing
and a single door frame and door still stood. I could not see a single structure
that was whole in any direction. The door behind me slammed shut and I stood screaming
that I could not open it! All I had to do was step around it, but who can think
clearly at a time like that?
I saw a man running down the
easement turning off gas meters. Another man pulled up in a jeep and asked if
he could take us anywhere. We were holding the girls because of all the glass
and debris and they were barefoot (a lesson learned--always were sturdy shoes
when taking cover!). The man, and we never got his name, took us a few blocks
away to friends. They were still in their basement because they did not know if
there had been an all clear--they, of course, had no electricty.
friend took Buck to Howard Johnson's Motel to a telephone. He got through to my
mother to tell her we were safe and luckily told her to call his parents--we did
not get a line out again for several days. On the way back Buck left a note on
a friend's door that we needed a place to live. This friend worked for a real
estate company and the next morning he contacted us saying he had two rentals,
one furnished and one not. We took the unfurnished one because we had so many
friends offering us furniture and we knew others might not be as fortunate. By
the end of the week we had hired a contractor and we moved back home over Labor
The community, and especially our church friends,
gave us so much support. The quick reaction of emergency services was outstanding.
Word had quickly spread the evening of the 8th to go to Maude Bishop Elementary
to sign in. The next morning signs sprouted on the yards that everyone in the
household was accounted for. Supplies for cleaning up were delivered by church
groups. Volunteers appeared from all over the state to help out. All those acts
made the event less traumatic and, I hope, made all of us involved more caring
and helpful to others for the rest of our lives."
-- Janet Jones
"I was seventeen and
just out of high school, barely a month. I was living in north Topeka on North
Central Street, just one half block north of the post office and attending Capitol
City Barber College. I had gotten out of class, it was mid-week and didn't have
a test until Friday so I drove out to Capitol Cart Speedway with a friend to race
carts. The late afternoon air seemed very heavy and steamy and the breeze felt
good flying around the track. In the southwest sky, clouds began to build and
look threatening. The air was even more sultry than earlier in the afternoon.
Being the age we were, we dismissed the approaching storm as just another inconvenience
to our personal itinerary. We continued to race as the wind picked up and the
sky darkened. At some point the sirens must have sounded because the track
operator appeared and was franticly waving us in and yelling about a tornado warning
and a sighting of a funnel cloud out by Auburn, a town of which we had no idea
of it's location.
My friend and I jumped into his
old 1950 Ford and headed north on Topeka Avenue toward my apartment. The consequence
of our decision to go north instead of south to my home in Lyndon was inconceivable
at the time. The traffic was not heavy as we pulled out on to the avenue, but
as we passed Noller Ford and 17th Street, we could see the fear in the faces of
the people we met or passed. Everyone's driving became very erratic and we realized
we were driving over 80 miles per hour. At 10th and Topeka, the intersection was
a mess and on the A.M. radio through the static and popping from the lighting
we heard the D. J. on K.E.W.I. telling everyone to take cover, that a large tornado
was approaching the Topeka city limit out by the White Horse Farm at 37th, and
Gage and Burnett's Mound. With the intersection a mess, we cut across the State
House grounds and made our way back to Topeka Avenue and across the bridge where
we turned right on Gordon St. to Central. The radio was screaming about the storm
being in the city and heading toward the downtown area as we screached to a stop
leaving the car in the middle of the street. The landlady had locked the doors
before going to the basement and our hollering and pounding on the door was to
no avail. Had to think! I had to think, what were we to do?
remembered another friend of mine had an uncle who lived in Oakland, by the Billard
Airport. In the car going at what speed I don't recall, only that it seemed we
were not moving at all, we heard the radio transmission going in and out and breaking
up. The storm was somewhere in central Topeka around Washburn University. I can
remember having a passing thought about two of my classmates from barber college
who were living in the University appartments. It took us a while to find the
correct house. The wind was howling now and it had become very dark towards downtown.
The rain was intermittent, dry or blowing sideways. Just as I jumped from the
car and headed to the front door a gust of wind blew me into a tree breaking my
glasses in half as they flew from my face hitting a tree. The storm was really
close now. It had to be by the capitol building and the center of town. The sound
was intense, frightening and ugly. My friend's uncle finally came to the door,
at first thinking our pounding was the storm. Upon entering the basement, we were
met with another strange sensation. It suddenly became unearthly quiet and then
as we felt pressure in our ears and on our chests, a terrible roar filled the
room and seemed to go on for ever. As the storm subsided, we ventured out to an
unbelieveable sight. Just down the street a block was destruction. Downed trees,
wires and pieces of houses and airplane parts.
at our apartment, we caught bits of information about the storm's damage and officials
were asking everyone to stay at home and off the streets. The sirens from police
and fire vehicles continued throughout the night and into the next day. It wasn't
until days later that we knew the extent of the damage and how close we had come
to intercepting the tornado along our flight."
-- Doug Peterman
"The warm sultry day
began like any other that summer. My husband, John, went to work and I lingered
in bed, postponing my bout of nausea until the last possible moment. Eventually
I dealt with it, bathed and dressed for my own job, grateful for the air-conditioning
if nothing else.
After hours of standing, I was back
in the close atmosphere of our
little rental house. Outside, the sky was
oddly colored; a tension
seemed to hang in the air. When John came, I fixed
a light supper
which was soon interrupted by a loud knock on the door. Salesmen
had been pestering us, attracted by my pregnancy. Everything from life insurance
to photo packages was offered. Of course, we had no money, but that didnt
stem the flow. This time, an insurance peddler stood on the porch, undeterred
by the threatening weather. John was trying to politely discourage the man, but
to no avail. The scream of sirens didnt have any effect either, so my exasperated
husband shouted, I dont know about you, mister, but were going
to the basement! and slammed the door. He grabbed my hand and we negotiated
the questionable stairway to the cellar. Fortunately we did not realize at the
time that this cellar would begin to self-destruct a month later.
some apprehensive minutes, the all clear signal sounded,
us out of the small dungeon. We quickly turned on the radio only to hear that
all National Guard units were to report
immediately. The implications of
this directive were scary. John
realized his going would leave me all alone,
but he had no choice. He put on his fatigues and boots, kissed me, and hurried
out the front door to the unknown. I sat by the radio, listening to the newscasters
relaying what scanty information they had. The word devastation was
used repeatedly about the area around 29th and Gage. No one at that time had any
idea that the scope of the damage and the death toll cut across the heart of the
My grandparents lived just south and east of the
29th and Gage
intersection, so I was very worried about them. My two uncles
their families also lived in Topeka. Phone service was out so I could
not call anyone. I knew none of the people in our neighborhood just west of Potwin,
so the small radio was my only link to what was happening.
it was June 8 and not yet 8PM, it was still light when another knock sounded,
jolting me out of my absorption with unfolding news. I went to the front door,
having no idea of what to expect. There stood two of my cousins, breathlessly
explaining that I was to come with them. They had heard the call for the troops
and knew I was alone.
Relieved to know that part of my
family was all right at least, I
awkwardly piled into the Volkswagen beetles
backseat behind my
uncle. Evidently on the way over he had tried to get to
grandparents, but had been turned away by the emergency personnel. He
negotiated the route to his house somehow in all of the confusion and we all settled
in to watch the television broadcasts and to try the dead phone over and over.
I stretched out on a sofa finally in the wee hours and my cousins all went
to bed. Gratitude for my familys concern tumbled around in my mind with
worry for those we couldnt contact. The television droned on and on.
brought some good news: all of our family members were fine. The only damage sustained
by any one of us personally was a downed TV antenna although the childhood home
of one of my aunts was destroyed. Each of us lived just outside of the wide swath
of the tornado.
John had been on patrol to prevent looting.
He and his fellow
soldiers had unloaded weapons the first night, but that
changed. Gradually, the extent of the huge twisters power
revealed, the dead were buried, the injured treated, and clean-up
started. Topeka was redefined: her beautiful trees and old buildings were flattened.
Washburn University was a war zone. I sobbed when I drove by somewhat later.
city is long since rebuilt and thriving. The diagonal scar across
southwest to northeast is healed after forty years, but the
remain and have formed an intriguing chapter in
daughter, born the following November, turns 40 this year."
was visiting a friend on the west side of town right near but north of Burnett's
Mound. When we saw the tornado coming, we tore across the street to a house with
a closed-in basement because the basement we were in had sliding doors facing
As soon as the roar ended, we went out
into the street and looked east and up at the rolling clouds, which were amazingly
beautiful, and I said "I need to get home...it is headed toward my house"
which was in the 700 block of Lincoln. Driving eastward, every time I came to
a road block I turned north and finally was able to get home and check on my Dad.
then I was hearing about the path of the tornado and knew it went right near the
Topeka Capital-Journal building where my mother was the switchboard operator on
duty and where I also worked part-time while attending Washburn. I immediately
drove toward the newspaper building and was horrified by the amount of damage
when I got about a block away, but then I noticed the building was still standing,
but every house south of it was gone. I drove into a glass-filled parking lot
and headed toward the back door on the east side. Mother let me in the locked
door. She was in shock as she described seeing cars come out of the lot and hit
each other and then go back into their respective parking places. No car had a
window left in it. The buildiing had water on the floor even though it was almost
devoid of windows.
I immediately started helping on the
switchboard which was lighting up from long distance calls. The London Times,
The New York Times, Kansas City Star, Washington Post--big newspapers that did
not usually call Topeka. Since Stauffer owned both WIBW and the newspaper, we
had a direct line between the two. At one point in the evening, Bill Kurtis called
over on the direct line to ask if we were able to get through to people in the
city because WIBW lines were not getting through to several attempted numbers.
I told Bill we could not call locally, but I was getting long distance calls coming
in from all over the United States and even London and I figured that if we could
get out over our Kansas City WATS line, then maybe he could call back in the city
via that long distance line, but I would have to check the procedure out and check
with Mr. Oscar Stauffer, publisher, to see if it was okay to do that. I tried
out the procedure, found it worked, called Oscar Stauffer who said he would absolutely
approve and asked my name, and then called Bill Curtis. I helped him call several
places that night and the next day. I worked most of the next 36
at the newspaper switchboard, taking only a four-hour break during which I went
into the area where the papers were made ready for delivery and slept on a pile
of papers. It was a most exciting time for all of us at the newspaper, but I will
always feel a little like I helped Bill Kurtis get the information he needed to
do his work and become famous overnight. He is a wonderful guy who was so polite
even during the most urgent periods. I also earned a 10 cent an hour raise which
put my hourly wage up to $1.10 per hour."
-- Georgia Deatrick
"On June 8th 1966,
I was 9 years old living at 2915 SW Burnett Road. My parents and some of my siblings
were at home when the tornado came. My brother was at his friend's house (the
Clarks) and they lived across the street from what is now the Amaco(BP gas station)
on Gage. They had no basement and the family and my brother tried to run to the
neighbors house that had a basement. They all made it except the grandma. The
vacuum of the tornado sucked the door shut and she laid on the ground and held
on to the grass. The tornado picked her up and
threw her into a ditch next
to Gage Street. Although she was hurt with broken ribs and other injuries, she
did live, but a few years later I believe the tornado's injuries took her. My
brother and the rest lay under a pool table and had the debris all over them.
Can you imagine my Dada looking up the street to see where his son was. I think
he thought he was looking for a dead or injured son...after realizing my brother
was alive, my father walked over live electrical wires to find me. I was at 28th
and Gage, by the new Walgreens at 29th and Gage. I watched the tornado come down
the mound while at my friend's house. With no basement to go to, her mother ran
us to the bedroom with glass breaking all around us and 2 by 4s coming through
the roof. She shoved
me under her one arm and my friend under her other arm
with the strong wind roaring--the sound so loud all you could do was scream. My
friend's mother just yelled aloud, DEAR GOD PLEASE DONT HURT MY BABIES. That is
when the noise grew weaker and we came out to see all the destruction. My dad
came to get me and kept telling me to be careful not to step on powerlines as
he walked me home. Going back home was a shock for a 9-year-old to see I had few
neighbors--most of the houses were gone. Even today I still have dreams of the
tornado. I knew so many people affected and was affected myself. I still to this
day at the age of 49 keep an eye on the sky and am aware how bad things can really
get in a storm."
-- Denise (Agnew) Wunder
"My father owned Scott Glass at the time and
was on the disaster
committee for Topeka not only during the Tornado, but
also during the '51 Flood. Besides having personal memories of that day, I grew
up with the photos that my father had obtained of the tornado coming into the
city (both slides and 8 x 10s). We were sitting down to dinner as were many other
families in Topeka. My oldest sister was getting ready to leave the house to go
to some function, but stayed because the sirens went off. The sky was dark toward
Burnett's Mound, but was clear over our house, which is located by Gage Park.
After the Tornado hit, my father was called upon to
help board up
windows and to help where he could. My oldest sister was also
helping him. I know that my mother Vera Scott has more detailed memories of what
all Dad did as well as my sisters would have more memories of what all happend.
later, Karla (Wright) Volpert and I became good friends and we have talked about
how she was affected by the tornado.
During the time of
the tornado, my father and mother had become good friends with Bill Kurtis. I
know that this is sounding a bit disconnected, but how my father helped with the
tornado and his being on the disaster committee made me grow up with not only
a respect of the weather, but also an avid weather watcher and tornado spotter.
This is probably why as a social worker I have become involved with the disaster
team with the Red Cross.
People who have not been through
the tornado that Topekans experienced or other Tornados do not understand the
fear and excitement that goes through you. I know that the Topeka tornado has
changed Topeka in deep ways to make all of us who have been through it more of
a community and closer. I know that because of going through the tornado, I have
more respect for weather watches and warnings when they are issued, which is the
case of most people who have gone through the '66 tornado."
lived on Clay St., across the street from Central Park, in '66.
my fifth birthday a week and a half before, and we'd just set up the projector
and screen to watch home movies of my birthday when the sirens went off. We'd
been hustled down to the basement before for tornado warnings, but something about
this one felt different. To this day I have no memory of the sound (which must
have been incredibly frightening to hear), but I vividly remember looking out
the little window up near the ceiling of the basement and seeing dead leaves and
debris whirling around.
My dad later spoke of going
upstairs and seeing the tornado retreating into the distance (something the rest
of the family did not see, as we stayed in the basement until he checked to make
sure it was safe to come up). I remember coming upstairs and seeing the big picture
window in the living room completely broken. The radio was telling us not to go
outside because of stray winds and debris, but the National Guard was going around
knocking on doors telling people they needed to evacuate because there were gas
leaks. A big tree had fallen across our front porch and was blocking the front
door, so we had to climb
out through the broken picture window. Since our
car was too damaged to drive, a neighbor gave us a ride to a car-rental agency,
where my parents rented a car and drove us to Kansas City, where my grandparents
lived; my sister and I stayed there for some days while my parents made the trip
back to Topeka each day to clean up and salvage our belongings and find a new
place for us to live.
We were so very lucky; we didn't
lose that many of our belongings (though quite a bit of what we had was spattered
with mud) and our only scars were psychological. I've had tornado nightmares all
my life, though forty years later they are less frightening than they used to
Many years after the tornado, we found home video
footage of the damage, which my dad had taken in the days immediately following
-- documenting our losses for insurance purposes, I guess. The trees in Central
Park were completely devastated, and workers were making great piles of limbs
and burning them. It looked like a war had happened. Seeing that footage for the
first time, as an adult so many years later, was a shock (remember my sister and
I stayed in KC in the days following, so we never saw the worst of the devastation
first-hand). I don't think I understood how particularly monstrous "my"
tornado had been until many years after the fact; even now, reading others'
accounts and looking at photos, I am just astounded."
-- Anne Haines
I was 9 and lived in S.W.
Topeka when the tornado hit. I was at swim practice at the (then new) Westview
CC at 21st & Auburn Road, and coach Chet Laney sent everyone home early due
to the threatening skies.
A friend's mother drove
me, my younger brother, and her two sons home. We crossed the I-470 & Gage
overpass 10 minutes ahead of the tornado. The sirens sounded as we got to our
house (1626 Knollwood) and we joined the rest of the family in the basement. We
ate dinner under the ping pong table, the power went out, and we soon heard the
storm passing (approx. half a mile to the west). After about 15 minutes, our parents
let us go outside; there was debris everywhere. My friend up the street found
an LP record in his yard without a sleeve or a scratch. There were stories of
amazing oddities like that for many years.
We had many
friends who had damage to their homes or vehicles, but thanks to the early warnings,
deaths were far fewer than the
devastation would indicate. It was and always
will be a significant
moment in my life."
-- Chuck Wagstaff
had returned to Topeka, the town where I was born and lived until I was married,
when my husband was sent to Viet Nam in the late summer of 1965. I lived in an
apartment at the foot of Burnetts Mound. My parents, Karl & Gladys Kennedy,
lived in an apartment in the complex next to mine. Our first child, Stacia, was
born November 22, 1965. Then January 12, 1966 my father died suddenly of a massive
heart attack. On June 8, 1966 my mother and I made plans to have dinner with Jean
Stitcher and her daughter Janie Stitcher Davis. Jeans son had been killed
in Viet Nam in December of 1965. We had all gathered at my mothers apartment
on June 8th. A baby sitter was there to take care of Stacia.
was raining so hard, we waited and we talked about not going out. Janie said she
heard a siren, the rest of us listened but could not hear one. My mother opened
the door to listen and sure enough the sirens were sounding. We turned on the
television and listened to the weather report. We decide it sounded serious enough
that we should go to shelter. In the rear of the apartment complex was a storage
building with a basement. About 50 of us gathered there. People said, Here
it comes. They could hear a noise like a freight train. I could not hear
the noise but it felt like my head was going to explode. I remember wrapping my
body around my baby trying to protect her (I later learned I was standing directly
below the hot water storage for the whole complex).
the tornado passed, the man who was the builder of the apartments announced the
building had been damaged and we must evacuate. I was at the rear of the room
so it took awhile for everyone to get out. No one panicked and we left in an orderly
fashion. I could hear the people ahead of me exclaim that the cars were destroyed.
Little did we realize how serious it was. The backside of the apartments did not
look badly damaged. As we walked around the corner though, I felt like I walked
into a scene from WW2. The apartment complex next to ours looked like a pile of
bricks. Someone had a radio and it was announced another tornado was spotted and
to take cover. We were in a dilemma, do we go back into a damaged building or
stay out in the open. I decided to go back into the building. That tornado never
Our party and some other friends gathered
in one of the apartments that had not been badly damaged. It was decided that
Janie and I, along with Stacia, would try to find a car and contact my sister-in-law,
Mary Kennedy. My brother, Mike Kennedy, was out of town on business and Mother
knew Mary would be worried. Mother and Jean would stay at the site. As we walked
down Gage Blvd., I felt like a refugee that you saw in war torn countries. We
had all been in the rain and looked pretty tattered. Janie must of said my name
because I heard a man yelling, Trish, Trish where is Trish? Lawyer
Dave Fisher, a father of one of my good friends and a friend of our family grabbed
my arm. He had heard on the news that our apartments had been destroyed and was
sure we were probably dead. But, he had come to look for us. I told him of our
plans to find Mary. He asked where my mother was and left to get her. Janie and
I found a car and drove to my brothers house out in the country.
There was no one at his house so we returned to town and went to my sister-in-laws
best friends house. Mary had taken her two children there. When the storm
had moved through, her electricity had gone out so she had packed her two children,
age 2 and 3, and had come to my mothers apartment to spend the night. She
arrived just minutes after the tornado had hit. She frantically looked for us
and asked everyone, had they seen us? Some one had told her as they
ran by, Well, she is OK. Mary thought, from that comment, that my
mother was dead. She had taken her children to her friends and went to the hospitals
searching for us. I decided to stay at the friends house until Mary returned.
I was trying to make a phone call but the line was dead. I was holding the phone
to my ear and without it ringing, I heard someone on the other end. It was Mary.
I said, Mary, we are all fine! She said Dont leave there
until I get there. I will not believe you are alive until I can see you.
I think it was much harder for Mary, than for us who had gone through the tornado.
My brother, who was in Wichita, had heard about the tornado and that our apartments
were destroyed. He started speeding home on the turnpike. He said a highway patrolman
started chasing him but he kept going. When the patrol car got close enough to
license plates and realized where he was from, he stopped pursuing
Everyone told me I should ask for an emergency leave
from Viet Nam for my husband, Earl. The next morning Stacia and I went to the
Red Cross. I was concerned if I requested Earl to come home and he was not issued
the emergency leave, that he would be so worried. I stressed to the Red Cross
to make sure he knew we were OK. I found out later the telegram they sent him
said, Wife and baby in tornado but all are doing well now. To me and
to Earl it sounded like we had been hurt but we were going to survive. They told
me to go home and wait and call them each day to see if the leave was approved.
next day we were at the apartments trying to salvage whatever we could. Most of
my things, with the exception of my car, were in fairly good shape. I was on the
first floor and my apartment was in tact, but the one above me was gone. My mothers
was totally destroyed. When I saw the broken crib that had been in my Moms
apartment, I cried. Had we gone to dinner as planned, Stacia would have been in
that crib and the baby sitter probably would not have heard the sirens. I dont
think she would have survived. Two people across the street were killed.
The Air Force had a medical team of doctors at the apartment complex. They were
looking for bodies and injured people. My brother explained to the Air Force team
that my husband was in the Army in Viet Nam. So, when they were not needed, they
helped me pack my things. The Colonel of the team told me I should not have to
face this alone and when he got back to the Forbes Air force Base, he was calling
directly to Viet Nam to my husbands unit and requesting an emergency leave.
The next day he called my brothers home and said that Earls unit was
preparing for a hugh battle and they could not get him out. He
the leave had been approved but it would be several week before he could come
because of the fierce fighting.
When my Mom heard the news, she immediately
called Senator Frank Carlsons office. Senator Carlson personally knew Earl,
as they were both from Concordia, KS. Earl mowed the Senators yard as a
boy. Senator Carlson had given Earl his West Point appointment. Senator Carlson
told my Mom, Dont worry, I will get that boy home. Saturday
Morning Senator Carlson called and told me, I am so sorry, I cannot get
that boy home. He is in the middle of a fierce battle. As soon as it is over,
we will get him home. Of course, none of us felt very comfortable knowing
where Earl was. That night we were all at my brothers home. I was dressed
for bed in a short nightgown. The phone rang, my brother answered it and said,
WHERE ARE YOU? He turned and gave the phone to me saying, It
Everyone was so excited and started yelling that I couldnt
hear him. Finally I was able to hear and he told me he was at the Topeka Airport.
Stunned, I told him I would be right there to get him. My brother handed me his
keys, I handed them back to him and told him I was too excited to drive, he would
have to drive me. Mike sped me through Topeka. I had to tell him to slow down,
that if the police stopped us, they would never believe that I was his sister,
as I was still in my shorty nightgown. Mike pulled up to the curb at the airport;
I jumped out of the car excitedly and raced inside. I grabbed the first man I
saw in uniform and fortunately it was Earl. We have laughed many times about this
over the years. How many men coming home from Viet Nam have had a wife meet them
at the airport in a nightgown? Earl had received the first emergency leave request
from the Red Cross just as he was going to battle. He was able to leave but had
to hitchhike from airplane to airplane in Viet Nam until he was finally able to
get out of the country. Because he was due to getting out of the army that summer,
he did not have to return to Viet Nam. I feel the tornado saved his life.
A year later to the day (a Wednesday), not the date, another tornado warning
was issued and we were told it was taking the same path. My mother, Stacia, and
our 2 week-old daughter Jana, and I were on the road returning from Lincoln, Nebraska.
Earl, I and now our two daughters, were in the process of moving back to Topeka
from Lincoln. We went back to the same shelter, along with about 50 others that
had been in the first tornado. With so many people crammed into the shelter and
the tension was very HIGH, we were afraid there would not be enough oxygen for
a two-week old baby. My mother kept taking Jana to the door so she could get fresh
air. That tornado never materialized, but the all-clear was not sounded for several
For several years after the tornado, if the wind
started blowing hard, I took the children and went to the basement. Now, I just
listen to the weather reports. We currently live out in the country where there
are no sirens. One of the first things we bought, though, was a weather alert
Earl & I, along with our youngest grandson,
will return to Topeka on June 8, 2006. We are meeting friends to pray in Topeka.
We plan to go on top of Burnetts Mound to give THANKS to the Lord for life,
for these 40 years and for the next generation. We, too, will climb the 296 steps
to the top of the State Capitol Building. Not only will we remember the 40th anniversary
but we will celebrate Earls 65th birthday. Yes, the tornado happened on
his 25th birthday!"
-- Trish Kennedy Pickard
sister, Irene, and her boyfriend, Greg Townsend, were at our house with his friend
Dave Dawson who were going to double date with my girlfriend, Leah Myers when
everything began to go wild. I remember going upstairs and taking my sister's
gifts from her boyfriend and putting them in drawers for safekeeping. My dad was
in Kansas City & called home. My mom didn't want to talk because the tornado
was getting closer. My sister, Irene, Greg, Dave & Leah were trying to pursuade
my mom to let them leave for thier double date but she would not hear of it. I
remember hearing a sound similar to a train as I was going to the basement. We
had two dogs, one of which was hiding upstairs under my parents bed (unknown to
us at the time) and the other one was in my lap next to my little sister Helen.
My brother Jay, and other sister Anne and Mom stayed down until Mom said it was
okay to go out. I remember praying outloud as the radio was broadcasting. From
the basement, we could see red dust from the
houses next to us because their
chimney had crashed.
After it stopped, we went upstaris
and found Dave's VW bug that was parked on the street was now sitting in the front
yard next to the front porch that was dilapidated. Most of our windows were broken,
the garage was gone, some of the curtains in the family room were tied in knots
around the curtain rods, and when we pulled back our covers for sleep that night,
crushed glass shone on the sheets apparently from the force of the winds blew
the glass dust through the bedspreads. My dad drove to Topeka and the National
Guards were not allowing anyone in the area so my dad drove his Renault up on
the sidewalks and wherever he could to get home to us. All the houses on the corners
were manned with men from the National Guard & they went to all the homes
& instructed us to put a white flag outside to indicate we were OK. For weeks
we bathed by candle light, ate from the Red Cross
trucks, went to sleep and
woke up to the sound of chainsaws buzzing. For weeks we did not have phone service
and we walked two blocks down to use the phone of Richard Head when needed (oddly
enough when our phone service was restored, his was out and he came to our house).
For weeks we picked up glass out of our yard and drove cars without windshields,
our faces drawing back from the force of wind. All the neighbors helped one another
but it was a sorry sight for some time."
-- Dorothy J. Herzog
"I lived in an 8-plex
on 29th Street Terrace about a block from 29th and Gage. The day before the tornado
I remember complaining to the guy who mowed the vacant lot next to my apartment
that he should clean up all the trash left from the mowing. He said, "Aw,
a good south wind will blow it away." The tornado struck the next day. My
apartment was leveled."
-- Roy Miller
was not in the tornado path but had two summer school classes to finish. I could
not graduate without them. Worried sick about
whether or not I would be able
to get my BA degree, it was a great relief when Washburn announced that summer
school classes would be held at Topeka West High School.
day after the storm, my English Professor called me to see if she could borrow
my class notes because she said her office was full of glass. She knew I typed
up handwritten notes after each class! However, for me the real lesson demonstrated
here was that a person can learn anywhere with the right professor, and the walls
of the classroom are not that important!"
-- Celia Eddy
parents met while attending Washburn; my dad got his law degree in 1949. We lived
in Topeka briefly when I was very young, but moved to Kansas City. Our family
did love to visit Topeka, and especially Washburn campus. I still remember the
huge beautiful trees.
On June 8, 1966, I was 11. Around
noon that day my family headed west from KC, driving on I-70 toward a vacation
in Colorado. We stopped in Topeka for lunch, and debated whether to spend some
time in town to visit the Washburn campus. My parents decided we needed to get
going on to Hays. We could visit campus another time.
we drove west on I-70, the skies grew darker, greener, and more ominous, as strange-looking
clouds began roiling close to the ground. Somewhere between Manhattan and Hays
we had to pull over under an overpass to wait out the storm: blinding sheets of
rain, whipping wind, hammering hailstones. Although we weren't in the path of
a tornado, it was pretty scary.
When we turned on
the TV in our Hays hotel room, we were shocked and devastated at what we heard
and saw of Topeka as news of the tornado was reported.
I later attended
Washburn, where I met my first husband. On June 8, 1996, he was 12, living just
NE of Burnett's Mound in a new subdivision. The family was just sitting down to
dinner when his father happened to look out the window toward the Mound. He yelled
something, and each parent grabbed a child and ran, diving into a car in the garage
because they had no basement. No sooner did they get the car doors closed when
the tornado hit. He remembered that it was quite a ride. When they got out of
the car they were surrounded by blocks of tangled debris and heaps of rubble."
-- Gretchen Ross Hill
June 8, 1966 at about 7:20 pm, our phones went dead, the wind picked up, and we
knew what was happening, as both my wife and I were raised in and around Topeka,
so we knew we had a tornado. At the time of the tornado, we lived in the 3300
block of Watson, near the Interstate. It has been said that a tornado would never
touch down in Topeka because of Burnett's Mound...but they were wrong. It touched
down back behind Burnett's Mound, traveled over it and made it's deadly path through
Topeka and beyond.
So what was I doing? I went out
in our drive in front of the house,
and took pictures of the storm to our
Needless to say, my wife was about crazy at what
I was doing. I knew we were safe.
We tried to drive to
her parent's house on Sena Drive and to my
parent's house on E. 13th St. The
traffic was so terrible, we went
back home, and I later was able to get to
my parent's house. It had sustained minimal damage to their house which faced
North, but the houses on the other side, facing South, were damaged.
were in process of moving from Topeka to Ohio where I had accepted a teaching
I still have slides of that event."
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