Historically Speaking: Minden’s devasting tornado of 1933

By Jessica Gorman

This week marks ninety years since the devasting tornado that struck Minden on the afternoon of 1 May 1933. Much has been written about this tornado over the years. As I was considering what I wanted to share about this event, I found the account of past historian Dr. Luther Longino and decided to instead allow someone who experienced it do the talking. This account appeared in the Signal-Tribune on 16 May 1933.

Minden Cyclone As Seen By Dr. Luther Longino

“Nothing happened to mar the beauty and serenity of that May morning in the city of Minden. Business proceeded as was customary, automobiles came and went as on other days, men and women, and boys and girls were seen about the streets, children passed and repassed, laughing and talking, innocent and full of joy and life. All moved about with complete abandon, and without fear, little thinking or dreaming about the awful doom that was soon to be fall so many of our citizens. 

The clock struck one, two, three, and all seemed well up to this time, but at four, Minden was to see another sight, for a black, funnel-shaped roaring, muttering storm cloud was seen and heard as it approached the town from the southwest, and swooped down upon our fair little city, carrying death and destruction in its path.

Crichton Hill, a negro section of Minden, as did the homes of the whites, just north on Bayou Avenue, felt the first blow and collapsed like a child’s block playhouse, before the black demon of the skies. The homes of these unfortunate citizens were leveled, broken into a thousand pieces and scattered as straws before a strong wind. The toll of life, taken here was greater than anywhere else in the storm area. The casualty and mortality lists were about equally divided between whites and the blacks. To have looked over that devastated area just after the storm it would seem a miracle that anyone could have escaped with their lives. It is too horrible to contemplate further, the loss of life, the suffering men and women, and little children, being pulled from under the debris, and then to look upon their once happy homes, in many instances their life accumulations, broken and scattered all over the hillside, or blown entirely away.

The storm then swept across cemetery hill, uprooting many trees, demolishing tombs, and destroying many tender associations of the living for the dead. It is estimated that the damage to this sacred spot alone, will run into many thousands of dollars. Our beloved dead are to be almost envied in their long and peaceful sleep, when so many heart rending events are being crowded into the lives of their once fellow townsmen.

The cyclone now passed from the cemetery, down into Prothro valley, demolishing Franks, Hicks, and McCrary wholesale grocery companies, Minden Syrup company, L&A Railway offices and freight depot, Minden Compress company and many other buildings, and up the hill to South Broadway street, where it tore down or wrecked many stately old homes on both sides of Central Park, from the business area to the railroad. The beautiful old oaks of Central Park, the pride of all Mindenites that had defied the storms and lightnings of heaven for centuries were broken or uprooted and lay sprawling, like a mighty monster from one end of the park to the other.

The monument so recently erected by the Daughters of the Southern Confederacy on the brow of hill overlooking the city to the west, was ruthlessly torn from its pedestal, and thrown upon the ground on his back, his gun broken in his hand, and thus he lay with his eyes fixed upon the fleeting clouds by day, and the stars above by night.

If those stony ears could have heard the roar of the storm, tearing down of homes, business property, churches, sacred old trees, and then the cries of distress, and suffering of those injured and dying, the shades of the old soldiers would no doubt have reincarnated the sixties, and once more dreamed of fighting the battles of Mansfield, Shiloh, and Chickamauga.

Loving hands have again raised the fallen soldier to his pedestal, where he will continue to keep his long vigil, and patient watch over state rights and Southern Liberty. 

The storm leaving South Broadway, swung southeast and mowed Shiney, another negro section down as with a scythe, leaving great great havoc, and at sometime doing much damage on Harrell Heights, as also in Warsaw and still further on southeast.

Death and destruction followed in the wake of the cyclone. Messengers ran and words were dashed to other towns, and nearby cities for help, doctors, nurses, and other assistance, and the response was prompt and freely given by our neighboring towns and nearby cities. 

Above the noises that rent the air, the groans of the dying, and the suffering of the wounded, could be heard, the shrieks of the ambulances as they rushed here and there, bringing in the wounded and the dead. What hours of suffering and distress as relatives, friends and searching parties, crawled among the rubbish and debris, to extricate the living, and recover the dead. To add to the distress and weirdness. Night crept up Prothro Valley and soon the city was in absolute darkness, save the glare of a flash light or the flicker of a candle. It seemed to the distressed and helpless, the night would never end, nor the morning come again.

Minden, like a shorn lamb, is dazed as she stands in the midst of her wreck and ruin. That she will meet her responsibilities, there can be no doubt, and that order, sympathy and beauty, will come again and peace and love hover over the little city on the hills.

In the face of the heroic assistance rendered by our neighboring cities and towns, if ever had any doubt about the milk of human kindness in man, that doubt has been removed forever. I wish I could personally thank every man and woman who so faithfully served us in our dire distress. Poets may sing of “man’s inhumanity to man,” but when distress and disaster befalls a neighbor, and suffering and death are present, all things are forgotten in mans desire to be of help. Why should the citizens of Minden not call a mass meeting at some time in the near future, so as to give expression to our appreciation by suitable resolutions, for the many kindnesses of our neighboring cities, towns, Red Cross, and other philanthropic bodies and individuals who have rendered such invaluable service to our distressed citizens. This is what is in all our hearts, and is the least thing we can do.”

(Jessica Gorman is the Assistant Director and Archivist for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in Minden and is an avid genealogist.)