The Winneshiek County Storm of June 20, 1908

One of the most violent storms ever to strike Winneshiek County, Iowa, occurred on the late afternoon of June 20, 1908. This is the storm that the old-timers talked about for years afterward. It devastated crops on my great-grandfather Peter Olson's farm, and his daughter, my grandmother Lottie Price, noted in her diary on June 20, 1917, "Just 9 years ago we had our terrible hail storm." My grandmother Alice Krumm remembered that the sky took on an ominous green hue before the storm hit. My great-uncle Sid Price wrote in his memoirs:

"It was on one such June day when the kitchen was full of freshly picked strawberries, when the darkest clouds I've ever seen showed up in the Northwest sky. Then it started to rain torrents and the wind blew with tornadic force. All of a sudden it started to hail and it hailed and hailed. I recall that we had a small two foot square hatch on top of the roof near the chimney that the wind blew off, letting a lot of rain water to come into the house. I was pretty young when that happened, but the memory had stayed with me. That is the only time I remember Dad and Mother taking all of us to the basement."

The following is an account of the storm and its aftermath in the local newspapers.


Decorah Journal, Tuesday, June 23, 1908

DECORAH SWEPT BY A TORNADO!


Winneshiek County Visited by the Severest Wind, Rain and Hail Storm in Many Years.


A GREAT LOSS IN THE COUNTRY DISTRICTS


The Standard Telephone Co.’s Wire all Down in Business Portion of Decorah. Hard to Get News in County.


Saturday, June 20, 1908, marks another red-letter day on Decorah’s calendar. Former disasters in the history of the city have been floods, but last Saturday at 6 P.M., Decorah experienced the worst storm in her history. Not only Decorah but the surrounding country as well.

To begin with, Saturday was a hot, sultry day. About 5 o’clock in the afternoon the sky clouded over and it was not long before the whirling, wind-blown clouds gave indications that there might be something of a serious nature impending. Most of the clouds came from the south-east, but all seemed to have the same destination, forming in one large, ominous looking black mass in the North-west horizon. Shortly before six o’clock the wind changed and the clouds began moving eastward. The wind increased in velocity and soon drops of rain began to fall. The sky by this time had assumed a greenish hue, a sure sign of hail; and then the deluge!

It seemed as if the very flood gates of heaven had opened, so great was the downpour. In a few minutes the rain turned to hail and then the storm was on for fair. Men who have lived in Decorah for fifty years and more, declare that never before has the city been visited by such a storm as on Saturday. For fully half an hour the raging elements held the city in their grasp. No one dared venture out. Indeed many sought refuge in cellars, not knowing but what the awful roar might mean a cyclone also. Scores of farmers had started for home when they saw the threatening storm, and their predicament when they were caught in the storm, was far from enviable. The Spring Grove base ball team were numbered among these unfortunates. They were on their way to Decorah from Mabel and had gotten as far as two miles south of Hesper when the rain and hail struck them. They were compelled to seek refuge at the farm home of Supervisor Ole Selness. They spent the night there and arrived in Decorah Sunday morning.

But all things must come to an end, even a hurricane. When the tempest had spent it’s fury, the streets became fast populated with men and women anxious to learn it’s results. The damage in the city was only too evident. In a short half hour the fairest city in Northeastern Iowa was damaged and devastated in ruthless style. Previous misfortunes have affected only part of our city, but this time the disaster was general. It’s the same old story all over Decorah. There is not a block but what suffered to some extent. The damages in some parts of course is greater than others. Some have but a broken window pane to mark the path of the storm; others had as many as 30 window panes broken. The total broken window panes will run into hundreds. Maybe more. The windows in the north side of the buildings on Water street look as if a squad of sharp shooters had indulged in practice and made them the target.

The tin roofs had been partly blown off many of the business houses in the early part of the storm, and the rain found the interior part of the buildings easy prey. Some places were flooded worse than others, but all received soakings. The loss to the merchants stocks, etc, will be considerable in itself.

The rain did not cease before 7 P.M. Vivid flashes of lightning and sharp peals of thunder also brought terror to the more timid, after the hail had ceased. To add still further to the confusion the fire bell in Hose House No 2 began ringing. As Dry Run by this time was almost full to overflowing many thought the bell was warning of a flood. Such was not the case however, for lightning had struck the foundry building of the Swenson Valve Co. The building is located to the extreme south end of town and to make matters worse the fire boys had to go through streets that were flooded with water. The loss by fire we understand is close to $2000.

E. R. Haines and a party were fishing near Nasset. They saw the storm approaching and at once set out for Nasset. They spent the night at Nasset and Sunday morning they started for Decorah. The journey was a difficult on account of the awful condition of the roads and the party did not reach Decorah until in the afternoon.

But small estimate of the damage could be formed Saturday night for darkness came all to soon, and the storms ravages were hid from view. In the evening city was Egyptian darkness only the business houses were furnished electric light. Instead of the merry, laughing crowds that usually gather on Water Street Saturday night, that evening the big crowd was in a more serious mood. It was certainly a queer sight to see the number of people who carried lanterns. Necessity compelled them to however, for all over telephone and electric wires were down, moreover the sidewalks obstructed by fallen trees. With all communications broken, no light, and also the railroad track in such condition as to render it impossible for the train to leave, Decorah was truly “marooned.”

Sunday morning in order to get as complete a list as possible of the damage inflicted by the storm the Journal reporter made a drive thru the greater part of the streets in the city and we note the following:

Starting at the Grand Opera House corner the first thing that attracted attention was two broken telephone posts. The wires were all tangled and hung but a few feet from the ground. If any one suffers a serious loss it is the telephone Co. It will be a mighty undertaking to restore the perfect working of the city system and the farmer lines. Continuing down the street we come to what used to be Tollef Twenge’s Jewelry store. It is a sorry looking sight. Somehow or other the force of the wind was strong enough to tear the roof off the Metzger building now occupied by the Glove and Mitten factory. Part of the roof was hurled over on Twenge’s store, with disastrous results, the front and roof being crushed in. Part of the roof on John Oneil’s blacksmith shop was also carried away. At Mrs. H. A. Engbretson’s Millinery store the large plate glass window costing $110 was broken into bits.

And what about the Roller Rink? With one sweep the wind brought the mammoth tent to the ground. Sunday morning the high water completely flooded it. Saturday night a dance was to have been held at the rink and a piano had been secured of B. O. Marsh. No sooner had the storm abated than Mr. Marsh and several others hurried to the rink and got the piano out. Had it remained there much longer the water would have ruined it.

Arriving at the West Decorah bridge we at once saw that the Oneota river had reached the high water mark. Water was running over the long Burdick sidewalk and it was impossible to walk across. No great or serious damage was done in West Decorah except at Symond’s Green House. Here the hail more than did damage. Strong, double strength glass failed to withstand the fury of the storm and many hundred window panes were smashed. In falling the glass struck the plants and flowers and inflicted still greater loss. Mr. Symonds experiences the greatest loss of any of our citizens. At Luther College about 30 window lights were broken. The dormitory and Auditorium escaped without a broken pane.

Returning to the east side a trip to the Ice Cave Roller Mills reveals the fact that almost the whole brick front has been torn out by the force of the wind. The roof has also been partly blown off the Rock Island round house. At the Fair grounds great damage was done. The two ancient amphitheatres met the fate that should have befallen them long ago. They were knocked flat. The fair grounds fence is also down.

The south end of Washington street was found to be in awful shape. The torrents of water that rushed down it opened wide fissures in the street. A gang of men was kept busy all Sunday morning in removing the dirt and sand that had been washed down and which covered the Milwaukee track.

Other neighboring towns were included in the storm section. Ellison Orr came over from Waukon Sunday and states that Waukon experienced the same kind of a storm that Decorah did. South McGregor is said to be flooded. Prairie du Chien had a severe hail storm and so did Cresco. Most of this is mere rumor, but it may be true. It is impossible to find out anything by wire and this state of things will last some time.

Manager Moran has closed the city exchange. It would not be practical to repair the old wires and then later on tear them down to be replaced by cables. The new cables arrived last week and the work of laying them will be commenced immediately. In the meantime we will have to be patient and be thankful that the train service at least has been resumed.

In F. H. Baker’s yard a number of maple and evergreen trees were torn up by the roots. We mention this case in particular on account of the number of trees. In every block there are large trees that bowed to the strength of the storm. Of the city churches the Methodist suffered the most damage. Not only were the handsomely colored window lights on the north side of the church broken, but the upper part of the brick front was wrecked. Some claim that the lightning did it, others state that it was on account of the wind. Children’s Day was to have been observed Sunday and the church had been decorated very prettily for the occasion. The elements had planned otherwise, however, and instead of Sunday being a of day rest, it was necessarily a day of work for most people. Sunday morning as we walked up staid old Broadway, everybody was out in their yards working, raking off the fallen leaves, broken limbs and other debris. All over the city, beautiful, well kept lawns, that were the pride of their owners, were almost unrecognizable Sunday morning.

In the limited amount of time at our disposal we are unable to give an account of the damage done to the adjoining country. It is impossible to get anybody by phone and news comes in slowly. The reports that come to us however indicate that the loss to the farmers in this section will amount to thousands of dollars. Windmills have been blown down, barns destroyed, cattle and other stock killed and if all is true that we hear the crops are practically lost. Such is not the case we hope. Whenever anything like the calamity on Saturday occurs, one may expect all sorts of rumors. Generally the first reports are greatly exaggerated and matters oftentimes turn out better than looked for.

Ole Borsheim, who lives about ten miles north of Decorah, in Pleasant twp. had about as narrow an escape as a man could have. He started home from Decorah and had got about 6 miles north of here when the storm broke. When it started to hail he lost control of his horse, which ran away. On going over a bridge the whole outfit went thru and he was pinned beneath the wreckage his horse on top of all, the thill of the buggy resting over one arm and leg. He happened to have a small ax in the buggy that he could reach and he pecked at the thill all night until it cut through. He lay in the water from seven at night until the next morning before he got out. He crawled up on the bank and laid there until nine o’clock when some farmers came along and took him home, and got his horse out of the creek. Only a man of the strongest constitution could have stood the accident. He had a bad fracture of the left arm, and numerous other bruises as momentoes of the occasion.



Decorah Journal, Burr Oak Column, June 27, 1908


Several are driving thru the country looking at the ravages of the storm, hail lies yet 5 ft. deep on the Wade farm…

A large crowd gathered here for the picnic, the day bade fair and all went well until about 5 o’ck when the worst storm ever witnessed passed thru this section. The rain and hail coming in torrents. Windows were broken, trees and windmills torn down, crops and gardens entirely destroyed and much stock was lost Nelson bros lost 8 head of stock, the storm took a strip thru here and south west, no damage being done north and east the outlook for farmers is very discouraging.



Decorah Public Opinion, June 24, 1908

TERRIFIC TORNADO TEARS ACROSS WINNESHIEK


Most Violent Hail and Wind Storm Ever Known in County Leaves Path of Desolation and Disaster


LOSS OF CROPS AND STOCK IS ENORMOUS


Hail Stones as Large as Hen’s Eggs Beat Crops Into the Ground, Cut Bark and Foliage From Trees and Shrubbery, Break Window Glass, and Devastate the County for Miles, While Terrible Tornado Blows Down Churches, Houses, Barns and Windmills, Uproots Trees, Damages Telephone and Telegraph, and Floods Cause an Enormous Loss by Water.


While scores of farmers were on the streets on Decorah Saturday afternoon felicitating themselves and the business men upon the splendid condition of affairs in Winneshiek county and the excellent outlook for a bumper crop, small, dark clouds were slowly forming in the southeast and northwest which portended dire disaster. Gradually they became larger and blacker, and those in the southeast crept slowly around to the northwest, and when they met they began to roll up together over the sky, having that peculiar reddish green color which frequently precedes tornadoes and cyclones.

Those who were in from the country got their rigs out as soon as possible and started for home. People on the streets and many of the business men went to their homes, all fearing a hard storm. As it became darker and the sky looked more dangerous many went into their cellars.

Before the storm broke there were a few moments of oppressive heat, a calm stillness pervaded the atmosphere, and a few minutes before six o’clock huge hailstones commenced to fall, some of them nearly as large as a tea cup, and of irregular shape. In a moment the storm broke in all its fury. Hail the size of English walnuts came in perfect torrents, covering the ground several inches thick, and piling up in the corners in some cases, three of four feet high. Everywhere the air was filled with fierce wind and rain and hail, so that it was impossible to see but a short distance. The hail storm lasted about thirty minutes, while the severe wind and rain storm continued a half hour longer.

Owing to the fact that telephone and telegraph wires are down throughout the entire territory of the storm, and the many conflicting reports and rumors concerning the same localities which come in, the task of formulating anything like an accurate story of the great storm has been a difficult one, but it is a certainty that this section has never been visited by a storm which left such wide-spread disaster and devastation in its way.

From the best information obtainable, it appears that the storm swept a pathway some twenty miles in width, between a line extending on the north from Spring Valley, Minn. Down past Burr Oak, Locust, Waukon, and Waukon Junction into Wisconsin, and on the south from Austin and LeRoy, Minn. Through Cresco, and a line north of Calmar and Postville on southeast and across the river. Of course there was variation from this course, but the most severe course of the storm was between these lines.

Everywhere in its pathway come reports of much damage. The crops generally are leveled to the ground, grain and hay but off and driven in a mass into the ground by the hail; corn cut off, pounded in the ground and covered with mud in some sections, in others it will come up again and make part of a crop; gardens, fruit, etc. everywhere practically ruined; sheds, barns, and in some instances houses blown down, twisted or unroofed; windmills down by the hundreds; trees torn out by the roots; cattle, horses, hogs and sheep swept down the raging torrents of water; bridges out by the score; and many stories of narrow escape from death by human beings.

The city of Decorah was directly in the pathway of the fury of the storm, and the devastation is great, although the storm was perhaps more severe through Bluffton, Canoe, and Pleasant townships than any other place. Throughout the city everywhere windows were broken out by the storm, scarcely a house escaping, which in many cases practically every window in the house was broken. For instance, 32 lights were broken in Dr. Hoeg’s house in Park Addition, and over 60 in the Montgomery place on East Broadway. Like reports come from all over the city. Everywhere huge trees were torn out by the roots and covered the streets; the big telephone poles carrying hundreds of wires snapped like kindling wood, and either dropped into the street or hung over it, the wires twisted and bent and tied in almost every conceivable shape, so that they have been pulled down and thrown in the junk pile, and the installation of the new underground cables will be pushed to completion, meantime the Iowa Company’s cable recently purchased by the Standard will be used for business connections.

The Upper Iowa Power Co. and its local electric light system suffered much less than might be expected. Only a small portion of its wires in the city were blown down or broken, so that its store and residence service was not interrupted, but the street lights have been out of commission since the storm, both from damage to wires and fear of accident. At the site of the dam down the river, they were fortunate also. Of course the coffer dam in the river bed was taken out, but the damage might have been much more severe.

The main path of the storm in Decorah swept across the hitching grounds from the northwest, striking the old woolen mill four story building occupied by the Decorah Glove and Mitten Works, wrecking it, blowing the roof and top story off. A large roof-beam from this building fell on the roof of Tollef Twenge’s jewelry store and completely demolished the building, crushing out the entire front and roof. The roof of John Bagne’s shoe shop next door was also torn off, and a large section of the roof of John Oneil’s blacksmith shop. Across the road it tore the cornice and part of the roof from the post office building, and then swept on to the Methodist church, where the stained glass windows on the north and east side were ruined, and the brick blown down from the upper part of the front of the building, badly wrecking the structure. Other churches suffered from the breaking of stained glass windows.

In many parts of the city roofs were blown from buildings, and scarcely a business house on Water street escaped injury of some kind, although less than a half dozen large plate windows were broken. Large plate windows in the Engbretson block, the Bidne & Istad and H. A. Prastmark stores, the post office building, Reynold’s gallery and Marsh Music House, and the smaller glass in the upper stories and in residences throughout the city and county wherever the storm passed were broken.

Near the end of the storm lightning struck the foundry of the Swenson Valve Co., and it was feared that the entire plant of this concern and the Western Textile Co. would burn, but the department was called out and extinguished it with the loss of less than $200 to the foundry.

The grand stand at the fair grounds was blown down and demolished as well as some of the high fences.

The engine house in the Rock Island yards is almost a total wreck, the roof and wreckage being blown onto the engine and cars beneath and beside it.

At Symond’s Decorah Greenhouses between 7,000 and 8,000 feet of glass were broken out, and his fruit and vegetables destroyed, entailing a loss of at least $2,000.

Lightning struck the Ice Cave Mill near the twin bridges, tearing off about half of the brick work of the front, cracking and wrecking other parts of the structure, and flooding a large amount of flour, grain, etc., making a loss to A. Bernatz & Sons of two or three thousand dollars, exclusive of damage the high water may have done to their dams.

The roller rink on the city hitching grounds is a sorry looking spectacle. The manager, D. A. McMillan, the wrestler, rushed down and tried to get the tent down, but the hail stones peppered him worse than he ever got it in a wrestling match and he had to surrender. Pulling several thicknesses of canvass over his head, he crouched down and took it, until the worst of the hail was over. The rink is a total loss.

Lawrence Seim was up stairs in their house near the fair grounds, trying to keep the rain out of the window, when he was blown out of the window and his arm badly lacerated, so that seventeen stitches had to be taken in it.

Kornmeyer Bros. Lost between 25,000 and 30,000 brick, and had their brick yard badly flooded. Their loss is quite heavy.

At the race track were nearly fifty race horses, here for the races booked for this week. Some were in tents, and their keepers had a serious time keeping them quiet. One man was alone with seven horses, and they shoved their noses into his lap, where he fed them sugar to quiet them.

It is impossible to give a detailed account of the loss either in the city or country. Stores, churches and residences were generally damaged by the loss of windows, part of roofs, sheds, etc., and there are few buildings in the city without loss of some kind.

Mrs. Joseph Shema received a letter from relatives at Spillville stating that a little girl was killed there Saturday night by the roof of a house falling on her.

A number of persons were reported missing, drowned or killed in some manner or other. County Treasurer E. R. Haines and a party were out fishing near Nasset on Saturday. They were unable to get home and spent the night there with some of the residents, and didn’t arrive in Decorah until Sunday evening. Much anxiety was felt on the part of their relatives. Jack Malanaphy, of Bluffton was reported missing, but he and Walt Keefe who were on their way home spent the night a B. E. Jewells and arrived home safe Sunday. Dr. Hexom, of Highlandville, was also reported missing, but there was no truth to the report. Yesterday rumor had it on the streets that Peter Leseth, of Canoe was found dead entangled in a wire fence. But this rumor also proved false, although Mr. Leseth was severely hurt by the hail.

Jos. Whalen, who lives three miles west of Burr Oak was driving home and was caught in the storm near Turk Little’s place; his team got off the bridge there and he was badly cut up. He was helped out by Chas. Marlow and spent the night at Will Stoskopf’s. He was reported dead yesterday, but as far as we know there is no truth to this report either.

The hard rain caused the river to raise to a point as high as it has been in years, and Dry Run also, so that fears were entertained for damage from high water.

In the country through the path of the storm as before noted the loss to crops is immense. Considerable of the corn is showing up better than expected, but grass and grain is almost a total loss. Through Bluffton, Canoe and Pleasant the storm was the worst, in many places stripping the trees of the bark and all foliage.

The Bluffton Catholic church was demolished, and plans are being drawn for a new structure by J. O. Halston, a competent architect of Waterloo, who is here and may be consulted by those desiring a competent adjuster to assist in adjusting losses. Throughout the entire township of Bluffton crops are leveled, and considerable stock lost.

In Canoe probably the greatest damage was done. Practically every farm was injured, details of only a few being obtained by us. The houses of Zeb. Emery, Henry Persse, Robt. Feltis and many others were damaged.

At the Adam Wepler place the crops were ruined, and several head of stock lost, so that the damage will be heavy.

Phil Halse lost 70 sheep, 20 hogs, 20 head of cattle, and all of his farm machinery, V.E. Sheetz lost 20 hogs, and says the flat near their place is strewn with dead animals.

At A. L. Tyler’s, on the Geo. Tyler place, the rood and end of his big red barn was blown down, and the crops laid flat. H. M. Cummings, near by, lost all his crops, and so did all the neighborhood, with the exception that the corn may possibly revive and give part of a crop. In Mr. Cummings’ house 75 window lights were broken out.

On the H. W. Haas farm (the Jos. Holland place) the house was badly damaged and the big barn blown all over the place.

At Diebold Stoskopf’s at Locust 119 window lights were broken out.

Many bridges were washed out or blown down. The big Malanaphy bridge near Ed. Crane’s, the bridge at the Jacob Haas farm, and the Springwater bridge went out, besides many smaller ones north and northwest. One of the twin bridges below Kallevang’s on the Waukon road is gone, and the other out of place. Two are out on the Waukon road below Freeport, also several small bridges in Madison. The loss in bridges in the county will probably be not less than $25,000.

Many stories are told of losses of horses and narrow escapes of people on the road. It being Saturday there were a large number of farmers in the city, and as the storm came up they started home, the most of the caught in the storm on the way. We relate only those which we have been able to corroborate.

Perhaps the worst of all the accidents happened to O. M. Borseim of Pleasant township. He was driving home and as the hail began to fall his horse started to run down the Solum hill. The bridge went down as the horse struck it, together with the horse and driver. A piece of the bridge fell on his left arm. Breaking it in two places, pinning him fast in the bridge, while his wagon was underneath him, with the horse hemmed in so that it could not get out. The water was up to his neck, and the horse managed to keep its head out of water until it receded. They remained there all night, he being pinned to the bridge from seven o’clock in the evening until nearly eight o’clock Sunday morning, in severe pain from his broken arm, drenched to the skin by the water, with his wagon and horse beneath him. He happened to have an axe in the wagon and finally reached it with his loose hand, and after hacking away all night, released himself just before he was discovered by Mr. Bauning in the morning and taken to his home. His horse was also released without severe injury. He was brought to Decorah Monday and the arm given proper medical care.

The family of Ole Gjetle (who was killed a couple of years ago by a load of lumber falling on him) consisting of the mother, two girls and a boy were going home from Decorah, and the storm struck them near C. G. Tillinghast’s, where a bridge crossed a gully. A huge hail stone struck the boy who was driving in the head and stunned him, so that he lunged to one side, and the horses turned from the road and tipped the rig over. They were thrown out, one girl being swept down the stream, but Clarence Ellingson, who works for Tillinghast, heard her scream and swam out and caught her by the dress. She was badly bruised about the head and body. The other girl got in the water, but was rescued by her brother.

It is also reported that a baby was seen floating down the river near Charles Blaess’ place in Pleasant, but this has not been substantiated.

John Stortz and wife were near S. Smith’s when the storm came upon them, and he got out to hold the team. She remained in the buggy, and a large black oak tree was blown over on her, pinning her to the wagon. She was not injured, although it was necessary to chop away the tree before she could be released. Her son Jim was behind them with another rig, and gave them assistance.

John Headington of Hesper reached home just in time to drive his surrey into the shed, when it was blown down, crushing it.

It is also reported that a man by the name of Wayman was driving to Burr Oak when his horse went through a bridge and was killed, he being injured so that it was necessary to call a physician.

Reuben Seegmiller, living north of the city, lost a team valued at $700. When he saw the storm coming he was near Severson’s, stopped and unhitched and was about to put them in a shed when the storm frightened them and they broke loose and ran down the hill, missing the bridge and falling into the raging water, both being drowned. Will and Aaron Seegmiller were two rods from Severson’s with another team and the wind blew Will from the wagon into a ditch and the horses fell on top of him. He narrowly missed being killed. Mr. Seegmiller’s loss is close to $4,000.

At Andy Sharp’s, Frank Headington’s and other places in that vicinity the houses were seriously damaged, shingles being blown from the roof, plaster falling in the houses, sheds, etc. blown down. At West Wicks, south of Burr Oak, the hail were driven right through the north side of his house.

We hear that Jens Kallevang of Glenwood township lost 70 sheep, and Walter Gossman west of Burr Oak four horses.

The roof of the Catholic church west of Burr Oak was blown off.

The tracks of both the Milwaukee and Rock Island roads were washed badly, but were quickly repaired, so that the Milwaukee got out Sunday evening and the Rock Island came in Monday.

The storm at Cresco was severe but not so bad as at Decorah. Waukon fared about the same as Decorah, one man who drove here from there after the storm counting twenty-five windmills blown down. At McGregor a cloudburst accompanied the storm, wrecking the town badly, washing out cement walks, undermining buildings and causing $350,000 damage. Prairie du Chien felt the blunt of the storm. In fact all over northeastern Iowa, southwestern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota it was very severe.



The Decorah Republican, Thursday, June 25, 1908.

SATURDAY’S AWFUL STORM

A Tornado With a Path 20 Miles Wide


DAMAGE IS NOW UNESTIMABLE


Crops Almost Completely Destroyed Over an Extensive Area – Large Losses of Live Stock and Farm Buildings


ONE GROVE DENUDED


Tongue Cannot Describe The Terrific Force of Wind


HAIL DESTROYS WINDOW GLASS


Buildings Wrecked, Trees Blown Over, Gardens Pounded Into the Ground, Some Narrow Escapes


With a fury that spread wreckage and desolation in its path, one of the worst storms known to residents swooped down upon a goodly portion of Winneshiek county between six and seven o’clock Saturday evening, and today where stood the most promising crops, and groves and vegetation in all the beauty of nature’s best effort, the fields are bare, trees stripped of leaves and bark, and grass and gardens pounded into the ground. Buildings have been demolished, and live stock killed and drowned, but so far as known there is one great cause for thankfulness – no human lives have been lost.

Saturday opened with the sun shining as it had not done for several days. It was accompanied by summer warmth that filled the hearts of everyone with gladness because growing crops, and particularly corn, needed it. Toward the middle of the afternoon a heavy bank of clouds had gathered all along the northern horizon and the sky was overcast, but while a hard rain was anticipated no one at that hour suspected the serious results that were to follow. Soon after five o’clock the clouds began to roll blacker and blacker until it seemed as though they would stop at nothing short of utter darkness. Then they began scurrying faster and lower, but losing a little of their most threatening aspect. A light dash of rain followed, growing a little heavier, and for a moment or two it seemed that the menace that the clouds held had passed. Suddenly roofs began to resound with sharp, hard reports and watchers saw hail stones as large as hen’s eggs bound off into the grass. This was but for an instant. The large hail gave place rapidly to the smaller size but with a decrease in size came an increase in quantity and a torrent of rain driven by a tornado that made it seem as though an army of gatling guns had been let loose and were firing one long unremitting volley. No one who was not under some roof to hear the sound can conceive anything of the fury of the storm. Buildings with windows on north and west exposures were the especial target of the hail and where they were unprotected by full-length screens they were smashed to splinters and torrents of water poured in, soaking carpets and walls.

Outside, trees were being toppled over, branches broken off, leaves and bark stripped, while gardens were pounded into the ground. It seemed as though the storm never would cease and instead of decreasing apparently increased until it spent itself in one grand climax that simply terrified.

Gradually it subsided after that, and soon people were able to go out and take stock of the damage done. Telephone communication was practically cut off because a large part of the wires had been torn down, but it did not take long for news to travel and soon it was known that the most disastrous storm the county had ever experienced had visited us.

Notes on Decorah Losses.

In Decorah the force of the storm centered along Water street. Scarcely a building on the north side of the street escaped damage. The rear parts look as though marksmen had used them for targets and had shot out window lights in wanton sport.

Near the city hall the cross arms of one of the tall masts of the Standard Telephone CO. snapped off and swung out over the center of the street, suspended by wires, while the next two masts east of it were broken off and hanging over into the street, buoyed up by the cable that runs as far as the Lutheran Publishing House.

The old woolen mill building, which was being used by the Decorah Glove and Mitten Works, was shorn of its third story while pieces of roof rolled over onto O. N. Bagne’s buildings occupied by himself and Tollef Twenge. The entire front of the latter store was taken out and Mr. Bagne’s shoe shop came in for damage to the roof.

At the Lutheran Publishing House the west exposure with its numerous windows was a splendid target for the hail and it scored bull’s eyes on the majority of lights. In the composing room the rain beat in upon the linotype machines so that it took a half day to get the cleaned up and ready for use again.

One of the first places to catch the force of the storm was the roller rink tent on the hitching ground. This was blown down, and the water in the river rose so rapidly that it was impossible to do anything toward saving any of the outfit. Arrangements had been made to hold a bowery dance there in the evening and a piano had been installed for music. This was at least badly damaged if not totally ruined.

At the Adams Seed Co. office nearly every light of glass on the north side was broken. A number of these were extra large size.

A part of the roof of John Oneil’s blacksmith shop was torn off, exposing the interior to the elements.

The roof of Emil Rosenthal’s building was damaged also, and the cornice and ornament bearing the inscription “Central Block” was dislodged.

Across the street the corner elevation on the post office building was blown down.

The roofs were taken off Steyer’s opera house, and the Barthell building occupied by the Empire theatre. In the Elks’ rooms and Steyer hall the damage by water is serious, and the Empire has closed pending repairs to the building.

All along the street skylights were smashed in but there was surprising small damage to stocks.

The roof on W. R. Smith’s building was ripped up, and on the P. Jensen building occupied by L. M. Stoddard the roof to the flour room was pounded so by hail and torn by the wind that about $40 worth of flour was destroyed.

The large plate glass window in Mrs. H. Engbretson’s millinery store was smashed by falling timbers, and a similar fate befell one of the windows in Bidne & Istad’s hardware store.

All along the north exposure on the south side of Water street, and the west exposures on streets intersecting with Water street small windows in upper stories suffered to a considerable extent. The most serious damages were sustained in this respect by the Grand opera house, B. O. Marsh, Richard Schrubbe, J. J. Mackenstadt, John Evenson’s store building, owned by F. P. Adams, Reynolds’ gallery in the upper part of the Bear block, Mrs. L. S. Enright, the Posten building and Schamel’s blacksmith shop.

At G. F. Baker’s lumber yard the small shed at the Winnebago street entrance was blown over into the yard on the south.

Rev. H. H. Breen’s house lost the top boards and ornaments making a square opening in the roof which admitted a drenching torrent and caused considerable interior damage.

Telephone Companies Catch It.

The Standard Telephone Co., in spite of the fact that their local exchange was put out of business, came out of the storm in good shape. Last Friday they received the cable for their underground system and were expecting in the near future to begin the work of installation. The storm simply hastened their work a little. Providence stepped in and did a part of their labors for them by destroying the leads on Water street and making junk of them. That was their ultimate destination and they have simply arrived there a little ahead of schedule time, hence the only regrettable feature is that for a time the city will be without telephone service. Work on the conduit will begin inside of ten days. Supt. Orr tells us he hopes to have the business portion connected up inside of two weeks, though it may be a little longer. In the meantime patrons will have to be patient. The loss of revenue is the most serious item to the company but the management wisely decided that no service for a short time would be better than a patched up unsatisfactory service. The operators at central are enjoying a well earned vacation as a consequence. When they return to work it will be to an entirely new equipment that will be a pleasure to handle because they can give so much better service.

The Iowa Telephone Co. fared somewhat better. Manager Morrison cleared a wire from Calmar to Decorah Sunday morning and West Union cleared it to Calmar. Monday afternoon service had been re-established as far as Davenport.

Churches are Hit Hard

One of the most keenly felt losses was sustained by the Methodist church. The church was to have been closed for three weeks for redecorating. The wind struck the top of the front gable and blew about ten feet of it into the street. It remains to be seen whether the damage is so serious that any considerable portion of the wall will have to be taken down. All the churches suffered more or less. The handsome memorial windows in the Episcopal and Catholic churches were shattered, entailing losses of $1000 each. In the Congregational church the windows were not so badly hit, but the damage is not light. Unity church windows were knocked out and the chimney badly shattered.

Two of the Big Losses.

In the extreme west and extreme east of town two large losses occureed. At Symonds’ greenhouses about 7000 square feet of glass were smashed. This is covered by double insurance so that the loss will not be heavy, but in the garden strawberries and all other fruits besides the usual big crop of seasonable vegetables are completely ruined. The loss in the eastern part of town was sustained by A. Bernatz & Sons at their Ice Cave Mills. Here the brick veneering on the west side was knocked off and north wall cracked so that a portion of it may have to be rebuilt. This, however, is the smaller part of the loss, as about 1500 bushels of wheat and no small amount of flour was damaged by water. South of this, in the Oak street neighborhood, at E. Anundsen’s and on the fair grounds, more serious damage occurred. Mr. Anundsen’s wind mill topploed over, the barns of Torger Moen and Fred Zeigelmeyer, and the amphitheatres on the fair grounds were blown down.

Fire at Swenson Valve Works.

While all this was going on fire was raging in the engine room and foundry of the Swenson Valve Co. out in the southwest corner of the fourth ward. Early in the storm the building was struck by lightning and the fire was not discovered at once. Because the telephone service had been destroyed it was impossible to send in a quick alarm, hence only a few knew of the fire until the bell on the 4th ward hose house was rung. It was fully a half hour after the fire began when a general alarm was sounded and when the department arrived the building was so far from a hydrant that it took every foot of hose available to get water on it. If assistance had been at hand early, the flames could have been confined to one corner of the building and quickly extinguished. As it was, about three quarters of the building was destroyed. Secretary Hoyt tells us the loss is not serious, however. It was fortunate that the flames did not extend to the Fibre Co. lnat on the south, else the loss would have reached into thousands of dollars.

Loss In Gardens Great

The loss of gardens by laboring men and poor people is an item that, while small in each individual case, will total a large amount and not a little sharp financiering in order to tide over the period until they can be started anew. Even this will not be altogether effective as there are a good many vegetables that need the early growth of spring in order to mature them for fall and winter use. This is a damage that can’t be made good and in some cases it will amount almost to privation.

Among the larger gardeners, - the men who make it a large part of their year’s business, - the loss runs into hundreds of dollars in a number of cases. For instance, at the Elwick farm an income of $300 was anticipated from strawberries. Less than one-twentieth of that sum was realized. Last Saturday morning H. M. Cummings made an estimate of from $800 to $1000 cash returns from garden truck on the Geo. Tyler farm which he has rented for this year. Twelve hours later there wasn’t a dollar of crop in sight. Sam Stepp was in much the same condition. Ed. Blakeman no better off, and so one might go down the list. W. T. Symonds gathered four cases of strawberries from his plants Monday and two cases Tuesday, when the pickers quit because there was nothing left worth gathering.

Bluffton Church Demolished.

At Bluffton the Catholic church is a wreck. As the story comes to us the windows in the north wall were blown in, then the south wall went out, the roof fell in and the north wall went down on the roof. It is reported there is some insurance on the building, but probably not enough to cover the loss. During the past year handsome new windows were installed at a large expense.

River Went on Rampage.

Wind and hail were not the only things that Decorah had to contend with. Soon after the storm subsided the river began to rise and it came up with a rush. A rise of two feet in fifteen minutes was recorded by anxious ones living on the flat northeast of the cement arch bridge and some remained up all night, fearing that the stream might overflow its banks on that side. Residents of the fifth ward just west and northwest of the bridge did not need to be told what the result would be for they had passed through similar experiences too often to misread the signs. When daylight came Sunday morning the fields south and east from C. W. Burdick’s residence were under water, the sidewalks and roadbeds on Maple avenue and the state road were awash, and the only means of reaching theeast side was by team. This condition continued until about midday, when the water had receded so that pedestrians could use the walk east along the Burdick and Biedermann properties. Back of Water street the river extended from the tail race of the old stone mill clear to the hill running east from the old Klein property.

Ole Borsheim’s Experience.

Ole Borsheim of Pleasant had an experience which he thought for a while would end his existence, and which he does not care to repeat. He had progressed as far as Henry Voegeding’s on his way home when the storm struck him. His horse became terrified by the hail and gaining the master hand dashed into a bridge over a dry run where a flood was coursing down and had carried away part of the structure. The horse went down, the thills cracked and the animal swung around under the rig. Mr. Borsheim had one leg pinned in so he couldn’t move and in addition his left arm was broken in his fight to hold his horse, so he could do nothing but keep his seat, hoping against hope for assistance to come to him. There he sat from seven in the evening until seven in the morning, when he managed to free himself. He thought at first that his horse was drowned, but soon discovered otherwise and finally got him loose. About nine o’clock some men came along who helped him to his home. He could not get connections with a physician until Monday when Dr. A. F. Barfoot dressed his injuries and he is doing as well as could be expected.

At the Marlow Place.

Among those who were out in the storm was Tom Weldon, who was on his way home from Burr Oak with a party of people who had been in attendance at the old settler’s reunion. When they reached the Charley Marlow farm Mr. Weldon saw the storm would catch them before they could go far so he turned in and drove into the barn. The party took refuge in the granary where they had to battle to keep the doors closed. Finally this became impossible and they retired to the oat room where they managed to keep fairly dry. Part of the building was carried away. Mr. Weldon tells us that when they deserted the door the rain and hail poured in with a velocity and in quantities that couldn’t be equaled by six streams of water from well directed lines of hose. In addition to this damage Mr. Marlow’s house was partially unroofed and the roof of the corn crib and hog house were torn away. He hopes to save some corn.

Various Notes of the Storm.

That the storm traveled in a southeasterly direction is shown by the destruction of eight fine large trees at the home of F. H. Baker at the southeast extreme of the city. At the home of Mrs. G. Haagenson two blocks north of Mr. Baker’s the house was loosened from the foundation. Ben Bear’s house, above Mr. Baker’s had a number of windows broken and considerable interior damage from water. This, however, was not an uncommon experience in many part of the town. The difference seems to have been principally in the degree of damage.

Numerous stories are told of attempts to shield interiors by holding coverings over openings made by the hail. E. T. Olson, living near the Ice Cave Mill, was among these. He stayed by one window until a hail stone nearly as large as his fist came crashing in, and then he concluded to seek safety at a distance. The worst openings he covered by using interior doors which he removed from hinges. His damage will probably be $100.

A very exaggerated report is out regarding the damage down at the summer home of Dr. Swezey at Trout Run. The water did not get within three feet of his porch, mush less enter the house. There was considerable damage done in the yard by hay floating against fences, damming up and breaking fences down. Mrs. Swezey had been very successful this spring with incubators and had between 300 and 400 fine young chickens which would have turned a handsome penny later on, but these were carried away.

Monday the Gross boys came in from their farm northeast of town and many people remarked on the condition of their rig. They were out in the hail and the wagon showed it for it is fairly white from the pelting it received. Spokes were indented to the depth of an eighth of an inch and splinters were knocked off in many places.

Henry Haas, who bought the Holland place last spring, reports all the outbuildings wrecked to a greater or less degree, while the roof on the house was ripped off. Mr. Whiteman, who is on the place, lost his entire crop. In the ravine near Mr. Haas’ home place the road from Billy William’s down to the Ice Cave mill bridge is totally destroyed and impassable.

Stock Killed and Carried Away.

On the Robert Simpson farm west of Burr Oak (now owned by a Mr. Nelson) seven dead animals were found in one field, none of which belong to Mr. Nelson nor does he know where they came from.

Phil Halse on the Col. Taylor farm is reported to have lost 70 sheep, 20 hogs, and horses and cattle as well.

The Seegmiller boys were on their way home and lost a fine team by drowning at Springwater.

J. O. Kallevang was credited with a loss of 100 sheep, but we understand he succeeded in finding a few of them that had managed to escape the flood, which poured down the valley in which his farm was located.

On John Nefstad’s farm one of the best horses was killed.

The Webber Family’s Experience.

Henry Webber and family of Springwater took refuge in their cellar when the storm came. Soon the house was carried away from over their heads and there they were compelled to remain exposed to the merciless pelting of the hail. The family consists of husband, wife and three children.

In the Country.

The force of the storm extended as far west as Orleans and Lincoln townships. John Clink writes us that crops are a total loss, and windmills and a few barns and outbuildings were blown down, trees uprooted, and quite a number of head of stock killed. The storm lasted 45 minutes and left many houses without a light of glass on the north and west sides.

At Clarence Cristen’s farm in Orleans township the house was unroofed and the barn wrecked. Russ Burr had a new barn just inclosed Saturday and it was crushed flat.

Hugh Kelly, near Burr Oak, had a beautiful grove before the storm, and now he says he hasn’t any – just the inside of the bark is left. The trees were literally stripped of leaves and bark, and their owner fears they will all die.

Up at Ed. Crane’s the big county bridge is gone. As the water was not high enough to carry it off it is supposed to have been blown away.

At the old Jacob Haas farm the bridge is gone and two others this side were swept away.

Charley Yarwood, two miles east of Ridgeway syas he will have some oats and hay left, but his cornfield is bare.

South and east of Decorah the storm swept through groves, denuding trees of leaves and limbs, blowing down windmills, unroofing barns, wrecking telephone lines.

Ole O. Lomen reports his windmill down, while M. C. Bergen lost the roof from his barn, had his barley destroyed, but may save some corn and oats. Hay and pasture all right.

O. C. Evans tells us that after the storm he went up to his father’s place two miles distant from his own farm and it took just an hour to do what in ordinary times he could accomplish in twenty minutes.

Down at the new dam site the Upper Iowa Power Co. the first cofferdam had been made ready to begin excavation. This was washed away. The loss is not looked upon by the contractors as heavy. Rather it is considered an incident in the business on which they always reckon in taking contracts. The loss of time is the most serious feature. None of their cement was damaged and all repairs can be easily made.

Report from Fremont Township.
Harmony, Minn., June 22, 1908

This corner of Winneshiek county last Saturday evening between five and six o’clock was struck by a terrific hail storm and cloud burst which in the way of destructiveness surpasses anything that ever passed through this immediate section. All crops of fruit, garden vegetables and field grains now appear to have suffered complete annihilation. However some pieces of small grain and hay may possibly partially recover and produce a light crop. Corn fields are as bare and black as at time of planting.

Trees are completely stripped of foliage and twigs and small branches, a great many of them being badly damaged by having the bark all pounded off from side of tree facing the storm. There were signs of a gathering storm apparent shortly after noon in north and northwest, but not until about five o’clock did it look any ways threatening, when a very peculiar cloud came up quite rapidly out of the west, against a strong wind blowing from the east. It was of a pale green color beneath a white crest. As the cloud approached, the wind lulled to a perfect calm, which was broken by now and then a bang and a thud caused by the falling of very large hail, very scattering, but which came on thick and fast until for about twenty minutes it seemed to pour down in perfect torrents of ice and water, doing much damage to farm buildings and bruising live stock. Many young pigs, lambs and sheep were literally pounded to death by hail, great quantities of it being about the size and shape of a door knob.

All windows in north side and many in west side were completely shattered and in some instances the sash was crushed in as well. Much damage by hail and water was done to furniture and carpets within the houses.

The center of the storm seems to have struck the township along the state line in sections 8 and 9 and going in a pretty direct line to the southeast, doing greatest damage on a strip about a mile wide.

At the Frank Elliot farm a machine shed, nearly new and wholly inclosed, was wrecked.

At Harriet Todd’s farm one side of the roof of a large barn was pounded full of hoes through the shingles between the roofing boards, and hay and grained stored in the barn soaked with water.

At Mrs. Bean’s farm the stables and all other out buildings were wrecked.

W. C. Fifield’s dwelling was so damaged by hail on the roof as to necessitate re-shingling immediately. He also sustained considerable loss by having the shingles and some of the frame timbers with which he is building a large barn swept away down stream by the rapid filling with water of a little ravine running close by his building site.

Many cattle were swept away by high water into the small stream which courses the central part of the path of the storm. Several head were drowned and others found after the storm a distance of two miles from their pasture.

While the loss in crops, live stock and damage to other property is considerable, no human lives were lost nor persons injured, for which the people have reason to be thankful.



From Burr Oak column, The Decorah Republican,

The desolation caused by the storm of the 20th is widespread and complete. We learn more and more of it every day. We visited the farm of Marion Price Friday and this is a sample of other farms. The small grain and clover is cut closer to the ground than any machinery could cut it, and the orchard of 50 or 60 apple trees are most of them dead. Look worse than winter because they are entirely black and stripped of bark on north side. James Price told me that on Thursday he tried to drive some cattle across a ravine on the farm and the hail stones were so deep the cattle could not go through them, and he was obliged to take them around. He said there were more than 200 tons of ice then in that one place. He didn’t think he over-estimated the quantity. Abe Pierce also told me that when the storm was over the hail laid a foot deep in their dining room with windows broken on the north. A letter received from Hiram Douglas of Lime Springs, Iowa, tell us the storm was about the same there as here. Mr. and Mrs. Douglas were here at the time and went home on Monday.



From Bluffton column, The Decorah Republican, June 25, 1908

Z. T. Gardner reported this morning to us the loss of 57 head of cattle and 65 hogs weighing about 350 per head and a great number of young pigs in last Saturday’s storm.

As ye editor is well aware by this time, the Catholic church in Bluffton township was totally destroyed and blown over by the storm last Saturday. Nothing is saved except the altar and altar railing. The walls are hardly two feet high in some places. The pews are all smashed, also the organ. The vestments were gotten out of the debris and several other articles. It is a heavy loss to the congregation.

Nearly every farmer in Bluffton township lost more or less stock in last Saturday’s storm, also some buildings. John Henry had a big barn blown all to pieces, also a machine shed and one windmill, and another one badly wrecked. There is hardly a windmill in Bluffton township that escaped. The crops are all destroyed and not much hope for anything except a second crop of clover hay.



Burr Oak column, The Decorah Republican, June 27, 1908

June 22, 1908.

There isn’t much to write about this week only old settlers’ picnic and cyclone. These two are more than enough but don’t make much of a variety. June 20th was a lovely day, couldn’t have been bettered. A large crowd gathered from surrounding towns to enjoy the occasion, and Burr Oak was big with joy and happiness. The exercises were interesting, presided over by Dr. Emmons with the grace and dignity befitting the day. A large number of old settlers gave short talks; others were represented by their children in various exercises that were entertaining, and everybody seemed pleased and satisfied. Among the long distance representatives were Napoleon Peard from Enid, Okla., Geo. Little, Cherokee, Iowa, Mrs. Elsie Wingate-Porter, Superior, Wis., Mr. and Mrs. Albert Darling, Parker, S. D., G. E. and P. W. McAllister (known here as Ed. and Plin.) and Frank Robinson from Minneapolis, Minn.; Mrs. Gertie Bandel Hill, Pine River, Minn., F. Schoonmaker, Sask., Can., Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Douglas from Etna, Minn. Also a large number from near by towns that have been residents of Burr Oak in former years. Mr. and Mrs. Schanck from West Union, Mrs. Libby from Ridgeway was represented by five children, who sang for us, a large delegation from Decorah, Cratsenbergs, Whitneys, Lincolns, Headingtons and Houcks. Pollits from Orleans, Bennets, Rices, Pierces, Masters, Beeches and Steads from Canton, Bakers and Mrs. Donaldson from Prosper, Loomis, Whites and Brace from Mabel. These were once Burr Oakers, but there were scores from these same towns that never lived here but have been known for years. Mr. Onstine from Henrytown, Minn., was present and gave us a talk. Also Wm. Wilford from Harmony had an interesting paper.

If the day could have closed as happily as it promised it would have been thus remembered, but it had a sad ending. About four o’clock it gave indications of rain and people began to look anxious, and about five, the wind got on a high, the rain fell, and in about half an hour hail came with a fierce wind, and lasted fully twenty minutes, and Oh, the destruction that is the result. I can’t tell about it, but it is dreadful, and yet it was worse west of us than here. The crops are ruined, whole farms of 80 to 150 acres of grain that you can’t find a blade with life, all cut off. Many farmers with large herds of cattle lowing for something to eat the next morning. Will Peacock had two large fields of clover standing high, and couldn’t get a handful to feed. At John Wigate’s two miles east no harm was down but south of there and on around to the south and still on to the west of town the havoc is great. Southwest of the village the first farm is A. A. Seelye’s, then the Kimber farm occupied by Ben Sheley, then John Wick’s, then west of there M. R. Price, and James Price south of Marion’s. All these farms are practically bare ground, growing worse the farther west you go. At Price’s the trees are stripped of their foliage and look like winter. They were over to town to-day for window glass. Indeed there is hardly a glass left on the north side of houses in the town or country. Gardens that were the pride of owners are cut off to the ground. Mr. Reed’s berry farm is ruined as far as berries are concerned. Many were planting gardens to-day with such things as will likely to mature early. I saw a branch of an apple tree cut from the orchard of Wilber Duprey that was a sample of his whole orchard. Not even a bit of bark on it. Some of our citizens drove over to the Wade farm to-day to see the hail stones that have laid in the ditches for 48 hours, and perhaps you wouldn’t believe it, but they lie several feet deep. That is no fish story, but a fact. A great many cattle, horses, hogs and sheep were killed and poultry by the thousand. Robert Feltis, Willard Feltis and Stephie Pierce, living just over in Canoe township, but really belonging to Burr Oak, drove their cattle to Prosper to-day for shipping, - had nothing for them to eat. Isn’t that dreadful? Nothing to eat in the flush month of the year. Rob Feltis’ house was unroofed and he had a new hen house just completed, and they were obliged to move their household goods into it. I called this a cyclone when I commenced to write, and some watched the cyclone cloud in the southwest, but its force was expended before it reached town. Perhaps others can tell more about it. Burr Oak dealt mostly with a high wind, rain and hail. That was enough without the complete cyclone. Nothing so bad but might be worse. There wasn’t anyone killed or seriously hurt.


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The Winneshiek County Storm of June 20, 1908
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