May 9, 1933
This historic event began around 8pm when there was 30 minutes of rain and hail in Tompkinsville, followed by five minutes of absolute calm. The calm was shattered when a tornado touched down just southwest of town and moved northeast, directly into southern sections the city (the "Negro section," as newspapers called it at the time). The path of utter destruction, in which everything was flattened, was a quarter mile wide. The damaged residences of O. C. Landrum and Oscar Sims marked the edges of the devastation. Between them was a treeless and fenceless waste, with scattered remnants of homes and uprooted trees. A heavy rain, which fell continuously from 1 o'clock until 6 the following morning, made roads almost impassable and handicapped the work of rehabilitation. Only three homes that were affected by the funnel were able to be salvaged. World War I veterans described the devastation and suffering as worse than what they witnessed during the Great War. The twisting nature of the winds was clearly revealed when the bodies of the Tyree family were found 75 yards south of their home site, and the bodies of the Redeford family were discovered 100 yards north of the spot where their home had stood. The Tyrees lived on the southern edge of the storm area, while the Redefords lived near the northern edge. The body of the Rev. Redeford's wife was carried 150 yards to a pond on the land belonging to L. P. Hagan. The corpse of the husband was found entangled in a barbed wire fence, having been blown about one hundred yards. Sixteen people in Tompkinsville lost their lives that evening, with another 2 deaths just northeast of town in Sewell. Fifty citizens were injured in Monroe County.
After Tompkinsville, the tornado continued to the northeast, crossing Cumberland County (2 people injured) and clipping the southeast corner of Adair County (2 people killed in the Cundiff area) with comparatively little damage, before intensifying again as it entered Russell County. The tornado grew into a mile-wide monster as it plowed down at least 100 homes. The edge of the tornado missed downtown Russell Springs by only half a mile. The tornado spent its last fury in the Happy Acre area, causing damage along Goose Creek, near Friendship Church, and on the southern end of Bethany Ridge where chickens were stripped of their feathers. The tornado lifted at the Casey County line. Fatality counts for Russell County vary from 14 to 20 depending on the source...this study will use Grazulis' number of 18. Of those 18, 14 were killed on the southeast edge of Russell Springs. Up to 100 people may have been injured in Russell County.
Following is the story of the storm, as told by eye-witness Mrs. Stanton Taylor of Tompkinsville:
On the evening of May 9, 1933 my parents and I together with our neighbors, Lewis and Donna Franklin and William and Lillian Gillenwater were seated in the living room of our home listening to a radio program. A severe electrical storm had come up and our neighbors felt that they would be safer in our home than in theirs.
Suddenly we heard an ominous sound that struck terror to our hearts. It was the awesome rushing of mighty winds. Shortly afterward our telephone rang and I answered. A caller who did not identify himself said, "The Kingdom has been blown away. We need help. Tell your brothers to come and help find the victims." This I did and my brothers Abe and Jimmy, carrying lanterns and flashlights, started out on a rescue mission. The violence of the storm had disrupted electrical and power lines over the most of the town.
Soon after we heard someone pounding on our front door and crying. It was our colored cook, Pearl Bailey. Pearl was clad only in her nightgown and was wringing wet and shivering with cold. She could hardly walk as a small piece of plank had been driven through one of her feet. She sobbed as she told us that her son, William, and a girl staying with them, had been blown away. We gave Pearl a warm bath, had her put on some warm night clothes, and put her to bed. Then William, Lillian, and I went to Dr. George Bushong's office, in the old hospital building on Main Street where the victims were being brought in. They came in barefoot and in their night clothes soaking wet and wild eyed. Here at Dr. Bushong's office we were told that the injured were being taken to the Baptist Church while the dead were taken to the Methodist Church and to a building adjacent to Price Kirkpatrick's home. We were told that help was needed at the Baptist Church where the wounded were being given medical treatment. We went immediately to the church where first aid was being given by local doctors. Luckily, Dr. J. I. McClendon of Russell Springs was present and assisted local doctors. Our neighboring town of Glasgow sent a score of doctors and nurses to help in this disaster. The Glasgow National Guard sent a unit to patrol the streets. A crowd of compassionate men and women of the town were at the curch when we arrived. They had brought in bedding, sheets, pillows, and blankets and converted the church benches into temporary beds for the injured. Oil stoves had been set up and hot soup and coffee was made to warm the patients up as all were shaking with cold. I was shocked and grieved to find lying, dying, on a church bench William Bailey, the son of our cook, Pearl Bailey. William ate his meals with his mother at our home. They had left for their home before dark that evening as they could see that a storm was coming up. I thought of how when he was leaving that he stopped and looked back so wistfully, as if he had a premonition of what was to come. William lived only a short time after he was brought in. He had been blown against a monument in Oak Hill Cemetery.
In the meantime the Rescue Squad had found Miami Fraim dead with her head buried in a foot of mud; Masterfield Anderson, who had been killed by a falling chimney; Clara Hamilton, who had been killed by being blown against a monument in Oak Hill Cemetery; Jimmy Coulter's wife was blown into a tree and literally scalped; Reverend Roy Redford's, a Methodist minister's, wife was blown through a pond and killed. Their little son lived but a few hours after being found. Burford Page, wife, and two children, whose home was completely demolished, escaped miraculously. An inch plank was blown through the motor of Page's automobile. Strange as it may seem, straws were embedded in an oak tree where they had been blown by the force of the wind.
While forty persons were injured in this tornado fourteen lost their lives. The death list is as follows:
Reverend and Mrs. Roy Redford and little son
Mrs. Travis Tyree and two children
Mrs. Jina Blankenship
Mrs. Ed Turner
Mrs. Jimmy Coulter
Those whose homes had been blown away were provided living quarters in the Old Brick High School building. Mina Landrum Moss [? -- difficult to read in Mrs. Taylor's handwriting] and I were asked to plan balanced and nutritious meals for these unfortunates, while the displaced were quartered there. We also worked with the Red Cross in helping to select necessary furniture for those whose homes had been destroyed.