55th Anniversary of the Carter County, MO
F4 Tornado: May 21st, 1957
Author: Christine L. Wielgos, Meteorologist - NWS Paducah, KY
This website was created to commemorate this unfortunate event and to learn more about what happened on that fateful day.
Use the table of contents to jump to the section you wish to view or simply scroll down the page.
Table of Contents:
On May 21st, 1957, an outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes occurred across the Lower Ohio Valley and southern Plains. In fact, more tornadoes were reported in the year of 1957 than in any previous year during the 42 year period of records held by the Weather Bureau (The Weather Bureau was renamed the National Weather Service in 1967). The month of May was a busy one, as approximately 231 tornadoes were reported. The previous high for May was 219 tornadoes which was observed in 1955 when the circulation was quite similar to that of May 1957. The most severe weather occurred during May 20th through the 26th, when 124 tornadoes were observed, with 15 of those occurring on the 21st. According to an article titled The Weather and Circulation of May 1957 in the Monthly Weather Review, author Carlos Dunn writes that the general circulation in May was conducive to severe weather anomalies in the Great Plains.
Let's take a closer look at some weather maps:
(Click on the maps for a larger version)
May 21st, 1957: 130 AM
A closer look:
This is a surface map at 130am on May 21st, 1957. We can see that there is a surface low in central South Dakota with a trailing occluded front extending from the low into Missouri. Another surface boundary extended across Oklahoma and Texas.
12 hours later...
Here is the surface map at 130pm. You can see the occluded front continued to move off to the east across Illinois, while the other surface boundary remained across southern Missouri into Oklahoma and Texas. In the upper levels of the atmosphere, the wind fields were fairly strong. For those interested in the upper air maps (courtesy of Jonathan Finch-NWS Dodge City, KS), click on these links: (250mb, 500mb, 700mb, 850mb).
Here is a map of all the tornadoes from 7am on May 21st through 7am on May 22nd across the mid Mississippi and Lower Ohio Valleys, according to the Storm Prediction Center database. The circled F4 is the Carter County, MO tornado. There were several cyclic supercells that moved across Missouri and Illinois on this day.
According to the National Climatic Data Center LAT/LON coordinates, this would have been the path the F4 tornado took across Carter County, MO. Click on the image for a larger map.
According to the National Climatic Data Center along with Thomas Grazulis's book titled "Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991", the F4 tornado began at around 3:53pm. According to Grazulis, the tornado probably touched down in the Mark Twain National Forest in the southeast corner of Shannon County Missouri and moved northeast and lifted in the northeast corner of Carter County. Along the way, the tornado devastated the town of Fremont, leaving seven homes intact. It was possible that F5 damage occurred to some of the homes, schools and businesses on the east side of town. That section however, along the railroad tracks, had houses of poor construction. Damage also occurred in Van Buren, mainly on the south edge of town. The damage in Van Buren was severe but not as complete as in Fremont. Seven people were killed and 50 to 75 people were injured. The tornado was 500 yards wide and was on the ground for 25 minutes, according to Grazulis.
A list of the people who died from this tornado:
VAN BUREN: JAMES RENICK
FREMONT: JACK ALLEY AND HIS WIFE ALICE ALLEY
Earlier this year, Joe Sullivan (Editor of the Southeast Missourian Newspaper) wrote a story in the Southeast Missourian. He explained to readers what the aftermath was like in Fremont. With his permission, a copy of this article can be found here. After speaking with Mr. Sullivan, he was able to add more detail of that day. Mr. Sullivan was 12 years old at the time, so being able to see tornado damage of this magnitude was a "big deal". He had grown up near Piedmont and had heard that the whole town of Fremont was destroyed. He was curious to see what kind of wrath a tornado of that magnitude could do. He said that he has never seen destruction quite like that. He remembers seeing a demolished church in town and thinking to himself, why would God destroy a church?
Mrs. Ann Simpson was gracious enough to allow me to explore her scrapbook that she had made for the 1957 tornado. Ann had many newspaper clippings that she had collected from various newspaper which included the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Current Local. Click on the articles below to learn more about this tornado.
Aftermath of Town Hit By Twister: St. Louis Post Dispatch on June 2nd, 1957
Articles from The Current Local from May 30th, 1957:
Fremont- The town that refuses to die
Forestry Personnel Assist in Tornado Area
Recalls of 1889 Tornado in Van Buren
Red Cross Survey
Various newspaper clippings
Ms. Mary Belle Godsey was kind enough to offer these articles from The Current Local:
Van Buren Hit By A Tornado Tuesday
Articles Carried Afar By Recent Tornado
Mrs. Linda Norton was kind enough to offer these articles: Most are either from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or the Current Local.
14 Killed Yesterday By Violent Twisters
Remarks from Honorable Carnahan
Other Fremonts Rally to Rebuild Town of Fremont, MO
Theresa Jones Story
School Opens in Church
Fremont School Nearly Completed
Fremont's New $165,000 School Is Rapidly Nearing Completion
Fremont Has Made Notable Recovery From Tornado Damage
Fremont Observes Anniversary of Tornado Without Fanfare
Storm-Torn Twister Town Surges Back
The Tornado Town That Wouldn't Die
Noble People- Fremont, MO gives back
On May 31st, 2007, I did some research at the Poplar Bluff library. I was able to scan through the Daily American Republic, a newspaper in Poplar Bluff, via microfilm. I came across numerous articles, that are listed below: Used by permission, State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia.
List of Dead and Injured
Tornado Sounded Like Jet Airplane
Some Of Carter County Dead and Injured Brought Here
Clothing For Storm Victims
House Trailers Are Needed For Temporary Use
Fremont, MN, town of 6, gives $11 to Fremont MO Fund
Freemont, Saskatchewan to Hold Benefit Dance
Will Fremont Be Able to Rebuild Town?
Rebuilding of Fremont is Started
Fremont is Being Rebuilt Despite Tornado Damage
Click here for an interesting story from the News-Leader in Springfield Missouri printed on May 21, 2003. It has been linked to this website with the permission of the online editor, Gregory Matthews.
With the help of the Current Local Paper in Van Buren, I was able to place an ad in the paper seeking people who were willing to share information about this devastating tornado. A request for information was also broadcast on NOAA Weather Radio. Click here to see the ad that was run in the Current Local (Courtesy of Ann Simpson). Special thanks to Steve Turley at The Current Local for printing the ad. There were several people who contacted our office and came forward to tell their story.
On Monday May 14th, I was able to drive out to Fremont and Van Buren Missouri and meet with some people who were affected by the tornado.
Click on the names to read about their stories:
Albert (Bert) Pennington
Several other people contacted me and wanted to share their stories as well:
Diane (Burrows) Perry
D.J. Jones (Edward Jones)
Carol Black Duff
Note: All pictures are organized by the person who contributed them.
Here is a partial map of Fremont that I created with the help of Mrs. Linda Norton and Mrs. Diane Perry. Click on the map for a larger view.
The following pictures are courtesy of Mary Belle Godsey (click on the picture for a larger view):
Main Street- Fremont. Mary Belle Godsey mentioned that she thinks this picture was from the St. Louis Post Dispatch
Main Street- Fremont. The stamp on the back of this picture read: Photo by Faust Willow Springs, MO
According to Linda Norton: Faye Windes (High) and her mother lived in the house on the left side of this picture. They owned a cafe in that house called High's Cafe. They were inside when the tornado struck and the house fell down on them. As they were crawling out, they couldn't find the mother's glasses. Everything in the house was destroyed. However, in a crack in the wooden floors, the mother found her glasses without a stratch on them. After they crawled out, they looked over at the house next door, which is where Faye's Grandmother, Mrs. Emily Hurt, lived. The house was gone. They thought for sure Grandma was dead. But then they saw Grandma walking toward them. She was in the outhouse out back behind the house and was not hurt at all. Her house was gone, just the concrete slab was left, along with her sewing machine....just sitting there on the slab. For a better picture of the High House and Cafe, click here.
The following pictures are courtesy of Roy Greene and his sister Joyce Mayes (click on the picture for a larger view)
Here is downtown Fremont. The white house on the bottom right is actually the house that Mr. Roy Greene currently lives in. It sustained minor to moderate damage from the tornado. To the left of the house was a church, which was totally destroyed. See what the church looked like before the tornado by clicking here. The worst damage occurred a little further east into town, to the right of this picture. You can see where the tornado began to slice a swath through the trees on top of the hill on the top right portion of the picture. At the time of the tornado, Mr. Greene actually lived about 3 houses down from the white house pictured here. Also, take a look at the string of buildings along Main Street, starting with the white building. Starting from that white building, which was the Midco Mercantile, then the Midco Mercantile Feed Store (Destroyed), followed by the Post Office, The Burrows Store, Ellis Building, Highs' Cafe (and home of Faye Highs and her Mother), Emily Hurt's Yard (and house), and the Foddar Hedgepeth Building. To see what this portion of Main Street looked like before the tornado, click here.
This is Gertrude Greene, Roy and Joyce's mother. She is standing by the storm cellar in Fremont that she and her children took refuge in when the tornado struck and heavily damaged their home. As Roy described it, this cellar was meant to be a place to store food, but also served well as a storm shelter.
The following pictures are courtesy of Rick and Doris Noble of the Church of God of Prophecy in Fremont, MO. These are framed pictures that are hung on the walls inside the church and in the basement. This church was one of the few buildings still standing after the tornado. (Click on the picture for a larger view):
A view of downtown Fremont after the tornado
The Red Cross set up in this church, which was at the time a Methodist Church. The article shown here was from the Daily American Republic.
As many of the townspeople of Fremont had told me, there were many other towns of "Fremont" across the country who wanted to help the people of Fremont Missouri. This article describes how Fremont Nebraska teamed up to help out.
These are the pictures that hung on the wall in the basement of the Church of God of Prophecy in Fremont.
The following pictures are courtesy of Ann Simpson. The pictures are either from the St. Louis Post Dispatch or the Current Local Papers (click on the picture for a larger view)
Here is an aerial view of the town of Fremont.
Another view of Main Street in Fremont
A close up view of the damage on Main Street in Fremont
Photo from the St. Louis Post Dispatch article on 6/2/57
Here is a heavily damaged gas station/garage (Clay's Garage) that sits on Hwy 60 just as you come into Fremont. For a front view of Clay's garage, click here.
This is where Maude Simpson (Ann Simpson's Mother in law) lived. Fremont, MO.
Here is another view of what was left of Maude Simpson's home.
Damage in Fremont, MO
Here is the Fremont school house before the tornado. The school house was located on Hwy 60 on the south side of the road with the entrance to Fremont on the other side of the road.
The school house after the tornado.
The school house after the tornado.
More homes destroyed by the tornado in Fremont, MO,
Picture from either the St. Louis Post Dispatch or The Current Local. Fremont, MO.
The following pictures are courtesy of Teri (Wilson) Horstman, whose Great Grandparents William (Jack) Pickney Alley and Alice Burrows Alley were killed in the tornado. (Click on the picture for a larger view):
This is a picture of Mrs. Alice Burrows Alley just a few days before she was killed in the tornado. According to Ms. Horstman, Alice loved flowers and had a beautiful yard and garden. Mrs. Horstman was told that on the afternoon of the tornado, Alice and Jack were working in their garden and were told by the neighbors that they should take cover. They had been informed that a strong storm was heading in their direction. -Fremont, MO.
This little boxer dog salt or pepper shaker was in Alice Burrows Alley's collection. According to Mrs. Horstman's grandmother, Maxine Alley Wilson, this was the only item she found that was intact from her mother's (Alice Burrows Alley) large collection. There is not one scratch or chip on it.
Bob Huddleston outside of the Methodist church with the Red Cross in Fremont, MO.
Don Carrick's Garage in Fremont, MO after the tornado
Don Carrick's Bus in Fremont, MO after the tornado
Damaged tree in Fremont, MO
Looking down Main Street in Fremont, MO after the tornado
More tornado damage in Fremont, MO
Tornado damage to High's Cafe, Fremont MO
Tornado damage - Fremont, MO. This is Mr. Snowden Dell's vehicle.
Frisco Railroad Depot after the tornado - Fremont, MO. To see what this depot looked like before the tornado, click here.
Midco Mercantile Feed Store (Post office is the brick building to the right)- Fremont, MO. To see what the Feed Store looked like before the tornado, click here.
Damaged High School - Fremont MO
The following pictures are courtesy of Linda (Burrows) Norton. (Click on the picture for a larger view).
This is the location of the home of Mr. Jack Alley and his wife Alice Alley who lived in Fremont, MO.
Destroyed home of Mr. and Mrs. Snowden Dell of Fremont, MO. Mr. Snowden Dell was the County Sheriff at the time.
The telephone office in Fremont, MO before the tornado struck.
The telephone office after the tornado struck.
Here is a look at a Church that was destroyed just as you enter Fremont, MO. You can see Roy Greene's house next door to the left.
Another view of Roy Greene's house (present day) and church before the tornado. You can also see the school on the extreme right side of the picture on top of the hill. The tie yards are also visible in this picture. The tornado destroyed the school and the church. Fremont, MO.
Here is another view of Clay's Garage on Hwy 60 in Fremont, MO. Mrs. Norton said that it is possible this garage was named Murdick's Garage at the time.
Here is what the Frisco Railroad Depot in Fremont, MO looked like before the tornado destroyed it.
Here is Bob Huddleston and his new house in Fremont, MO. The woman standing there is from the Red Cross. The man standing with Bob's goats is Mrs. Linda Norton's Father, Elvin Burrows.
Here is a picture of Norris's Garage before the tornado. Fremont, MO.
Another view of Norris's Garage before tornado. Fremont, MO.
Here is what was left of Norris's Garage after the tornado.
Here is what Main Street Fremont looked like before the tornado looking east. From L to R: Midco Mercantile, Midco Mercantile Feed Store, Post Office, Burrows Store, Ellis Building, High's Cafe, Emily Hurt's Yard, Foddar Hedgepeth's Building.
Here is Main Street Fremont before the tornado, but looking west. From R to L: The building on the far right is the Foddar Hedgepeth Building, then Emily Hurt's yard, followed by High's Cafe, Ellis Building, Burrows Store, Post Office, Midco Feed Store and then the Midco Mercantile.
Here is what the Foddar Hedgepeth building looked like after the tornado. You can see the damaged High's Cafe on the far left side of the picture.
This is where Linda (Burrows) Norton and her sister Diane lived from 1947-1956 in Fremont, MO. They affectionately called it "the Brown house". They had moved to the west side of town in 1957 when the tornado had struck Fremont.
Here is a look at the "Brown House" after the tornado destroyed it. Linda said that several people survived in that house because they were all huddled in one room, which happened to be left standing after the tornado.
Linda Norton's Aunts near west end of destroyed school in Fremont, MO.
Linda's aunt and sister near damage in Fremont, MO.
Here is another picture of the destroyed public school in Fremont, MO
Another picture of the destroyed school in Fremont, MO.
Yet another picture showing the widespread damage in Fremont, MO.
Another picture of Fremont, MO after the tornado. Picture by: H.H. Condray - Springfield
Poem written by Mary Bristol Norris, submitted by Linda Norton
Hotel in Fremont that Mary refers to in her poem. The hotel was damaged by the tornado and then eventually torn down, according to Mrs. Norton.
Here is a picture of the hotel AFTER the tornado. This was sent in by
Linda Smith-Sepac. Her aunt, Dorothy Alcorn Russell and uncle Gordon Russell leased the Fremont Hotel (resturant and gas station) at the time of the 1957 tornado. Following the tornado, Dorothy and Gordon moved to Colorado to "avoid being in a tornado zone". In her elderly years, Dorothy returned to Winona to live closer to her elderly mother. Dorothy passed away Dec. 13, 2010 and her granddaughter Colleen, found this photo while going through her belongings. Many thanks to Linda for sending in this picture.
The author would like to personally thank everyone who took the time to contact the office and share their stories. I would also like to thank the many people I met while in Fremont and Van Buren who allowed me to interview them and use their pictures and newspaper articles. I appreciated their hospitality and their willingness to contribute to this website. Many people that I have talked to have really expressed their excitement with the research I am conducting on this tornado. I want to thank them for their encouragement and support.
Please feel free to send us your comments or suggestions for this web page. If you have additional pictures, newspaper articles or are willing to share your story from this day, please email the author at Christine.Wielgos@noaa.gov or call our office at 270-744-6440.
Special Note: We plan on adding information to this web page as it becomes available…so just bookmark this page and look for later updates.
This web page was updated on May 23, 2012