1899 news item

1953 interview with a survivor of the 1899 cyclone, Ina Kellner Kehrberg.

The LeMars Globe
June 3, 1899


From the excellent report of the cyclone which passed a few miles west from Kingsley on Tuesday afternoon in the Kingsley Times we glean and brief the following account:

The storm started about eight miles southwest of Kingsley at 7:45 the first damage being done at Chas. Irons’ farm where several head of horses were carried, or in their fear ran, into barbed wire fences where they were killed on the fence.  At. Chas. Mulford’s farm where E. Mace resides, corn cribs and sheds were demolished.

Crossing the line into Plymouth County a mile above the line, the top of Wm. Adams’ big barn was lifted off and buried to destruction while a barn containing horses was carried several feet but none of the horses were injured.  The house and other buildings were not in the track of the storm.  The will Stevens home was next touched by the storm and house, barn, out buildings of all kinds, buggies, etc., were entirely destroyed, not enough material being left to make a wagon load.  Chas. Johnson, owner of the farm lost $170 in money and other valuable property.  The family had taken refuge in the cave and a portion of the house struck the cave, caving in a portion of it, but no one was injured.

The barn and out buildings on the Blaska farm where Ike Young lived were destroyed but the house escaped.

The next place touched was the John Kellner farm where the entire set of big farm buildings were crushed like an egg shell and the debris taking fire what was left of the house was burned.  The large trees were broken off and the twisted and shredded stumps were even stripped of the bark so potent was the fury of its power.  Mr. Kellner lost a large number of cattle, horses and hogs, one shote having a blunt piece of lumber forced through it.  His loss is about $4000 with $1000 insurance.

The protections afforded by the cyclone caves is undoubtedly all that prevented loss of life.

LeMars Globe-Post [some 54 years later]
July 9, 1953


Although there were several tornadoes in Plymouth County a couple of weeks ago, nobody got a picture of one of them. The tornadoes came around 6 p.m., but it was so dark they weren’t even seen.

But a tornado picture turned up anyway, taken May 30, 1899, by H. H. Knowles from a vantage point 3 miles west of Kingsley.  Members of the Knowles family are still in business in Kingsley.

This picture, taken about three miles from the tornado, shows the twister (called a cyclone in those days) as it was sweeping over a farm belonging to B. J. Kellner, father of Mrs. F. R. Kehrberg of Kingsley.  This farm is a few miles west of Kingsley.

The tornado just about cleaned up the farm buildings.  Mr. Kellner had just driven a herd of cattle to market at Sioux City, so there wasn’t much stock left on the place to be killed.  Among the victims were some chickens.  But many of the chickens were running around after the tornado, picked clean of feathers.  But they weren’t bleeding.  The tornado vacuum-cleaned the feathers off of them as neatly as you please, and the chickens, though nude and indignant, were mostly uninjured.

Mrs. Kehrberg, then a young girl, Ina Kellner, gave the following graphic description of the event.

“There was very little warning, if you don’t count what the hired man said—and we didn’t believe him.  It was what we called cyclone weather, muggy and uneasy.  The hired man had seen tornadoes before—we never had.

This hired man kept talking about it being tornado weather. Mother had supper on the table, and hired man stood out in back.  Suddenly he called, “There’s a cyclone coming!”

We all went out and looked, and sure enough there was this funnel thing, seeming quite far away. We watched it for a time, and the hired man said it was coming right our way, and was sure to take this farm.

It did come closer, but we still didn’t believe it would happen to us.  But on the insistence of the hired man, we went down into the cellar.

All we had in the way of a cave was a little dug-out in the cellar wall, which went down under the ground.  We went down there. As I walked in, I could feel loose dirt under my feet, and knew the dirt was caving in. It wasn’t walled or anything.  I wondered if we would be buried alive.

While we waited there, the hired man went out by way of the outside cellar stairway and lifted the door to have a look. He came running back shouting, “Everybody into the cave. It’s right across the road, and it’s going to hit here.”

We were hardly all inside the cave when it hit. There was an awful roaring noise.  All at once I could not get my breath. I thought there must be some kind of poison gas inside the tornado.  I thought we would all die there in the cave.  But in about a minute there came a puff of fresh air.  We got out and looked up at the sky, the house was gone.”

Later Mrs. Kehrberg learned that it wasn’t gas that seemed to suffocate her, but the partial vacuum inside the tornado.  It sucked the air out of their lungs and they couldn’t breathe.  But there were lucky they let the air go. Doctors attending the injured in Worcester, Mass., tornado in mid-June said that several of the dead had been killed by their chests literally “exploding.”  For some reason these people tried to hold their breath.

Mrs. Kehrberg said that practically every building on the farm was destroyed. Some articles were found on the Kehrberg farm, 5 miles north of the Kellner place.

“Is that how you met your future husband?” asked the reporter.

“Oh, no!” said Mrs. Kehrberg. “I already knew him.” So pop, goes a romantic angle for this story.

The Kellner farm was the only one badly hit by this tornado. Other farmers reported minor damage, shingles blown off roofs, doors and windows blown out, and the like.