Saturday, November 12, 2005


(Run originally 5/7/04 on our old site)

At 4:50 p.m. on March 21, 1952, the worst tornado in Arkansas history swooped down out of the skies over White County. When it finally left, it had severely damaged Bald Knob and parts of Searcy, and all but wiped Judsonia totally off the map: 1000 homes in Judsonia were destroyed or damaged.

Worse, 325 persons were injured, 50 killed, with at least 30 of the deaths occurring in Judsonia.

Dan E. Randle

I remember walking home after school and noticing the sky had turned yellow instead of blue. I had never seen anything like this before, so didn’t know what to think about it. It was just … different!

After I arrived at home and went across the street to Porter Rodgers hospital to see mom, it started raining. It seemed that it rained harder each minute that passed. Then the wind came up, and started driving the rain in sheets to the point where you couldn’t see outside the windows. The wind and rain kept increasing until the whole hospital was creaking and groaning. I remember mom and most of her staff were afraid of the storm. I guess I must have been stupid, because I wasn’t afraid. (At that stage of my life I could sleep through a storm like this one, if mom would have allowed me to. Since my room was upstairs, mom would always come up and wake me up to come downstairs where it was safer).

One of the strangest things I had ever seen was one of the window screens being ripped off the hospital and blown away. We never found the screen. The part hardest to believe was the screen had been painted over and over and hadn’t been removed in years, since the paint had glued the screen to the window facing.

Needless to say, everyone was afraid of what would come next. Then the rain and wind slowly dwindled down until it was gone, leaving behind an eerie quiet with the expectation that there was more to come. After a few minutes of no rain, I walked outside. The sky was still a different color than anything I had ever seen before. I was standing outside next to the ambulance entrance when the first car came in. It was an old 1937 Chevrolet, dragging power lines behind it, with a frantic driver behind the wheel. That’s when we first found out what had caused the phenomenon: a tornado had just wiped Kensett, Judsonia and Bald Knob off the map, passing just about 5 miles outside of town. The path it cleared was about a quarter mile wide in places.

After the first car came in with two injured and one dead, other cars started bringing in the injured and dead. People were stacked in the halls and room like cord wood, with just enough room to walk. Since the single nurses lived above the clinic, there were more nurses to help than other hospitals without live-in arrangements. Still, anyone that came in and was able was pressed into service to run errands and/or sit with the injured and dying. My sister, Nancy, had two people die on her while she was sitting with them. I was running supplies from place to place in the hospital as needed.

The only light available was furnished by candles and kerosene lamps and, as you know, they don’t put off very much light. One trip to the emergency room was all it took for me to come up with an idea for better light. I had a Serv-a-cycle at the time so I ran home, removed the headlight, the battery from mom’s car and took them back to the emergency room. The light produced by this combination was so bright it was noticed by someone that had access to an auto supply store. They were able to get many car headlights and batteries that were placed around the hospital to provide good light where needed.

Many of the people came with few clothes on, I remember because mom gave all my clothes away to any youngsters that needed them. I did get to keep the clothes I had on at the time though!

With so many people helping, mom kept the kitchen staff going full speed. We still had gas, so there was hot food and coffee for anyone that wanted it. Walter Redman and Jerry Holmes came over and helped out in the kitchen, washing dishes. We helped all night and through the morning.

That 24 hours will remain burned in my memory all my life.

Kay Young lived in Judsonia at that time and had gone through the ordeal. From that time on, every time the clouds would look like a storm was coming, she would start saying "Take me home right now, I have to go home!” When we got to her house, her family was frantic, they had to get to a storm cellar. They would all jump into their car and speed off to a destination that had a storm cellar. I wonder if she still has the same fear now.

Since then I have been through numerous earthquakes, dust, sand and snow storms, tidal waves, and hurricanes. None of them stick in my mind as that day in 1952 sticks.

Where were you that day, and what do you remember?

Tom Pry

A gentleman with the unlikely name of Toy Cohorn (whose identical twin brother was named Hoy) and his family had just set down to the dinner table in Judsonia when the twister struck. There was so little warning, that all the family had time to do was crawl under the kitchen table. In one of the many peculiar stories to come out of that storm, the roof peeled off the house, and the four exterior walls fell outward, leaving the family untouched, huddled there under the table.

Toy and his family moved in up the road from us and, like Kay, when clouds looked anything like becoming a storm, the family would leap into the pickup truck and drive back to the barn, where the storm cellar was located.

I don’t blame them one little bit.

I was in Chicago at the time of the storm. After five days with no word from my grandfather, my dad, sis and I piled into the car and drove the 600+ miles down to check on him and Billie.

Like Dan, I’m curious as to your memories of that storm.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a survivor of the 1952 Bald Knob tornado. I was three at the time, but I remember the incidents as they are indelibly imprinted in my mind. My mother Helen Arnold and her husband Walter Arnold were killed when our new house was blown away. They were found about a half a mile or so from where the house stood. My sister Judy suffered serious head trauma but is still alive today except that she now has advanced dementia. Also surviving was a girlfriend of my sister named Pat. I was referred to as Billy in newspaper articles. We were raised by our biological father Harold (Jack) Jackson in Murphysboro, Illinois. -William Jackson

9:34 PM  

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