Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Twister's Tale with an Ironic Twist

It seems that tornadoes have always been a way of life in the Deep South -- Mississippi in particular.  

A twister that touched down in Natchez in 1840 is counted as the second deadliest tornado in all of U.S. history.  Yet another one took more than 430 lives in Tupelo in 1936, making it the fourth deadliest in the nation's history.  Notably, one of those survivors was 15-month-old Elvis Aaron Presley.

In the heart of the Piney Woods, Brookhaven* -- situated due east of Natchez, due south of Wesson and due west of Monticello -- has had its share of tornado activity throughout the years, but it is safe to say that it has experienced nothing like the deadly twisters in 1882 and 1883 that virtually destroyed its close neighbors to the east and to the north.

Ten miles to Brookhaven's north, the "Great Cyclone" of 1883 essentially wiped Beauregard and parts of Wesson off the map, and, exactly one year earlier to the day, another deadly tornado touched down in Monticello, obliterating that small town, located just 20 miles east of Brookhaven.

In Monticello, ten people were killed instantly and more than a dozen others were injured in the Lawrence County county seat, whose population was reported to be roughly 150 at the time.

That twister struck on April 22, 1882, at lunch hour -- 12:15 p.m. -- and demolished countless churches, stores, homes and a court house.  When it was all over, only three homes were left standing on the outskirts of the storm's path.

That sad story might be ended there, but records show that there is an ironic twist, if you will pardon the awful pun.

One of the Monticello merchants, a man by the name of Jake Myers, suffered not only a broken collarbone and lacerations to the head, but the loss of his entire general merchandise business. 

In the aftermath, it has been recounted by none other than a former governor of the state, A.H. Longino, at the time a resident of Monticello, that our Jake Myers was inconsolable.  

Assessing the damage and nursing his bodily wounds, he keened and wailed at the sight of his dry goods, groceries, furniture, crockery, and fine fabrics shredded, splintered, and strewn about on the ground or dangling high from mangled trees.  

When a fellow townsman tried to console Jake with "it could have been worse" and we have "much to be thankful for," Myers lost all control and spewed language that surely was considered indelicate at the time.

"Jesus Christ, God Almighty! Hell and Damnation to the Devil! How COULD it be worse when everything I have is gone to HELL?" 

Myers soon regained his composure, picked up the pieces of his life and decided to relocate to Copiah County, where he opened another general merchandise business in Beauregard.

Exactly one year later to the day that he had lost everything in his life, Myers again found himself huddled against the colossal fury of a massive killer tornado.  His building ripped from around him by a giant black and fiery vortex, rescuers soon discovered him trapped and injured, but not seriously.  

When released from his splintered prison, Myers was found to be clutching a paper bag of a dozen eggs, and not one -- not one -- of them had been broken.

Myers retired after that, but he apparently never missed an opportunity to tell his stories of surviving not one, but two, deadly cyclones.
For further reading, please cursor over the highlighted words above to find embedded links.
*This story doesn't even touch on the weather system that spawned wicked tornadoes that destroyed businesses on Delaware Avenue in McComb and blew out the walls of a brand new school near Summit back in the 1970s -- a disaster I myself covered as a cub reporter at the Jackson Daily News.

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