Remembering 100th anniversary of Murfreesboro tornado

Gloria Shacklett Christy, The Murfreesboro Post, March 24, 2013

Editor’s note: This is an article taken from “The Accent,” published Dec. 9, 1979.

First Presbyterian Church was destroyed.

Funneling wind swept through Rutherford County and lightning and thunder crashed to awaken and scare residents the morning of March 21, 1913.

“It came from the southwest across the Public Square cutting a 150-yard swath,” said Homer Pittard, county historian, describing from the records the tornado that struck Murfreesboro downtown at 2 a.m.

“The hundreds of freaks performed by the swirling current” are mentioned by C. C. Henderson in the “The Story of Murfreesboro.”

It is a disappointment that Henderson only writes that “(freakish incidents) cannot be mentioned here, as they were too numerous and would now be considered figments of a distorted imagination or gross exaggerations.”

There were, however, several persons in Murfreesboro (in 1979) who remembered the tornado, the havoc and destruction it caused.

Only one injury is known to have resulted from the furious winds. It was suffered by Hal Jones, a night watchman for the livery stable on the north side of the Square. Many persons remember or know of Henderson’s account that simply states, “Hall suffered a broken leg when a livery stable on Walnut Street was demolished.”

An eyewitness, Clarence Blankenship, recalls more detail about Hall’s circumstances.

“During those times mules were very valuable, so Hall Jones slept at the livery stable during the night to keep the mules from being stolen. That is why he was in town when the tornado struck and when the roof of the livery stable caved in, it fell on him. It smashed his face and he never looked the same after that. He was a person who had kind of a pretty profile – for a man – and his nose got flattened.

He’s now healed and his brain wasn’t damaged – he was still a good man – but he had kind of a scared look after that.”

Blankenship, 93, was in his early 20s when the storm struck his home which was, at the time, on Fourth Avenue.

He said he and his wife were asleep but awoke when the house “raised up and then down, raised up and then down. Mrs. Blankenship and I had two babies and we sat on the bed where we thought we would be safe in case the house blew over.”

“The house seemed to come off the brick pillars,” Blankenship said, “And then back down again…for about what seemed 15 or 20 minutes. We sat there numb and scared to death.”

Blankenship said there were 14 girls who attended the nearby college rooming with his family when the tornado struck.

“We hollered to them and they got dressed too. As a rule they were so noisy we had to call ‘em down but that night they were so quiet you could hear a pin drop.”

The only property damage Blankenship recalls was in his back yard and in the morning his outhouse was upside down leaning against the back of the house. No damage occurred to the house itself.

Miss Mary Hall, 84, a former instructor at MTSU, also has memories from the tornado of 1913.

“My father, J. D. Hall, was a country doctor who made his rounds every evening to his patients. When I was a child (then 17) my father did his practice on horseback.”

She said her father was returning from Readyville after midnight on his strawberry roan, “Old Joe,” when he came over Peak’s hill on Woodbury Turnpike and saw terrible clouds ahead.

When they got to the top “Old Joe” reared up and snorted and my father saw the funnel cloud coming. He let the horse have the reins and “Old Joe” ran all the way home.”

Miss Hall said that when her father got home he called to her mother and she heard him say, “Something terrible is happening. This storm is going to be heard from … I saw a funnel-shaped cloud over Murfreesboro.”

The next morning, Miss Hall said they heard over the telephone that Murfreesboro “had blown away.”

She and her parents went to see the ruins that day and people were swarming all over the place. The north side of the Square was in shambles. In spite of the terrible wreckage, only one person was injured. It was rather warm, at least comfortable, and there was stillness in the air like the calm after the storm – that had lasted into the next day.

Referring to the courthouse, Miss Hall said, “The cupola wasn’t damaged but one side of the face of the clock, probably the north side, was found a few days later in Lebanon.”

Mrs. John Woodfin, also gives an account of the damage.

“Whole sections were taken out of Murfreesboro … The First Presbyterian Church was heavily damaged and so was the building where my husband’s grandfather, L. R. Jacobs, had a furniture store and undertaking business.”

In regard to recovery from the tornado, Miss Hall said she was hardly aware of any restoration that took place after the storm was over.

“The tragedy of it was the memory sticking in my mind. The tornado was one of those events that make a lasting impression on the persons involved,” and was as Miss Hall said, “one of those few days in your life that you really remember.”

This article was recently found in a box belonging to my mother, Virginia Shacklett. Just in time for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of that scary night in Murfreesboro.

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