Friday, May 20, 2011

The Twilight Twister, 1957

"Living things have been doing just that for a long, long time. Through every kind of disaster, and setback, and catastrophe. We are survivors."
- Robert Fulghum

Ruskin Heights, Missouri Tornado, May 20, 1957

Today is the 54th Anniversary of the "Twilight Twister" of 1957, an F-5 Tornado that tore a seventy-one mile long swath of death and destruction through several communities in Kansas and Missouri on the evening of May 20, 1957, killing scores and injuring over five hundred. 

Hardest hit of all the communities was Ruskin Heights, my childhood home.

Last year at this time, the ten founders of this Smiling Heart blog made the decision to recount our memories, and in doing so, honor the friends and neighbors who became the storm's victims that awful night. Today, I offer these posts again in the hope that our friends in the southern United States, whose lives have been inundated by floods or uprooted by tornadoes, will receive some measure of comfort from them.

The series of posts began with Reya, my brilliant friend from The Gold Puppy blog. Though her family hadn't yet moved to Ruskin Heights at the time of the tornado, she was deeply affected by the vivid images recalled by others as a young child and newcomer to the neighborhood.  

HERE is her post, titled "Prequel".

The next post was submitted by Rick, who described the fear and bewilderment as a child, huddling with his family in the bathtub of the home to  escape the tornado. 

HERE is his post, titled "My Recollection of May 20, 1957.

The third post was written by Dubby, author of Oats, a novel in blog form. His post contains technical information from the archives of the National Weather Service, and his own gripping personal story of his experience, not only on the night in question, but many years after.  

His post, titled "A View from the Pants Leg" can be read HERE.

As I read Dubby's account of the tornado and a conversation that took place years after, I received a revelation. His story dovetailed perfectly with mine, and provided a small but significant fact that provided an answer to a question I'd long held inside.

My post, titled "My First Memory...For Denise" can be found HERE.

On May 20, 2010, we simply posted THIS titled "In Memoriam" a poignant list of the 30+ victims from the Ruskin Heights neighborhood alone, accompanied by the music of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings".

Possibly the most moving post was submitted by Rick the next day. Rick's father had gone out on the morning of May 21st with his 8mm camera to document the aftermath. Rick took the film, converted it and uploaded it to create this powerful post, titled When We Emerged.

I hope you take the time to read at least a few of these accounts of this fateful day. For many of us, it was our first memory. For all of us, it was a life-changing day.

We emerged from the rubble of the Twilight Twister to rebuild our homes and our businesses. We mourned together and rejoiced together. We were in shock, but we worked together to regain our community, brick by brick and nail by nail .

The children of that night who were as yet too young to attend school will gather together next month to celebrate our fortieth reunion. The memories of the Twilight Twister reside within many of is an undeniable common bond.

But it is not our only common bond. We went on to create other bonds, as well. The bonds of friendship, camaraderie, trust, and affection have proven to be much stronger and more enduring.

Our message today is to those who have suffered from the tornadoes and flooding in the south this spring. Your lives have been changed forever, as many before yours have been, and many yet to come will be. We have been in your shoes and the shoes of your precious children. We know the hard work and sacrifice you face. We are with you in spirit.

Keep Living. You are survivors. Your yesterday may have been filled with darkness, but your tomorrow will be filled with light again. You'll see.

This is a recording of the song "Brick by Brick" by Train. Lyrics are by Amund Bjorklund, Espen Lind, and Pat Monahan. Enjoy.

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