[3 Parts] "Death Out Of Darkness" is a public safety documentary about the deadly tornadoes of the 11-April-1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak, which affected portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The film primarily focuses on the devastation across Northern and Central Indiana. Produced in 1966 by the Indiana State Police and WISH-TV in Indianapolis, narrated by Lt. Dave Levendoski. Video from visualarchivist on YouTube. There were 47 tornadoes in less than 12 hours. This was the 3rd deadliest tornado swarm in U.S. history. See Also: Ted Fujita
Grief, Relief, Miracles and Tragedies
Submitted by Shana Dines
I was fifteen years old the summer of the Palm Sunday tornado. We were not a religious family, so we didn't go to church that morning, although I did begrudgingly go with my grandmother for sometime, on a Sunday school bus. She was Old Order Mennonite, and feared for our souls, so out of guilt we did go with her. By this time in her life she was too sickly to go so I was spared going, although the experience was a positive one at that particular church, putting up with the animosity of my parents for going was not worth it. Anyway it was another boring Sunday, and my brother and I were both complaining about nothing ever exciting happening.
My brother is thirteen months younger than me, and was fourteen at the time and my little sister was thirteen years younger than I was, and going on two. We lived in the extreme of dysfunctional families, so this is not the typical disaster story, so bear with me. I was listening to the horror stories of the Tsumani, and the survival of families, and the loss of many and it brought it all back. I have always wanted to write this down, because unless you have experienced something like this you cannot imagine the extremes of emotions that you go through in these situations. Including the sick humor, in the middle of disasters.
I have to give you a little background of this, so you can understand the family dynamics, as it is important in understanding the story. First my mother and her sister were six years apart, and very competitive. My aunt and uncle had lots of money, where we were the lower middle class, relatives, and were looked down on, but surreptitiously. My grandparents whom I dearly loved raised them. I felt that they were the only safe people in my life. They lived three houses down from us until my grandfather died of cancer in 1960. This left my grandmother alone in the house and my brother and I took turns spending the night with her so she didn't have to be alone. She was a sweet loving, typical grandmother, but was very fearful. I don't know what happened to my mother and her sister, but they were extremely whacked out. One of their favorite things to do was to chase ambulances. A siren would scream, and their eyes would light up in delighted anticipation. One calling the other, and preparing to give chase. My aunt and mother with their families lived within a block of each other their entire lives. This made it extremely convenient for their habit.
Now at this time, my only living first cousin on my mothers' side was safely, well it appeared to me that way, in Chicago, which is ironic, and I snicker over that, as Chicago was the hotbed of sin in my family's eyes. She had been called by the Lord to go to Moody Bible Institute, which I even then was a bit suspicious that the Lord had actually called her there. I was more suspicious that it was her way of escaping the confines of her insanely strict religious parents that convinced her that the Lord was calling her away. Who could argue with the Lord, not my aunt and uncle!
So here we are, it is Sunday afternoon, as I remember, my brother and I are whining about being bored, we should have known better. Just look at what we were responsible for!
"Nothing ever exciting happens around here!" my brother Bill whined.
"There's nothing to do around here!" I added.
Not long after that there were storm warnings out, and we are gleeful over it. It wasn't long until the rain began pouring, and there were huge chunks of hail, that we picked up out of the yard. They were bigger than anything we had ever seen, in the hail department. We happily collected some and put them in the freezer, for future story telling and probably for pelting each other with.
Up until this time the only reference I had for tornadoes were "The Wizard of Oz." That is not saying there weren't any around here, but I was unaware of them. They only happened in Kansas. Maybe if my life wasn't so chaotic, I would have been more interested in the happenings around me, but my life was a tornado, so weather didn't play much of a part in it.
My aunt sometime during this came to our house, it was Sunday evening, and my uncle was in church on the north side of town, and my aunt had church skipped, which later was her downfall. She was going on about a tornado that had hit the Midway Trailer Court and she was going to chase it. The occurrence not the tornado. We heard sirens calling, and she wanted to know if we wanted to go along. My mother excitedly asked permission of my tyrannical father and he said we could go if we could catch her. I ran hastily to the front door, and I'll be damned her car was already zooming out of the driveway! We missed her!
Sometime later, she called my mother to tell her of the ghastly destruction. The radio was on warning of another tornado, and my mother was listening with bated breath to my aunt. I was holding my baby sister who was limp with fear; I feeling that someone should be a parent, kept holding her. My father and brother were outside gleefully watching the storm, and the radio was cutting off telling everyone to take cover. I remember my mother telling my aunt that when the storm was over that they should call each other. My mother is bitching and telling my brother and father to come to the basement.
They are running in the house, giggling over the excitement. The wind is sucking at their clothes. I am watching transfixed with disbelief. I saw the clouds, rolling, black and ominous and then I saw a cloud, it looked like it bounced out of the sky! Then the awful sound, a methodical locomotive like sound. We ran to the basement. I held on to my little sister. We knew by now that this was no laughing matter. Me being the little codependent that I was didn't want my little sister to be afraid, so I kept totally silent. My father and I were watching it come at us through the basement window. I have never been so sure that we were going to die as I was then. This was no little funnel like on "The Wizard of Oz," this was one big wall of black, swirling madness, and it was headed right for us.
All I could do was pray, "God please save us," to myself of course; we were not a family of prayers.
Now the scene that was playing out around me went like this. My little sister was as limp as death, totally silent. My brother was howling, like a little scared animal, and my father was laughing, maniacally.
"Oh my God, it is going to take my garage!" he laughed.
I am thinking to myself, we are going to die, and you are worried about your damn garage? I did not voice my disgust of course.
Looking back I believe that he thought we were safe, because our house was cement block, and his garage was a bit of wood and glamorized cardboard, and held all of his equipment.
I do give my lunatic mother credit for getting us to the basement. But beyond that she was totally useless. Not only useless, but also detrimental, scaring the crap out of us kids. She is dancing up and down on one foot, repetitiously bleating, "We're gonna die! We're gonna die! We're gonna die!" believe me if you were looking for parental reassurance, you weren't going to get it from them!
Back to the crisis at hand. The thing is coming at us, just like a locomotive, slowly, methodically, and then it looked like it stopped on it's axis, and thought, which way should I go? It was like a miracle; it took off to the left, like a bullet! I ran to the front basement room, thinking I never want to forget this! I looked up and out the window watching it pass over the house. It was black and swirling, gray, white, and ominous. There were sparks and little pieces of straw in it. When it went over, you couldn't see the neighbors' house, and it was only a driveway away. Later my Grandmother, who was three houses in the other direction, said that she couldn't see our house when it went over either.
The immediate crisis was over for us, and my father exclaimed!" I am going to go check on Ethel!"
"Not without us!" We all chimed in!
Now you have to picture this. We all hopped into my parent's old Cadillac. My father liked to glue plastic horse hood ornaments on them. Which wouldn't be so bad, if they weren't about a foot tall. We are flying on the stallion toward my aunt's house; which is only about a city block away. All humor is gone at this point. The rain is pouring down, and we see my aunt's house, what is left of it. It is like something out of a horror movie! Just sticks are standing, and everything is leveled. The gas station that was next to it is gone.
My mother starts screaming in the same monotone, repetitious sound, "She's dead, she's dead, she's dead!!!"
My father soothingly screams! "Shut the f- up woman!"
My brother is still howling, in a pathetic little animal way.
I am being the hero to my little limpid sister.
A cop stops us and tells us we can't go through there has been a tornado.
"The hell I can't! My father yells, My sister is in there!"
"Well just help anyone you can then," the cop responds sadly.
Just then we see a car with my aunt in it; someone has rescued her and is taking her to our house. We make a U turn and go to follow her. When she is dropped off in front of our house, the neighbor man gets in the car with her in the front seat. We have to go rescue Sherlock, her bloodhound who is still at the property.
We rush back to her house, what is left of it, and my dad and John jump out of the car to find Sherlock, they walk over debris and wires, and the rain is pelting everything. I look out the window, and see a young guy walking aimlessly back and forth in the gas station driveway. The station is gone, and he looks like a zombie. He is in shock and holding his side.
My mother looks dramatically back at us. My father and John are carrying Sherlock, feet first to the car.
"Sherlock is dead!" my mother sobs.
I watch Sherlock, valiantly trying to escape the clutches of John and my father. His whole body is writhing and shaking back and forth.
I disgustedly reply, "That is the most alive looking dead dog I have ever seen!"
They toss Sherlock unceremoniously into the back seat.
I say, "Don't you think someone should ask that guy if he is okay?"
"Oh, yeah, hey are you okay?" My mother asks the young guy.
"No, I think my ribs are broken." He woodenly replies.
We pile him in the car with us. Now there are four adults in the front seat, and four people in the back, including my baby sister that is. The young guy has broken ribs, and we have a full size, traumatized bloodhound in the back seat with us!
The young guy said that he got under the desk when the tornado hit, he, the desk and the cement wall behind him were all that survived. It was one of the miracles. My aunt decided to go to the basement for sanctuary instead of the bathroom. The next day we saw the neighbor's brick chimney had fallen in the bathroom. She was spared, my aunt, but had canned goods falling on her in the basement. There was no one in the brick house behind her, thank God, because it was completely gone. The neighbor lady across the street was in a wheelchair. They were having a birthday party for her, not thinking the storm was that bad, they didn't have time to get her and the wheelchair in the basement, she said she would be fine. She wasn't she was killed in the tornado.
My brothers' best friend gave him a ring for good luck. He was only thirteen years old, he was the last victim found. My brother was haunted by it, asking if his friend would have had the ring would he still be alive?
Cousins of the little guy, who were friends of ours, were praying in a closet, when a two by four crashed between them, but they were spared.
Amish relatives were heading down into the basement, the ones at the bottom watched as the ones further up the stairs disappeared into the tornado. Many horrific stories came out of this tragedy, and yet there was bonding love and a coming together of the survivors.
Our basement was a place to come and get clothing and things that were donated to victims of the tornado. It was a time of gratitude, and yet fear, waiting to see who survived and who didn't. Each morning there was a black border around the front page of the newspaper, with victims' names in it. One poor girl, who was tormented for her wildness and poor dress, was missing and later found, alive, after being picked up by the tornado, and dumped off miles from home, unharmed.
The Herald family went to find their daughter, who was in church, okay, and they were all killed, except for the one brother who later was unrecognizable as his old self, because of having had so much plastic surgery. He survived with one sister. The rest of their family was all wiped out.
President Lyndon Johnson came to our little town of Elkhart, Indiana, and I was the only one brave enough to reach out to shake his hand before he stepped in the limousine. Although my big headed pushy brother jumped in between the President and me! He got his picture taken shaking hands with the President. I did get to shake the tips of the fingers on both of his hands though. I remember them being the size of two bunches of bananas. It was a big moment in my life. He had a beautiful Texas sized smile.
The other climactic moment was when my uncle saw my aunt for the first time after she survived the tornado. He came into my grandma's house, and looked at her, she still had black dirt in her eyes, and ears, and was covered with debris. Her hair was a mat of black, filthy curls. The first thing out of his mouth was, "Ethel! What did that tornado do to your hair?" We all cracked up laughing!
The humor in that is that he had never seen her anyway but helmet hair, welded to her head. She would go to the beauty shop every week, and have her hair teased into a helmet of black hair, then sprayed into embalmed stiffness that was completely immobile. At night of course she would have it robed in a roll of toilet paper, so as not to mess it up. Poor Uncle Dan had never seen his blushing bride in such a fashion.
There were moments of horrible grief, and moments of great relief. There were miracles and tragedies. Our school was turned into a morgue, and so was our church, where I attended kindergarten. I hope I never experience anything like that again. But I wouldn't give up the experience that I had for anything in the world, but I still grieve for those who died and didn't survive the handicaps and losses of loved ones. I don't think I ever complained of being bored, or wished for something exciting to happen again in my life.
In remembrance of all whom perished in the Tsunami the Palm Sunday Tornado and all other natural or unnatural disasters.
Shana is an award winning artist. Her specialty is pastel portraits and watercolors. She has illustrated a children's book and has written and illustrated one now in publishing. View profile