The Cyclone Events of May 9th and 19th, 1918

May 9, 1918 had been a dreary day in Scott County, Iowa. Earlier in the day rain and hail had covered the area. Finally, in late afternoon the skies began to clear and a rainbow appeared. In the small agricultural town of Eldridge, Scott County, Iowa, (population just over 200 at that time) those who lived in town were arriving settling down to dinner while those who lived on the numerous farms on the outskirts were finishing chores before their evening meal.

Witnesses in Eldridge would later say it was a large cloud that was passing overhead at about 6:30 p.m. that caught their attention. It quickly changed shaped as a portion of the cloud descended down in a swirling mass just north of town. As the winds began to roar, neighbors in town began to shout to each other that a cyclone* was heading their way and to take cover.

The Morning Democrat, June 9, 1957.

There was little warning for those on the northern outskirts of Eldridge. Those who could tried to shelter in cellars while others only had time to take cover in their homes or outbuildings. Many farms were in the direct path of the cyclone. By 7:00 p.m. the citizens of Eldridge on the southern edge of town called Davenport for help. The phone lines in the northern and central part of the town were down and those on the southern edge lasted just long enough for calls to be made.

The Davenport police department quickly gathered all the officers they could locate and phoned the hospitals for doctors and nurses. A caravan of cars raced towards Eldridge to assist. Local newspapers quickly picked up on the stories of those directly affected by the storm and printed them over the following days.

The Davenport Democrat, May 10, 1918. Pg. 1

Over twenty people suffered injuries. An estimated six houses in town were destroyed while two farms were considered total losses. Many more houses and farms suffered damage, but could be repaired.

Fred Bismark Rohlf, who worked for the Peter Schneckloth family, was outside when the cyclone hit. He grabbed onto the nearest tree which ultimately broke. Fortunately, the tree stump remained intact and Fred survived the storm.

The Daily Times, May 10, 1918. Pg. 1

Sixteen-year-old Emma Dammann had just returned home with her mother from town. Years later she would recount the event for the Morning Democrat on June 9, 1957. The pair couldn’t see the western sky as they entered the house and only realized a cyclone was coming when the roar of the wind could be heard. Mother and daughter had to go outside to get to the cellar doors, but the kitchen door refused to open with the wind pressure. Finally, the windows began to break and the door opened. Her mother went first and made it to the cellar doors.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 10, 1918. Pg. 13

Emma had stopped in the doorway when she was suddenly sucked out by the wind. She was carried/dragged for about 300 to 500 feet before landing in a pile of debris. Neighbors saw her being carried by the wind and rushed to dig her out when the storm passed. Emma was hospitalized with a broken collarbone, twisted knee, cuts, bruises, and knocked out teeth. Her shoes were torn apart and her dress was shredded. The nurses at the hospital spent days combing the tangles from her hair so it would not be cut off. Her mother was injured by flying pieces of wood, but both recovered.

dpl2016-13.008a. The north side of Eldridge after the cyclone on May 9, 1918.

The Peter Schneckloth family lost everything in the cyclone. Their home was directly in the cyclone’s path. Mr. Schneckloth suffered a scalp wound, Mrs. Schneckloth suffered bruising and sprained ankle, and 5-year-old Ella Schneckloth suffered a similar fate to Emma Dammann. She was pulled into the winds and thrown about 50 feet. She survived with a broken collarbone and cuts and bruises.

The John Priest farm also was hit by the cyclone. John Priest suffered serious cuts and bruises, but his wife was more severely hurt with a broken arm, broken ribs, and internal injuries. The couple had taken shelter in their cellar, but the house collapsed during the high winds sending timbers and wood down on the couple. Nothing was left of their house.

On the Peter Arp farm, Mr. Arp had just returned from the fields when the cyclone struck. He had been putting the horses in the barn when they became frightened by the roaring noise. The horses bolted and trampled Mrs. Helena Arp who was nearby. The elderly Mrs. Arp suffered a broken leg, dislocated shoulder, cuts, and internal injuries. A coat and papers from the Arp home were later found twelve miles away in LeClaire, Iowa.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 10, 1918. Pg. 13

The majority of other injuries were cuts and bruises caused by flying debris. Most did not require hospitalization.

It was estimated that the cyclone was about 900 feet wide and was on the ground for about six miles. Stories came out of a hen house being carried through the air and landing thirty feet away. The hen house remained intact and when inspected still had a hen sitting on a nest inside. An outbuilding was reported to have been picked up and carried over a house and then deposited on the other side. The most unusual occurrence may have been a 1500-pound horse that was in a field on the Dammann property. It was picked up and carried an estimated 1,000 feet and landed uninjured.

dpl2016-13.003a. On back is written” John Baker’s horse carried from Damann’s pasture to field east of town. Dario Wuestenberg, Eldridge, Iowa”.

By the next day, members of surrounding communities came to Eldridge to begin clearing away the debris and rebuilding. Those who lost their homes were welcomed into their neighbors’ while repairs were made. On farms, workers immediately began to rebuild barns and animal sheds before tackling houses. Damage was estimated at $200,000. With today’s inflation rates, that would be over 6 million dollars in 2024. Most families did not have insurance so funds were raised to help people rebuild.

dpl2016-13.004a. Lumber yard and Standard Oil.

Sadly, Mrs. Amelia Priest died from her injuries on May 13th. She was 59 years old and was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Park View, Scott County. Her husband, John, died on February 13, 1919 at the Scott County Poor Farm. He never fully recovered from his injuries.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. May 14, 1918. Pg. 4

Sunday, May 19, 1918 proved similar weather to that of May 9th. The morning had begun with rain, but by lunchtime the skies were clearing. Bernhardt Hofsrud, his wife, and three children decided on an outing with their friends, the Brice Johnson family. The two families drove out to see the damage caused by the May 9th cyclone and then motored to nearby Crystal Lake to picnic.

As the two families enjoyed their lunch and fishing, they noted storm clouds gathering. They quickly loaded their cars and began the journey home with the Johnson family ahead of the Hofsrud vehicle. They were on the main road back to Eldridge when the storm began just north of the city. The Johnson vehicle turned off the tree lined road into a farm drive and ran into the nearby farmhouse for shelter.

Just as the Hofsrud vehicle entered into the stretch of tree line road a roaring sound was heard. Witnesses would later say there might have been more than one cyclone that day. All that is known is there was no time for the Hofsrud family to react before a large tree was pulled from the ground and crashed onto their car. Bernhardt Hofsrud was in the driver’s seat with his 18-year-old son Roy behind him. They both died from the impact. Mrs. Emma Hofsrud in the front passenger seat and her daughter in the back seat suffered injuries while another son fell off the rear seat on impact and survived unharmed.

The Davenport Democrat and Leader. May 20, 1918. Pg. 1

Bernhardt and Roy were buried next to each other in Oakdale Cemetery in Davenport. Emma Hofsrud would die on October 12, 1918. She recovered from her injuries, but newspapers reported she never overcame her grief at the loss of her husband and oldest son. Nine-year-old twins, Vincent and Vivian, would go to live with a relative in Chicago, Illinois after their mother’s death.

The Democrat and Leader, May 20, 1918. Pg. 3
The Democrat and Leader, May 20, 1918. Pg. 3

The May 19th cyclone(s) caused damage to farms, telephone lines, and Summit church near Eldridge, but the short length of time the cyclone(s) were on the ground reduced the damage compared to the May 9th cyclone event.

A final fourth death occurred on June 26, 1918 with the passing of Helena Arp, wife of Peter Arp, who was hurt during the cyclone when the horses trampled her in the farm yard. Mrs. Arp never recovered from her injuries and was buried in Pine Hill Cemetery in Davenport.

The Daily Times, June 27, 1918. Pg. 12

With donations from surrounding communities, Eldridge quickly rebuilt from both weather events. The only major building not rebuilt was an older vacant Presbyterian church on the north side of town that was destroyed on May 9th. Once the debris was cleared, the land sat empty until the town created Franklin Park.

dpl2016-13.006a. Remains of the Presbyterian Church.

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections department is fortunate to have received a donation of photographs and postcards that provide evidence of this historic weather event of 1918.

(posted by Amy D.)

*Cyclone was the term used to describe the tornado of May 1918.

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