Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site

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The following is a transcript of an article (one line is missing) from the Walton Reporter, September 10, 1898, and a picture on the 1898 tornado damage in the Tacoma area of the town of Masonville. The article calls the storm a cyclone, and once even a hurricane, and has somewhat florid prose. The folks in the photo looking at the tornado damage were identified (from left to right) as: Ezra Gifford, Addison Gifford, John Wright, Royal Dean. --Nancy Rutenber, February 20, 2002

SWEPT BY A CYCLONE, Austin Birdsall killed and his family injured
Buildings Swept Away - Trees Uprooted and Twisted Off - Nothing Like Last Tuesday's Storm Ever Known Before in This Section - Heroism of Mattie Birdsall

A terrible cyclone swept down upon a tract of country lying about one mile from Trout Creek village Tuesday night. It lasted only about fifteen seconds, but in that time Austin Birdsall was killed, his wife badly, perhaps fatally, injured, and all his farm buildings blown down and scattered for miles around.

The wagon barn of Samuel Finch, a neighbor, was flattened and the roof hurled off his main barn. Trees, stone fences and every conceivable form of debris strews the ground.

A representative of the REPORTER visited the scene of the storm Thursday morning. The sight presented beggars description. Never in this part of the country was anything approaching it known. It is as if the blight of desolation had fallen on the land. There is hardly a weed, even, left standing. Great trees were torn up by the roots and hurled through the air like chaff. Massive stone walls were leveled to the ground and parts of buildings carried for miles.

The storm broke upon the place about seven o'clock. Mr. Birdsall had been working for R. Newton, a neighbor, that day and returned home in the evening, making him a little late with his chores. He and his eldest daughter, Mattie [Martha], a girl of 15, went to the barn to milk. As it began to thunder and lightning the girl wanted her father to go to the house as she was afraid. He told her to go in and he would come as soon as he had finished milking his cow. She started and had just got to the house, gone into the sitting room and closed the door, when the crash came.

In the house were Mrs. Birdsall and her three daughters. As the storm struck the door blew open. Mrs. Birdsall started to close it when she was hurled backward into a bedroom. The house was lifted up clear of the foundation, hurled through the air four or five rods and dropped a con-

As the house raised from the ground Mrs. Birdsall experienced a swift whirling motion, when it struck with a crash and she found herself pinioned under the stove with a beam lying across her. The shock and terror for a moment knocked the girl, Mattie, insensible. When she came to she found that she was caught by her hair and a fallen beam pinioned her across the hips. She loosened her hair and succeeded in getting free and went to the assistance of her mother. She lifted the stove and finally pulled her mother out of the wreckage. Then she got out the two younger children and with their help managed to get her mother, who is terribly injured, to Royal Dean's, a neighbor, where they were tenderly cared for.

Mr. Dean and John Wright, another neighbor, who were soon joined by others, began a search for Mr. Birdsall. They crawled into the basement of the barn and shouted and called his name but in vain. Finally John Wright and Mr. Dean started across the road and there they found him lying in the middle of the highway in front of his ruined home in a pool of blood, his head crushed in. An apple tree was lying uprooted in the road beside him. He was picked up and carried to Dean's. The doctor had been summoned for the injured ones. The scene there as the dead husband and father was brought in was heartrending.

Whether Birdsall attempted to run from the barn or was blown out will never be known. His pail and milking stool were found near the cows. Apparently as he wern out of the door he was caught by the wind and hurled against a tree in the yard killing him instantly.

The barn was lifted from its foundation and twisted and whirled by the mighty force as though it had been a cob house. Its wreckage is strewn for miles. Hay from the barn was found at Northfield, five miles away. The cows were in the basement in old-fashioned stanchions. The lower floor was not fastened to the building and as the barn was lifted and twisted through the air the cows were left standing. One was struck by a falling beam and her legs broken. The others were comparatively uninjured. The horses, which were in the barn, were found in a field near, their sides full of splinters. Though considerabley bruised they are not permanently injured. One was still tied to a piece of the stall.

A lumber wagon standing either in the basement or near at hand was swept into the air and dashed to the ground and the tongue driven into the earth to a depth of four feet. The remainder of it was carried out into the meadow, a distance of 40 rods, where it lies a useless wreck. Such was the force with which it was thrown to the ground that the turf is torn up as if it had been plowed.

The haymows containing about twenty tons apiece was lifted bodily as so many chips and pitched nearly to the road while large quantities of fodder were carried to adjoining farms. About fifty turkeys and thirty hens were killed, some of the dead ones lying in adjoining fields with feathers stripped off. A beam from the barn may be seen lying about forty-five rods from the ruins.

The house was a story and a half frame building about 23x28 feet and stood a short distance from the highway on the west side. The barn 30x40 feet with basement and bridge stood about fifty feet south from the house on the same side of the road. It had been built but a few years.

The fruit and shade trees were torn up with great quantities of earth and in many instances were carried a long distance, while every leaf and most of the limbs and roots were threshed from them.

The storm seems to have come down over the hill tearing off here and there a tree top in its path until it struck Birdsall's place, where it swept through to about a quarter of a mile above Finch's, perhaps three-fourths of a mile in all, when it disappeared as suddenly as it came.

A dismal accompaniment to the sad picture of desolation was a shepherd dog sitting on his haunches in the lot above Birdsall's and howling incessantly.

The dead man was forty-three years of age and leaves a wife and three daughters. He was a man respected in the community and all join in sympathy for the bereaved family. His funeral was held Friday.

Mrs. Birdsall's condition Thursday afternoon was quite serious. She was suffering from internal injuries and continued through the day to raise blood.

Bessie, aged twelve, was quite badly cut on the calf of the leg and sustained severed bruises. Wesleah, aged eleven, was also bruised.

The girl Mattie was looking sorrowfully over the ruins of their home when the reporter reached the place and to him she told the story of the awful ordeal of that night unconscious that she was a heroine. How she, in the blinding storm, with only flashes of lightning to guide her, had one by one rescued her mother and sisters, and taken them to a place of shelter.

From the Birdsall place the whirlwind rushed across the valley in a northeastern direction carring with it hay, leaves, siding, shingles and carpets, some of which was picked up at a distance of four or five miles. A school card belonging to one of the Birdsall children was found on Wood Lawn, near Northfield.

The next building to receive the fury of the storm was the barn of Samuel Finch. This is located about one-third of a mile northeast from the Birdsall place. It is 40x50 basement. The principal part of the roof was stripped off and scattered in all directions. The horse stables attached were totally torn to pieces as was the wagon barn 30x24 foot standing about forty feet beyond the barn. The large barn was moved about one foot at the lower side, but two mows of hay and a very heavy silo in the west side so firmly anchored the building that it was not totally demolished. That the main barn was not swept away completely saved Finch's house from destruction as it was in direct line. He was in the sitting room on one side of a window and his wife on the other. Their twelve year-old son was on the floor. With a deafening roar the hurricane struck the house and it rocked like a ship at sea. A large rafter from the main barn, 100 feet away, was blown with terrific power and smashed in the window and blind where they were sitting, but they escaped injury. Mr. Finch lost in the wagon house a quantity of oats, three wagons, two sleighs, a new mower and other farm tools.

A fine orchard just above the house had had every tree ruined. Three of the largest trees were torn up by the roots and carried about six rods and deposited in the middle of the highway. The telephone poles and wires were torn down and a scene of desolation meets the eye to the point where the whirlwind lifted again into the air.

Every chair in Mr. Finch's sitting room was over turned. A lighted lamp was blown from the table into Mrs. Finch's lap, but fortunately was extinguished before setting fire to the house. Mr. Finch says the storm lasted only about ten seconds.

The most intense excitement prevails throughout that section. People came flocking to the place by the hundreds, and all acknowledge that no storm so destructive in its power has ever been known in this country. Parts of the wreckage are picked up and carried away as mementoes.

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