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Jacksonville Daily Journal, May 21, 1912



Great Loss of Life and Property in a Minute's Time When Wind Shattered the Little Village - Story of the Disaster Retold From Journal Files

The Literberry cyclone, which caused such a great loss of life and property, occurred May 18, 1883, just twenty-nine years ago Saturday. The storm also resulted in three deaths in Greasy Prairie and Durbin neighborhoods and there was heavy property loss there also. The storm was general and swept almost all through the state of Illinois and the total number of fatalities reported was in excess of 60.

Mrs. Ruth A. Rucker, then Miss Griffin, who was buried Saturday was one of those who was injured in the storm, their home being completely wrecked. A sister and a brother were killed and J. A. Crum, who resided at Literberry at that time, said Saturday, the he well remembered carrying out the lifeless form of Miss Griffin from the house debris and in aiding the injured sister. The story of the terrible disaster will doubtless be read with interest by many older residents and by others whose knowledge of the cyclone is a part of childhood's recollections. The following is taken from the Journal of May 2_, 1883. Mr. Ensley Moore, whose archives are very complete, has a copy of the paper of that date.

At an early hour Saturday morning, Conductor Dexter, of Peoria branch of the Wabash, brought in his train due here Friday night. He arrived at Literberry just after the death dealing storm had struck the unfortunate place. The depot was in ruins, the track covered with debris.

The dead and dying needed immediate attention. He therefore took his train back to Virginia and Chandlerville for medical assistance, nurses, etc. Drs. Snyder, Caliday and Smith of Virginia, and Read of Chandlerville, responded promptly, returning with him. Drs. King and Clampit who had been summoned by telegraph, came to the scene by hand car, consequently everything possible for the relief of the sufferers was done. At 6 a.m. the wounded were safely housed in our city hospital and the closest attention given to their wants.

First Sight of Storm.

From an eye witness and one of the injured - one of the Griffin brothers - we gathered this morning the following particulars:

The storm was first seen approaching the place from the southwest about 8:20 p.m. Mr. J. B. Griffin tells us that they were just closing their store when he saw the cloud which was in the shape of a pillar or column coming towards the town. He hastily finished closing up and sought his mother's house. While there the blow came with terrific force, lasting only about one minute, the direction was from southwest to northeast, sweeping east through the residence and business section of Liter. In those fateful few seconds full three-fourths of the buildings in the town were completely demolished _____ as it crashed in a direct blow from overhead. The whole area of the storm's track was strewn with the timbers, ____ and debris of the ruined structures. But the saddest part of the storm is the loss of life and the maiming of human beings. In that moment of time households were stricken with losses that can not be regained in this life.

Loss of Life.

The names of the dead are:
Mr. John Trotter, aged about 75.
Mrs. John Trotter, his wife.
Miss Agnes Griffin, aged 22.
Mrs. Mary J. Stevenson, aged about 65.
Lilly Griffin, aged 7 months.
The wounded:

John Hitchings, blacksmith, head injuries, skull was crushed and pieces of the bone have been taken out, yet he is not thought to be mortally injured.
Graff Griffin, young son of Dr. G., left leg broken.
Ed Liter, young son of Jonas Liter, injured in the head.
Dr. S. Griffin, injured about the head and internally, has been unconscious ever since he was ____.
Mrs. Dr. Griffin, leg broken and like her husband, still unconscious.
J. B. Griffin, brother of Dr. G., right arm broken and slight head injuries.
J. S. Griffin, another brother, left leg broken.
Miss Nellie Griffin, a sister, left arm broken.
Mrs. Sarah Griffin, mother of the last three, general shock to system.

The above named were all brought to this city, the following victims being accommodated in the few houses remaining in the vicinity:

Miss Abbie Griffin, thigh fractured, scalp wound, clavicle broken and internal injuries; recovery doubtful.
Mr. and Mrs. C. K. Hudson, badly bruised and cut.
Thomas Hammond and family of five or six more or less cut and bruised.
James Stevenson, slightly bruised.
Mrs. George Vaughn, badly cut.
David Campbell, badly bruised.
Three children of Mrs. Elizabeth Foster hurt, one badly.
Mrs. Martha Ray and daughter, both badly bruised.
Mrs. Fleming, collar bone broken and bruised.
George Fleming and daughter, slightly bruised.
John Henry Liter, badly bruised; wife dangerously injured, cut in the head.
James Crum and family, slightly bruised.

Buildings Destroyed.

The dwellings destroyed were those of:

Mrs. Sarah Griffin, where she, her three sons and one daughter were injured and one daughter killed.
Dr. S. Griffin, where he and his wife were seriously injured and his son hurt, his infant child killed.
Hitchens, the blacksmith, also injured. The only one of the family that escaped death or wounds was little Freddie, two and one-half years old.
Mr. John Trotter, where both he and his aged wife met their death together.
James Stevenson, where his wife was killed.
A. W. Petefish.
Mrs. M. Ray.
C. K. Hudson.
James A. Crum.
George W. Fleming.
James Stevenson.
John H. Liter.
Mrs. E. Foster.
Mrs. M. Vaughn.

Besides these, partial destruction was the fate of the houses of Samuel H. Crum and T. T. Stout.

The Baptist and Christian churches were also both in the track of the wind, and both leveled to the ground.

The stores that suffered the same fate were those of Mrs. S. Griffin, drygoods, etc.; P. H. Rucker, groceries and P. O. & G. W. Fleming, drugs, etc.; Liter & Coons, groceries, etc.

The Wabash passenger and freight depot and the carpenter and repair shop of Liter and Ray were also demolished. There was a general destruction of trees, outhouses, chimneys, signs, etc. The storm struck the south edge of the town, completely ruining everything in the central and southern portions, nearly three-fourths of the place.

The railroad track was so pile with timbers and debris that the train could not well be brought on to this city until the morning. Very fortunately someone had presence of mind enough to warn the train as it came into Liter from the north or there would have been a wrecked train and more loss of life and injuries.

A Reporter's Story.

On the 9:20 train this morning the P.P. & J. R., a Journal reporter visited the scene of the disaster at Liter and has the following to say regarding the terrible disaster, in addition to what has already been said in these columns.

It seems that the storm was first noticed in the neighborhood of the big Indian bridge between Arcadia and Jacksonville, and some two and one-half miles southwest of Liter. The storm traveled a little north of east. The first point where much destruction was noticed, farther than the tearing up of trees and carrying away of fences was the residence of Mr. Jerry Henderson, one and one-half miles from Liter. There the house was torn literally to pieces. Mrs. Henderson was very badly injured, and fears are entertained that she can not recover. An old gentleman living in a cabin on Mr. Henderson's farm was seriously injured and the cabin carried away.

Next in the track came a large fine residence of Wm. Rexroat, which was unroofed and moved several feet from its foundation. Mrs. Rexroat was cut on the head by flying debris, but not seriously injured. The rest of the family escaped with plenty of scratches and bruises, none serious. Mr. Rexroat's large barn was carried away and several horses killed. Following came the large two-story frame building of Thomas Hammond, wife and four children who were in the house at the time, are all reported as being very seriously injured, and being cared for by the neighbor families, who were more fortunate than they in escaping the storm. The first house in Liter, visited by the storm was the large and elegant furnished residence of Aaron Petefish. Himself and six children were buried in the debris. How any human being could come out of such a mass of brick, broken timbers and furniture, alive is the great wonderment of all who visited the scene of destruction. Following the destruction of this structure came the buildings of Thomas Liter, James Crum, Jesse Liter, Mrs. Sarah Griffin, Mrs. Ray, John Trotter, James Liter, John Hitchins, Cyrus Hudson, Samuel Crum, Geo. Fleming, Jesse T. Liter, Mrs. Vaughn, P. H. Rucker, James Stevenson, Lizzie Foster. The Baptist and Christian churches were also swept away to the foundation and totally destroyed. Following the dwelling portion came the business portion of the town. Not a business house is left standing in the place, the buildings as well as their contents being scattered for miles east of town.

A Destitute Site.

No one reading these hastily written lines can conceive or form but little idea of the desolate and heart sickening sight that is presented to all who visit the scenes in and about Liter. Men, women and children standing about their homes there all gone, carried away by the stormy elements, nothing left but the clothing on their backs.

The scene is horrible to look upon. Homes, trees, fences, everything scattered in confusion, freight cars were lifted from the track, and carried some distance away. In one instance a flat freight car was lifted from the track and after hurling through the air some two hundred yards distance was driven through the dwelling house of Mr. Geo. Fleming. In this house was Mr. Fleming, wife and baby. At the time of the occurrence Mrs. Fleming was bent over the cradle of her infant offering up prayer, imploring God to be merciful to them. The house was demolished and the cradle torn to pieces, yet the baby and parents were but slightly injured.

Thomas E. Liter, son of Jonas Liter, who was in Griffin's store, died today from his injuries.

Dr. and Mrs. Griffin were no better at 11 o'clock last night. The former still remained unconscious. Dr. King made a trip to Woodlawn late in the evening to see Mrs. Oxley and her children. He found that lady in a very alarming and critical condition.

The house of Joseph Liter in the town of Literberry was torn to pieces. Mr. and Mrs. Liter and their children were in the house at the time. But the former were badly bruised. Their first thought upon being extracted from the debris was to look for their child. They soon found the little one safe and sound. The baby was unharmed, and when the distracted parents found her was actually laughing.

Cyrus Hudson occupied the dwelling of C. J. Berry at Liter. The building was ruined, but neither he nor his wife were seriously injured though much bruised.

Mrs. James Stevenson met her death at Liter while making the descent into her cellar. She had at first refused to go down and had delayed persistently. Finally her son grasped her and was taking her down by force when the crash came in which she died. Had she acquiesced in the first proposition to retire to the cellar she would doubtless be still living. Though all the other members of the family, (who were already in the cellar) were more or less bruised and none were seriously injured - thanks to their precaution.

James Crum occupied the house of Thomas Liter. Mr. Liter boarded with Mr. Crum. He and the family and Mr. and Mrs. Liter, who were visiting them, took refuge in the outdoor cellar or dugout and they were all saved, escaping unharmed, while the house was blown to atom.

A fence rail was blown through the dwelling of Wm. Malvire, occupied by Abram Liter, four miles east of Liter.

Dr. Griffin's baby, seven months old, was found last Saturday morning under the debris of the post office, badly mutilated.

The dwelling house of Geo. Leonard, just east of town was blown to pieces. No one was seriously injured.

A fine large dwelling house some five miles east of Liter, belonging to Mr. Vandeventer, was totally destroyed. Occupants slightly injured.

Taylor Henderson just west of Liter, lost 80 head of sheep in the storm.

Bayles Rexroat, lost 12 head of hogs; Samuel Crum, Abram Liter and others lost heavily in stock.

A pair of cultivators were lifted up near town and carried more than a half mile.

About 150 persons from Jacksonville went out to Liter on yesterday morning's train.

A horse and buggy hitched in front of one of the business houses, has not been heard from since the storm.

Walter Humphrey, artist from the photographic establishment of Mr. McKinnon, West State street, was on the grounds and took several fine views.

Joseph Liter, wife and child, were brought to the city, on the noon train yesterday and were conveyed to the residence of Mr. S. W. Black, the father of Mrs. Liter. Mr. Liter is very seriously injured in the head and Mrs. Liter in the back. Both are considered dangerously injured. The little child will recover, being only slightly bruised.

Mr. Dode Stout flagged the incoming train on the P.P. & J.R. Friday night, just in time to save it being wrecked in the debris of the cyclone.

A relief committee was formed on the grounds yesterday and quite a sum of money raised for the relief of those made homeless by the destructive storm.