On Tuesday afternoon, May 12, most of the Bellevue students had gone to the ballgrounds to see the Highland Park - Bellevue baseball game. Rain started to fall and the game was called; people sought shelter and remarked on how warm the raindrops felt. The rain soon changed to immense hailstones, but shsortly thereafter, there was a calm.
They returned to the campus and many stayed out-of-doors to watch masses of dark clouds moving through the sky, sometimes clustering together, then separting. Eventually, however, they could see a huge tornado funnel forming and moving toward them. As it moved across the countryside, they could see it suck water out of a creek, lift up haystacks and carry off corncribs. When they saw it lift the roof of the Ft. Crook hospital and bring it toward them, the students outside ran to the bottom of the hill. Just then the tornado struck Elk Hill.
By then, most of the students had reached refuge in Hamilton Hall, and it took all hands there to hold the doors against the terrific force from outside. The rorar and din were frightful as window after window burst in with the report of cannon, and the wind went rushing throught hallways. To every tree outside, there clung two or three students, whose bodies waved like rags and who, it seemed, would surely be struck by flying boards and bricks. Trees and telephone poles crashed downward on all sides; the air was filled with debris. The storm lasted perhaps five minutes.
When the calm returned, students rushed out to see what damage had been done. The tower and part of the thrid floor of Clarke Hall were gone, and the stable was completely wrecked. Lowrie and Rankin were unroofed, and Philadelphia had badly cracked walls. All of the buildings had broken windows.
But miraculously, no one was killed or even hurt. Even the horses in the barn, which was completely demolished, escaped without a scratch. As soon as they had checked the campus, the students rushed down to the village, where they helped dig out the people. Thirty or more homes were totally destroyed; other were badly damaged. But there, too, there were no deaths or serious injuries.
Special thanks to Judy McKensie Richardson for generously donating the following pictures of the tornado's path through Bellevue.
1908 Louisville, Bellevue, Richfield Tornado