1952 TORNADO in CHESTER COUNTY TN

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TORNADO, MARCH 21 1952 CHESTER COUNTY TN

By Glendel W “Glen” Peddy
© 2013

      On March 24 1952 the newspapers reported 233 dead in six states, worst week end of tornadoes in a quarter of a century. Total of 59 dead in Tennessee with 23 of those in Chester County. Most of NE part of Henderson was destroyed. One Ambulance driver from Memphis described the tornado's path through Henderson as "Worse than anything I saw in Korea." Dyersburg was also hit hard.

      The Tornado (proceeded by an electrical storm) hit during the night on Friday, March 21 1952. Hardeman County had 4 killed and 16 injured. The first damage in Chester County was along Hwy 100 a few miles West of Henderson, then it seemed to skip over until it got to Church Street about 11:00 PM with major damage in Henderson along 5th street (North side) and 6th Street East of North Street, across Business Hwy 45 (White Street) on to Steed Street doing damage all the way to the NE edge of town. In Henderson, along 5th and 6th street people died. 0n Hill Street at it's intersection with Steed Street two stores were destroyed on Steed Street (Mifflin Road - now Hwy 200) across from each other and some of the owners, at home were killed. Doing damage to property along the way to the Forked Deer River bottom and dropped down again in the Glendale Community with death and destruction.

      Ambulances from the local Funeral Homes responded to the need in Chester County, other ambulances came from, Selmer, Jackson, Corinth MS - as many as 12 ambulances came from Memphis.   Rescue efforts were hampered by the dark night and the cold rain that followed the tornado.     Uhland BRALY, son of Mr and Mrs Will Braly, who was a 4th year Medical Student at Memphis was home visiting his parents and he worked many hours at Steadman-Guy Clinic in Henderson giving First Aid to patients. One ambulance company from Memphis brought Doctors from Memphis to help.  The injured were transported to hospitals in Jackson, Corinth MS and Memphis.

      Lattie B Averett, Disaster Chairman of the Red Cross Chapter had worked through the night seeking volunteer workers. Before dawn the next morning the American Red Cross had sat up at the new Chester County High School providing aid and meals. They served breakfast to the National Guard and other workers Saturday morning. The school was also used as an improvised hospital with patients in the corridors.     Twenty three people were killed. 78 people were hospitalized, more than 100 injured. 405 families were affected. 120 homes were destroyed and more than 350 homes were damaged as per Red Cross figures.

      The next morning Saturday, March 22 as an 11 year old I was in Henderson observing the damage - all the dead and injured had been removed. In those days sightseers were not kept out of damaged areas. (The Tennessee National Guard and some Police - local and State Troopers, including Police and Firemen from Jackson were on the scene, but they did not keep people that they knew out. They were mostly helping clean up the debris and watching to prevent looting.)   On Church street (hwy 45 then) the International Tractor dealer (owned by Kenneth Woods and Dick Stewart) seemed to be largely untouched, except all of it's windows were blown away, but the structural damage meant that the brick building was later torn down.   At the NW corner of Hill Street and Steed Street a large rooster was observed scratching for food, totally unhurt except he did not have a single feather left, just his red comb and unbruised skin. That Rooster was one odd looking chicken without feathers. A large oak tree in the yard devoid of limbs stood with straw driven into it's trunk, a feat impossible for men.   A second storm hit Saturday morning about 8:30 doing property damage in Montezuma and in Henderson. Dad and I took shelter during the few minutes that it took for this one to pass through. No injuries that I know of - just some additional property damage. The rain had ceased before we got to Henderson and it again ceased shortly after this second pass.     Governor Gordon Browning visited the city Saturday morning. The Governor also visited Dyersburg TN, which was heavily hit.

The dead included:
(1 & 2)   Ford Nelson HEARN born Feb 11 1915 in Chester County, son of William Everett “WE” Hearn 1891-1958 and his wife, Lora Myrtle MURLEY 1893-1989.     Ford Hearn on Dec 25 1938 in Chester County, married Anna Belle MIDDLETON She was born May 9 1921, daughter of A. Fred Middleton Sr and his wife, Alberta WILLIAMS. The Hearn’s lived on a farm on Route 4 in 1952. Anna Hearn’s death certificate shows her dying “instant” on March 21 1952. His death certificates show that he died March 22 (1 hour after tornado) in hospital, Jackson, Madison Co TN. Mr and Mrs Ford Hearn are buried Trinity Cemetery in Chester County (Their tombstone shows both dying March 22 1952.). The informant on the death certificate was Mrs Dorothy Marah, Memphis TN.    Mr and Mrs Hearn leave a son, David and a daughter, Lina Gale Hearn. Mr Hearn leaves his parents, a brother, Willard Heard of Henderson, three sisters, Mrs Finis Frank, Miss Hazel Hearn and Mrs Millard Cooper all of Henderson and his Grand mother, Mrs Ada Murley of Henderson.     Mrs Hearn leaves her mother of Memphis TN and brothers, Elbert Middleton of Detroit MI, Paul Middleton, A F Middleton and Waldo Middleton of Memphis.     The funeral of Mr & Mrs Ford Hearn and Mary L Hearn Fields was held together at Trinity Methodist Church.

(3)   Mary Louise HEARN FIELDS was born March 23 1910 and died  March 21 1952. Mary was the daughter of John Marvin Hearn and his wife, Philadelphia “Delphia” Deming. Mary married Maxton Carroll "Max" Fields (1911-1969). They were living on 6th Street in Henderson in 1952. Mrs John H Hodges was the informant.   Funeral services Monday at Trinity Methodist Church with burial in Trinity Cemetery. Rev David Olhausen, Rev W L Hill and Pastor Marshall Morris officiated. Morgan Funeral Home in charge.   Mrs Fields was survived by her husband and a son, Larry Fields, her mother, Mrs J A Fleetwood of Memphis and her father John Hearn and Mrs Hearn; three sisters, Mrs John Hodges of Henderson, Mrs Leland Ruth of Bemis TN and Mrs Clifton Watson of Bemis; three brothers, J M Hearn, Cecil Hearn and Don Hearn of Henderson.

(4)   Bertha E HOLLEY BETHUNE born Jan 11 1888. She married in Chester County, July 26 1903 Noah H Bethune (1881-1959). She was the daughter of Tom and Betty JONES HOLLEY. Mrs Bethune died March 21 1952 at 11:05 PM at home (Dist 6) from the tornado, both she and her husband are buried in Henderson (TN) City Cemetery. She had lived here for 30 years. The informant was Mrs C S Swope. Mr Bethune survived the tornado. Other survivors were, Richard Bethune and daughters, Rachel Bethune, Mrs Curtis Swope of Henderson and Mrs Sebert Winningham of Seattle Washington.   Funeral services were at First Methodist Church with Rev J W Camp officiating, Morgan Funeral Home in charge.

(5)   Lawrence Chuck "LC" MELTON born July 4 1925 on tombstone and 1924 on death certificate, he died March 21 1952 at 11:00 PM from the tornado, he was a married farmer living on Route 1, his parents were David L and Lillie THOMAS MELTON. The informant was Mr D L Melton, Henderson TN. LC is buried Trinity Cemetery.     He leaves his wife Mrs Ruth Kitchen Melton and baby, Helen Ruth Melton (born September 24 1951); his parents, his brothers, Richard Melton, D C Melton, Junior Melton and James Melton of Henderson TN and Laurence Melton of Marion IN; three sisters, Hazel, Ruby and Gladys, all of Henderson.   After L C Melton was killed in the tornado, his wife and daughter made their home with her parents, Jess and Mazie Kitchen.

(6)   Ernest Edwin RHODES was born April 4 1903 in Henderson Co TN. (The prior year We had lived on 5th street in the house that Mother rented an apartment in, the house was moved a foot or so off it's foundation, but was not destroyed. Across the street (N side) all the homes were gone - destroyed.) Our neighbor Ernest Rhodes and some others on that side were killed. His wife, Opal was good to all us kids. Mr Rhodes, I thought, worked for TVA  he was gone from home all week, but his death certificate shows him working as Land Agent for Tenn Gas Corp. Mr Rhodes died March 22 1952 in Webb-Williamson Hospital in Jackson hours after the tornado. The informant was Homer Rhodes, Henderson TN. Ernest E Rhodes was born April 4 1903 in Henderson Co TN, son of William Malley and Susan A LASTER RHODES. E E Rhodes married Miss Opal Inez HILL June 29 1929 in Madison Co TN, they had one son, Ernest Wright Rhodes who was born and died on Aug 16 1945.     Funeral service was held Monday at Unity with burial in the Church cemetery. His wife was injured, but she survived. He was also survived by brothers, Sid Rhodes, Homer Rhodes, Eldridge Rhodes, Alonzo Rhodes and Alfred Rhodes and sisters, Mrs Oscar Noble, Mrs Guy McAdams and Mrs Homer Clifford.

(7 and 8)   Marlin B FRANK and his 2 year old daughter were killed March 21 1952. Marlin Bingham Frank was born June 2 1926, son of J. D. and Allie BINGHAM FRANK. Marlin married Anna Jean Gardner, who survived the tornado, but she was hospitalized with serious injuries. Phyllis Ann Frank was born Dec 27 1949 on tombstone and 1948 on death certificate, in Madison Co TN. They lived on 6th Street in Henderson.   He was survived by his parents. Grandparents of two year old Phyllis Ann were Mr and Mrs Baxter Gardner and great grandparents were Mr and Mrs John Bingham and Mrs U T Harris, all of Henderson.   Funeral services were at Freed-Hardeman College Chapel with Brother B B James and Rev A L Dickerson officiating. Burial was in Henderson City Cemetery.

(9)   Ida Opal JACKSON CARROLL was born Sept 1 1902 in Kentucky, daughter of John and Hattie MYERS JACKSON. She was the widow of Jesse R Carroll (1879-1946). In the 1940 census they live in Hickman, Fulton Co KY and Jesse is a laborer in road construction. Opal was killed March 21 1952 when her home on 6th Street was blown away. She and Jesse are buried in New Friendship Cemetery. Mrs Lettie Kimbro was the informant for the death certificate.   She leaves a son, Frankie Carroll of Henderson, a stepson, Glenn Carroll of Memphis and a grand daughter, Dianne Carroll of Henderson; a brother, Sidney Jackson of Detroit MI and a sister Mrs Lettie Kimbro of Hickman KY.

(10)   David C NEWMAN was born May 6 1926 and died "from accident" in the tornado March 21 1952. He was the son of Andrew Cleveland and Trannie SPENCER NEWMAN. David was single and worked for a sawmill. He is buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Madison Co TN where his parents are buried (This cemetery is on Old Medina Road 7/10 mile N of I 40).     NOTE: Major "MC" Jones was working and had delivered a truck load of lumber to Henderson. MC and Albert Perry were walking inside when the storm hit leaving David Newsom in the truck. David was found dead in the truck, Albert Perry died too.

(11)   James Albert PERRY was born Nov 4 1927 in Henderson Co TN, son of Horace Elmer "HE" PERRY and his wife, Mary Lena GARNER.   Albert was single, age 23, a farmer and lived rural Lexington TN. He died March 22 1952 in Jackson, Madison Co (Hospital) living 3 hours after the Tornado struck him. Informant was Mrs Ruth Hurt (sister), Lexington TN. He was buried Chapel Hill Cemetery, Henderson Co TN.     He is listed on the list of those killed in Henderson, Chester County, however he may have actually lived in Henderson County - see Note above for #10.

(12)   John Miram CHERRY was born May 17 1867 as per his tombstone and May 17 1865 as per death certificate, son of Frances and Susie LONG CHERRY.     On Aug 13 1901 he married Lucy S TARPLEY (1881-1965). John died March 22 1952 at Jackson-Madison Co General Hospital 20 hours later from congestive heart failure caused by Shock from multiple injuries received in the tornado at his home on Hill Street, Henderson TN. His sons were John F Cherry (1902-1971) and William B “Bill” Cherry (1918-2005), daughters were Mary Bernice Cherry (1905-1927) and Fannie Sue Alexander (1909-1987). He was survived by his wife, 3 children and two brothers, R L Cherry of Henderson and Mark Cherry of Bemis TN. Funeral services Monday at the Church of Christ with Bro. B B James Officiating. Mr Cherry was buried Henderson City Cemetery with Casey Funeral Home in charge.

(13)   John Roy ROSS was born Sept 15 1894 at Mifflin son of Jefferson D “Jeff” and Frances McDANIEL ROSS. Roy Ross died March 21 1952 in the tornado. John was a farmer, divorced, WW1 veteran, owned his farm and is buried Unity Cemetery. Jerry Ross, son was the informant. Roy enlisted June 27 1918 and served in 110 Infantry, 28th Division.     Mr Ross had 4 sons, James R Ross of Savannah, John Allen Ross, Jerry Ben Ross and Billy W Ross, all of Henderson; a daughter Miss Ruby Lee Ross of Rapid City SD; a brother Will Ross of Jackson and sisters, Mrs Lillie Stout and Bell Ross of Jackson.

(14)   Linda Joyce SMITH born Sept 28 1950, daughter of Byron and Mary WELLS SMITH, lived 1 1/2 hours after arriving at Steadman-Guy Clinic in Henderson from severe trauma from the tornado, dying March 22 1952. They lived in the 6th district. She is buried Mount Zion Cemetery, McNairy Co TN.     Chester County Independent reports that she was found and transported to Corinth Miss where she died and was brought back to Henderson and identified Sunday. she was survived by her parents, siblings, Ricky, Patricia, Geraldine, Annie Ree, Ruby Lee, Irene, Maudie and Claudie. Her mother and siblings were hospitalized from tornado injuries.

(15)   Arie COOK born Sept 5 1907 in Mississippi married James Cook.   This Colored housewife was the daughter of Forest and Josie HOWELL. She died March 21 1952 in the Tornado. The informant was Otis D Wayne (her son) of East St Louis IL. Mrs Cook was buried “West Henderson” as per death certificate. (Not listed in any cemetery that Jonathan K. T. Smith indexed in 2000.)   She was most likely to have been buried in the Dean Cemetery, known locally as the Jaybird Cemetery in 1952.     Her husband, James Cook spent many days hospitalized recovering from his injuries.

(16)   Okwena FRYE, is the name on the death certificate.   List in newspaper calls him Son Fry.     Frye’s Point Cemetery in Chester County has him as Elseventor Frye. He was born Dec 31 1900 and he died March 23 1952 from injuries sustained in the Tornado. He lived at 493 Mifflin Street, Colored, male, did yard work, single, son of Sam and Ada CAWTHON FRYE.   Informant was Vera W McNutt, Alton IL.   (1910 census has him as Eley Fry age 11 and 1920 census has him as Elsie Fry age 19, son of Samuel “Sam” and Ada L Fry.)     NOTE: Death Certificate has Death as "Instant" on March 23, however the Tornado occurred on March 21, therefore the certificate must contain an error on the day.

(17, 18 and 19)   John Terry SMITH born March 8 1894 died March 21 1952, son of Robert Griff “RG” Smith and his wife, Minnie Mae TERRY. He was a merchant and he owned one of the stores that was destroyed at the corner of Steed and Hill Streets. He married Evie SWANNER born Sept 24 1897, daughter of W. F. Swanner and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth THOMAS. Mrs Smith also died March 21 1952. Their son, Donald Swanner Smith born July 16 1933 also died March 21 1952 with them in the destruction of their home by the tornado. Informant was Lamoin Smith, Waverly TN.     Funeral services for the Smith's were held Monday at the Church of Christ with Brother B B James Officiating. All three are buried Henderson City Cemetery.   Mr and Mrs Smith are survived by sons Lamoin Smith of Waverly TN and Lloyd Smith of Oak Ridge TN and a daughter, Mrs Theo Rhodes of Henderson. Mr Smith leaves four brothers, Barney Smith and R A Smith of Henderson, Luther Smith of Knoxville and Jerry Smith of Finger.     Mrs Smith leaves three brothers, Homer Swaner of Indianapolis IN, Willie Swaner of Jackson TN and Truman Swaner of Phoenix AZ and a sister, Mrs Zora Futrell of Jackson and her mother, Mrs W I Swaner of Jackson.     Donald S Smith was 17 and a poplar member of the Senior Class at CCHS.

(20, 21 and 22)   Weymor Burl HINSON, his wife Mary Lee WILLIAMS HINSON and their son, Danny Burl Hinson were killed on the Jones farm in a house on Route 3 (Glendale Community), that they had lived in for 4 months.   I had been born in this small house in 1940. The house sat at the foot of a small steep hill  taller than the house. The tornado passed over the Ed and Arlene JONES IVEY home and slammed back to earth to get the small house.   Just up the drive way was the Hugh Ned Jones home, his widow and two teenage children did not know that a tornado had passed until after daylight the next morning and they discovered their barn, smoke house and chicken house blown away. These buildings were on 3 different sides of the tall house and the shingles were not disturbed on the house. The only out building left was the old seed house.   Across the Jones Road (South side) Homer Maness got out of bed because of the lightening and threatening weather. The roof of his house was removed and the rain poured in. After daylight Mr Maness discovered his large dinner bell, that had been on a tall post in the yard was sitting on top of his pillow. Farther down the road the Lee Stewart family had also gotten up, the chimney fell on Lee and he was injured. Eggs in a bowl in their kitchen were not broken. Lee spend several days in the hospital and had to have his foot/ankle operated on.     W. Burl Hinson born Feb 18 1925, son of Roy and Palice MOORE HINSON. Burl was a Korean War Veteran, farmer and carpenter. His wife, Mary Lee WILLIAMS HINSON was born Feb 13 1930, daughter of Leo and Loraine HASKINS WILLIAMS of Beech Bluff. Their 18 month old son, Danny Burl Hinson, born Sept 29 1950 was discovered laying beside his parents outside the destroyed house, all three dying March 21 1952.     The home of his parents - living a 1/2 mile East, (Roy and Palace Hinson) was destroyed, but they survived the tornado.   (Roy and Palace Moore Hinson lived for a couple of months in the former slave house on the Smith-Hamlett farm while their house was rebuilt.)   Other survivors of Burl Hinson included his brothers, Neil Hinson, Bobby Hinson and Ray Hinson and a sister, Faye Hinson and his grandmother, Mrs Callie Moore, all of Henderson (Glendale Community). Mrs Mary Lee Hinson was survived by her parents and her brothers, J R Williams, Robert Williams and Jerry Williams, all of Beech Bluff TN. Funeral services were at Unity Church with Brother B B James officiating. Burial in Church Cemetery with Morgan Funeral Home in charge.     Robert Williams, brother to Mary Lee Williams Hinson and I were later, graduates of CCHS, Class of 1958.

(23)   Annie Laura HOWARD, Colored is on the Red Cross list of 23 killed in Chester Co TN.   I do find a Anna Howard born Nov 10 1908 Aberdeen Miss, living at 314 Simpson, Memphis, Shelby Co TN that died March 31 1952 (10 days after the tornado). Her death certificate for a cause of death only shows “Dead on Arrival”. Was she injured in the tornado, then went home and died 10 days later? ?   The death certificate shows her buried Rosehill Cemetery, Memphis TN, apparently in an unmarked grave.     Some victims were transported to hospitals in Corinth Miss and some to Memphis hospitals. Apparently Anna Howard was transported to Memphis and the typed Death Certificate is WRONG on the Death date - 21, not 31.

      On Monday, March 24, Miss Alice Jenkins visiting in Henderson was taken to her home in Bells TN to recover from her injuries.     On Wednesday, March 26 the following were still in the hospital from serious injuries suffered during the tornado:  H D Travis,  Mrs J M Cherry,  Mrs Minnie Goff,  James Cook,  Mrs Rubye Hendrix,  Major "MC" Jones,  Buford Patterson,  Mrs Alice Rainey,  James Rainey,  Hugh Ryals,  Geraldine Smith,  Annie Ree Smith,  Lee Stewart,  Roger Vestal,  Mrs Irene Vestal  and  N J Wallace.
      Mrs Marion H Vestal was moved from Jackson General to Baptist Hospital in Memphis March 23. Doctors reported that she would be permanently paralyzed from her waist down. Her 7 year old son, Roger Neal Vestal is in Jackson General with a broken leg and head injuries.   (Mrs Marion VESTAL is a sister to Carl E Johnson and Mrs Roy (Mabel) Bailey.)
      The Red Cross on April 9 1952 released names of those still hospitalized;     Steadman-Guy Clinic, Mrs Robert Rouse     Jackson Madison County Hospital, Buford Patterson, Mrs Opal Rhodes, Thelma Rhodes, Annie Ree Smith, Geraldine Smith, Roger Vestal, Mrs Ruby Hendrix.     Mrs Marion Vestal was transferred here on Monday from Baptist Hospital in Memphis;     Webb-Williamson Hospital, Mrs M B Frank, Mrs Ellen Little and H D Travis Sr.     Baptist Memorial Hospital Memphis TN, Patricia Ross     Kennedy VA Hospital Memphis, Major "MC" Jones.     GM&O Hospital St Louis Mo, James Cook, Colored.
      Major "MC" Jones was working and had delivered a truck load of lumber to Henderson. MC and Albert Perry were walking inside leaving David Newsom in the truck. David was found dead in the truck, Albert Perry died too. MC had his pelvis broken in three places and his bladder had been pierced. He had to wear weights to realign his hips. MC was released from the hospital the same day that his daughter, Phyllis was born.   Note: Info on MC, David and Albert from Deidre Litton.

Many homes were destroyed, the Taz Enoch home on the corner of North Street and 5th street was completely demolished. A car blown from some 300 yards away was left wrecked in his yard. His sons had a paper route and as a kid I used to ride my bike along with them. The Enoch family and their three sons survived. Taz Enoch operated the Kiwi Shop in Henderson, a small restaurant. They later moved to Bolivar.

On Sunday, March 23 1951 EDDY ARNOLD, offed his help in raising funds for the aid that was needed with all proceeds going to the Red Cross.     The show was planned for Wednesday night, April 13 at Chester County High School, admission by donation. He brought with him, The Oklahoma Wranglers made up of Guy, Skeeter and Victor Willis and Chuck Wright; The Dickens Sisters, Nancy, Margie and Pattie known for their harmony; The comedy team of Jam-Up and Honey; Little Roy Wiggins and his steel guitar.     The show raised $2608.52 for tornado victims. It was all "net" as Eddy Arnold defrayed all expenses for himself and his troupe. Eddy Arnold played to a standing room only crowd of more than 3000 in the gym.

Notes: City of Henderson said that no water bills would be mailed at the end of March to homes that were destroyed March 21.

March 21 -22 1952.   It became Tennessee’s deadliest tornado day. Sixty years later memories remain.


SOURCES: Death certificates, census records, marriage records, Chester County Independent, cemetery records and personal knowledge.

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TORNADO JANUARY 30 2013

Henderson Chester County Emergency Director reported that high winds including a possible tornado went through Chester County.   At least nine homes were destroyed in Chester County and four people injured. The path of the storm was from Hwy 200 to the Glendale community and north of Jones road.   The Cemeteries at Holly Springs and the Jones Cemetery both had damage to stones. Houses were destroyed North of Holly Springs Road.     Henderson County and Bethel Springs in McNairy County also received damage.

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