Fergus Falls Remembers Deadly 1919 Cyclone
The Otter Tail County Historical Society is commemorating those lost in the tornado
FERGUS FALLS, Minn. –It’s been 100 years since the deadly 1919 tornado that ripped through town.
The Otter Tail County Historical Society is commemorating those lost in the cyclone.
As bells ring across the city, people stop to remember what happened on June 22, 1919 at 4:45 p.m.
What’s a serene Lake Alice today was one of the hardest hit areas by the twister, the second deadliest in Minnesota history.
“This was the most impactful event on the history of Fergus Falls,” Chris Schuelke, executive director of the Otter Tail County Historical Society, said.
It covered the water with a pile of debris and left many parts of town completely flattened.
Peggy Ridenour’s great grandmother was killed in the storm.
Ridenour traveled to Fergus Falls all the way from Iowa just to go on the Otter Tail County Historical Society’s tour.
“I’ve always said to my friends, ‘oh my great grandmother was killed in a tornado,’ that was something I’d always pull out of my pocket and share with people. There is an amount of uniqueness to that,” she said.
Those on the tour learned about the many people who came a century before them.
“Community is about history and I know younger people are interested in establishing community. But without the history, you exist in a vacuum,” Schuelke said.
That history is still embedded in the landscape; many neighbors have found debris in random places, attributing it to the tornado.
But for Peggy, the focus was more about the generations who created her family tree.
“My grandma and grandpa really did not discuss a lot of that stuff so really it was a mystery,” she said.
Her great grandmother’s son and half–sister were among the dozens killed, and her children were injured.
“The memorial’s really neat, it makes me feel really happy that those people are memorialized and recognized,” she said.
“It really shows the total devastation of a community and how it responded,” Schuelke said.
In the face of tragedy, leaning on one another is what community members do best.
“I think it definitely gave people a sense of purpose, a sense of responsibility, just to buckle down and improve the community,” Schuelke said.
Even a century later, that message rings through Fergus Falls.
The cyclone was classified as an F–5, which is the most severe level of tornado.
The Lake Alice Cyclone Tour was just one of many tours the Otter Tail County Historical Society offers.
They also do tours of downtown Fergus Falls and the State Hospital, among many others.
The Historical Society museum has exhibits on life a century ago in Otter Tail County.
Julie Sanchez, who lives in Fergus Falls. says she’s gone on about a dozen tours with the organization over the past ten years.
“It’s history. Some people probably don’t care a whole lot about knowing that kind of stuff but it’s where I’m from, it’s fun to be able to know what people experienced and what this community used to be like,” she said.
For more information on the Historical Society Museum and their tours, click here.