Friday, March 4, 2016

The 5 Deadliest Tornados of the 20th Century

March marks the beginning of tornado season in the United States, and it continues through June. The majority of tornados tend to occur during the months of May and June, but a tornado can happen during any month of the year if conditions are right.

The study of early tornados began with John Park Finley, an officer of the Army Signal Office. Finley joined the Army’s weather forecasting office in 1877 with an interest in learning how to predict tornados. He believed that many lives could be saved if some type of warning system could be devised for area communities to use. 

Unfortunately, Army supervisors did not share Finley’s vision. Fearing that the term “tornado” would cause panic among the public, Finley was barred from using the word in his forecasts. In fact, no one reporting weather conditions was allowed to use “tornado” when reporting on these violent storm systems. Instead, an approaching twister was called a “severe local storm.”  The ban on using tornado was in place from 1888 to 1950! 

Since there were no alarms raised before the storms struck, people did not know the storm included a funnel cloud, so they didn't seek shelter. This could explain why so many died and were injured by tornados during the first half of the 20th century. 

Finley’s book, Tornados, What They Are and How to Escape Them was published in 1888. In it, he explained what a tornado was and how it developed.  Although a valued resource at the time, many of his safety guidelines are now considered dangerous.

And calling them what they are - here are the five deadliest tornados of the 20th century.

The Dixie Tornado Outbreak                               April 23 – 25, 1908
This destructive outbreak of tornados swept across 13 states during April 23, 24 and 25, 1908. At least 29 tornados were produced from this supercell thunderstorm outbreak, which affected parts of the Great Plains, Midwest and South. At least 324 deaths were recorded, most in rural areas, and 1,652 people were injured.

Three tornados were responsible for the wide-spread damage which occurred along a path at least 265 miles long with the worst destruction from Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama. The town of Purvis was one of the hardest hit; 143 of the town’s 150 homes were destroyed. Today, these tornados would be classified as F-4 with wind speeds estimated from 207 to 260 mph, creating devastating damage. *F-4 tornados occur about 1.1% of the time.

The Tri-State Tornados                                          March 18, 1925
This is the deadliest tornado outbreak recorded in U.S. history. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), this was actually one very wide and swiftly moving tornado, which resembled a rolling, boiling cloud on the ground. The tornado cut a path of 219 miles; the longest ever recorded in the world, across southeastern Missouri through southern Illinois and into southwestern Indiana.

For 3.5 hours that Wednesday afternoon, the storm devastated nineteen communities in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. At least 695 people died and 2,027 were injured, the majority of them in southern Illinois where several towns were demolished. At least nine schools were destroyed and 72 students killed, more than any other tornado in U.S. history. Today, this storm would be classified as an F-5 with winds from 261 -318 mph and a damage swath of 3,600 ft. The likelihood of an *F-5 storm is less than 0.1%.

The Tupelo - Gainesville Tornado Outbreak           April 5 – 6, 1936
At least twelve tornados swept through the southeastern U.S. on Sunday, April 5 and Monday, April 6, 1936. The town of Tupelo, Mississippi was struck by the fourth-deadliest tornado in U.S. history about 8:30 p.m. Reports indicated that 48 city blocks were leveled by the storm and numerous homes were swept into Gum Pond. At least 216 people were killed, another 700 injured. This storm would have been classified as an *F-5 tornado with wind speeds up to 318 mph; homes were lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances, trees debarked and residents reported pine needles stuck in the sides of tree trunks.

The storm rolled through Alabama overnight, and a double tornado hit Gainesville, Georgia about 8:30 a.m. The downtown area was demolished. The Cooper Pants Factory was filled with 550 female employees who had just arrived to work when the tornado struck. The building collapsed and caught fire, killing 70 workers – the worst tornado-related death toll to occur from a single building in the U.S. It was estimated that 203 died, but the exact number was not known since numerous buildings simply collapsed and caught fire without any accurate numbers as to how many were inside. The Gainesville tornado was the 5th deadliest in the country’s history. Today, the tornado would be classified as an *F-4 with winds up to 260 mph, buildings and homes leveled, and vehicles thrown through the air.

The Palm Sunday Tornados                                  April 11 – 12, 1965
There have been three Palm Sunday tornado events during the 20th century, but the storms of April 11 and 12, 1965 were, by far, the most deadly. Forty-seven tornados – the second biggest outbreak of the century - swept through the Midwesten states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. At least 256 people were killed and 3,402 were injured over the two-day event. The outbreak was the second most violent ever recorded with 17 F-4 tornados reported. The Hoosier State was the hardest hit with 138 deaths and more than 1,200 injured.

Reports indicated one tornado tore across lower Michigan’s Steuben and Monroe Counties, killing 44 and injuring another 612. In Indiana, a double tornado hit Goshen, Indiana leveling nearly 100 house trailers. South Bend, Laporte, Lafayette, Kokomo, Russiaville, and Lebanon, Indiana suffered enormous damage. For the first time in the U.S. Weather Bureau’s history, all nine northern counties in the state were under a tornado warning at the same time! Entire blocks were leveled in Toledo, Ohio, and more than 40 people were killed in Strongsville, southwest of Cleveland. Officials reported the tornados cut a path about 450 miles from Michigan through Indiana.

Many lives were lost due to a warning system that failed. The public didn’t know the difference between a “forecast” and an “alert.” This series of storms led to the implementation of the “watch” and “warning” program that remains in effect today.

1974 Super Outbreak                        April 3 – 4, 1974
This weather event went down in the record books as the largest tornado outbreak for one 24-hour period for the century. From Wednesday, April 3 to Thursday April 4, 1974, 148 confirmed tornados devastated 13 states and the Canadian province of Ontario. Tornados swept through Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and New York during an 18-hour period. The path length of the twisters measured 2,600 miles. Fatalities numbered 319 with 5,484 injuries.  Of the 148 tornados, 7 were classified as F-5, 23 as F-4, 35 as F-3, 31 as F-2, 37 as F-1 and 15 as F-0.

The storms began in Morris, Illinois early in the afternoon. As the storm system moved to the east, the tornados became more intense. An F-4 tornado hit Monticello, Indiana raking a path 121 miles long – the longest length of any tornado in this system. At one point, the entire state of Indiana was under a tornado warning – the first and only time in history that has occurred.

The first F-5 tornado was clocked at Xenia, Ohio just before 5 p.m. This was the deadliest tornado of the Super Outbreak of 1974. Thirty-four people were killed, another 1,150 were injured, and most of the town was destroyed; homes, businesses, apartment buildings, churches and the high school gone in a moment. Entire subdivisions were wiped off the map, and gravestones were toppled in a local cemetery. President Richard Nixon declared Xenia a disaster area.

2011 Tornado Outbreak
The only tornado outbreak worse than the 1974 outbreak occurred in this century on April 27, 2011. This day marks the deadliest tornado outbreak in the United States with 317 people killed and more than 2,200 injured. This Super Outbreak affected 21 states with the storm system spawning 363 tornados in a 24-hour period.

Let’s hope the coming spring breaks the record for the least number of tornados.

~ Joy

*The Fujita scale was developed in 1971 and is used to rate a tornado’s intensity, path length, width, and wind speeds.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Grief Hallucinations or Visitations

Reports were released last week of taxi drivers in Japan telling of how they had picked up “ghost passengers” in areas heavily damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A disaster in which more than 25,000 people died.

Drivers described stopping for fares who requested to be taken to the areas that were devastated by the tsunami; then enroute, the person simply vanished from the cab. One driver was telling his customer about losing a loved one in the tsunami when he realized no one was there. Cabbies reported that most of these “passengers” were young, and seemed not to know that they had died.

Is this phenomena real? Or is it what some would call a hallucination?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a hallucination is “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present: a delusion, illusion or figment of the imagination., describes a hallucination as “a profound distortion in a person's perception of reality, typically accompanied by a powerful sense of reality. An hallucination may be a sensory experience in which a person can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something that is not there.”

So could these occurrences be considered “grief hallucinations?” Some psychiatrists believe that grief, or post-bereavement hallucinations are common for those who have lost a loved one. Some in the industry say that they are beneficial.

Although grief is a profoundly individual experience, the majority of us tend to have an “encounter” with a loved one soon after their death. These incidents can involve seeing, hearing, smelling and/or being touched by a loved one.

The academic term for this experience is known as “idionecrophany - a combination of the Greek words idios (private), nekros (dead), and phainestai (to appear). The word was coined in 1992 by American sociologist William L. Macdonald to explain a sensory experience of claimed contact with the dead.

Scientific American reported that 82% of subjects studied for grief hallucinations had admitted to at least one idionecrophanic experience, which occurred during the first month after the death of someone close; 71% told of an experience three months following the death, and 52% still experienced some sort of occurrence 12 months after the death.

These visits may occur through a dream, getting a whiff of a familiar perfume or pipe tobacco, hearing otherworldly music, or laughter. But no one reports of being afraid during these “visits.” In fact, most who experience them, welcome them and find them comforting. And those in the psychiatric field will quickly clarify that bereavement hallucinations do not indicate psychosis.

Of course, there are those who will claim that it's your mind’s way of keeping someone dear close to you because you’re not quite ready to let go. Possibly. But it’s also possible that we do make that contact across the void because of the real emotional connection we’ve had before death.

I have had several experiences with idionecrophany. I have been “visited” by my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my grandfather, a sister from another life, and the man who was like a father to me. All of them delivering variations of the same message, “I made it, I’ve found my loved ones, I’m happy.

Our pets also send a similar message if we are open to receiving it. Last week, we lost our Poodle to old age. Evie has been my constant companion for well into fifteen years. But saying good bye is never easy, and having to make that decision not to let her suffer was tough, simply because you don't want to say goodbye.

But last evening, as I sat working on family genealogy, I heard her snoring at my feet, as usual. It was only a beat later that I realized it couldn’t be her. I walked the room, checking her favorite pillows for ... something - an indentation, an appearance. Nothing, only the gentle snoring, which continued until I said her name. Then the sound stopped as if I had awakened her.

Was she there with me, spending another evening by the fire? Or did I hallucinate the sound of her snoring as my mind grappled with ancestors?

I prefer to believe that, yes, she dropped by for a visit and a rest, before heading out into that great unknown. And one night, she’ll visit me in a dream to let me know that she’s made it to the other side, and that she’s happy.

Isn't that we're all seeking? Reassurances that our loved ones are finally free from burdens, are happy, and ready to continue on in another realm? I believe so, and since they take the time to let us know, that just let's us know how much we mattered to them, too.

~ Joy

Friday, February 5, 2016

Ancient Egyptian Funerary Ship Discovered

An ancient funerary boat was discovered two years ago in Egypt, near Cairo, but the find was just announced Monday by Egypt’s Antiquities Minister.

In October 2013, an excavation team unearthed the ship and also discovered human remains at the Abusir site where fourteen pyramids are located.

Abusir Pyramids
Czech archaeologists were clearing a mastaba, or ancient tomb, at the Abusir South Cemetery, when they discovered human remains believed to be more than 4,500 years old. Officials believe the remains belonged to a distinguished resident since the Abusir site was where Egyptian kings of the Fifth Dynasty were interred.

Site of Barque
Archaeologists were continuing their excavation when they unearthed parts of a 59-foot barque-type boat- a highly unusual find due to the boat’s size. The ship was uncovered near the tomb’s southern wall and had been lying on rocks, covered by the desert sands for thousands of years. According to the antiquities ministry statement, the boat indicates the "extraordinary social position of the owner of the tomb.”

One Czech archaeologist said “boats of such a size and construction were reserved solely for top members of the society, who usually belonged to the royal family.

If not of the royal family, this person held an extraordinarily high social position, someone who had solid connections with the reigning pharaoh, archaeologists said.

Third Dynasty
According to the Egyptian Ministry, pottery discovered in the boat is much older than the Fifth Dynasty, possibly going back to the Third or Fourth Dynasty. It is believed that the boat is also of that era.

According to the Egyptian Ministry’s statement, "The wooden planks were joined by wooden pegs that are still visible in their original position. Extraordinarily, the desert sand has preserved the plant fiber battens which covered the planking seams."

Because the boat is still mostly intact, researchers expect to learn more about how Ancient Egyptians built their watercraft and how the ships were used in funerary services.

Egyptian Barque
Scholars believe that the funerary boats were barques; ships having three or more masts, used to transport the dead to the afterlife. Pharaohs and members of the royal families were entombed with barques built especially for their final journey. Ancient Egyptians believed that the deities traveled through the sky in barques. (The Milky Way was thought to be a waterway, like the Nile River.)

Khufu Ship
The last such Egyptian ship was discovered in 1954. One of the oldest and largest of the ancient boats was unearthed at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza.  The Khufu boat, so called because it was built for Khunum-Khufu, the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, was a 143 feet long funerary boat crafted from cedar. The ship is being reconstructed at the Giza Solar Boat Museum

Digging at the Abusir Pyramids began in 2009. The site is located south of the Pyramids of Giza. The excavation will continue until sometime in the spring.

~ Joy

Friday, January 29, 2016

WWI Zeppelin Crew Left To Die In North Sea - 1916

“War is hell” so the old adage goes. Far too true for the 16 German soldiers that survived the crash of a Zeppelin in the North Sea, only to be left to die by a British skipper and his crew.

Capt. Odo Lowe
It was January 31, 1916 when nine German zeppelins headed out to bomb the English Midlands. Commanded by Captain Lieutenant Odo Lowe, the L-19, a German Imperial Navy Zeppelin, was on her first bombing raid after having spent the previous autumn as a scouting vessel over the North Sea.

The surprise raid was one of the largest launched against Britain during WW1. It was considered a success with the Germans dropping close to 400 bombs on the villages of Burton on Trent, Birmingham and Tipton. The L-19 caused no damage, unlike her sister ships, which killed more than 70 people and injured another 113.

German L-19
But on her return flight, engine problems began to develop for the L-19. With a malfunctioning radio, and three of her four engines failing, the airship came under fire from the Dutch as it drifted over Holland, a neutral country. The shooting punctured the gas cells, and the airship crashed into the North Sea during the night of February 1 – 2, 1916. Two crew members were killed, but 15 men and Captain Lowe survived.

Print of L-19 and King Stephen Fishing Vessel
The next morning, February 2, the King Stephen, a British fishing vessel, arrived at the wreckage site, after following the L-19’s distress signals for most of the night. The trawler’s skipper, William Martin with his crew of nine men, waited until daylight before approaching the broken zeppelin. There they discovered 16 German soldiers waiting on top of the sinking airship. Captain Lowe requested that his men be rescued, but Martin refused to give aid. Instead he sailed back to his homeport of Grimsby, Britain before reporting the downed airship to authorities.

The weather was growing worse as the airmen watched Martin’s vessel disappear. Those that could wrote out short messages for their loved ones and placed them in bottles to be thrown into the sea.

Captain Lowe’s final note read:
"With fifteen men on the top platform and backbone girder of the L 19, floating without gondolas in approximately 3 degrees East longitude, I am attempting to send a last report. Engine trouble three times repeated, a light wind on the return journey delayed our return and, in the mist, carried us over Holland where I was received with heavy rifle fire; the ship became heavy and simultaneously three engines broke down. 2 February 1916, towards one o'clock, will apparently be our last hour.”

Martin said later that he refused to rescue the airmen because he was afraid the Germans would overpower his crew and take control of the boat. 
Almost 50 years later a remaining crewman reported that Martin had been fishing in prohibited waters and knew if he’d returned with rescued soldiers, he would have had to report where he had been, which would have resulted in his being banned from fishing for breaking the law. Instead, the skipper gave Royal Navy authorities false coordinates for the downed zeppelin so no one would ever know he'd been fishing illegally.
The British, and the world, were divided on their sentiments. Some saw Martin’s act of abandonment as necessary in order to protect his crew. Others saw it as an act of retribution for the Germans having bombed civilian targets on January 31.

But still others felt that Martin’s refusal to save the men had been unpardonably cruel. The thought of leaving 16 helpless men to drowned in the North Sea – enemy or not – did not sit well with the morality of British citizens.

German Propaganda medal
The Germans used the incident for propaganda with an anti-British medal designed  showing the men on the L-19 being abandoned to the sea.

English Postal Box
The King Stephen never sailed again as a fishing vessel. The British Navy took it over as a Q-ship, and the Germans sunk it three months later. Captain William Martin died just over a year after the incident of heart failure. During his last year, Martin continued to receive letters and messages of support, along with death threats and hate mail.

~ Joy

Friday, January 15, 2016

Social Media, Death and Mourning

We share our hopes, our dreams, our joys, and our disasters on social media - be it new jobs, long-distance moves, joyous births, long-awaited marriages, or the finality for us all - death. But is social media the right platform to use to share and express our grief?

Although technology has changed the way we mourn, that doesn’t mean it’s become trivialized, or that social media has made it any less meaningful. In fact, experts say that the internet offers a form of instant support that can comfort and sustain us through the heartaches of death and grief by letting us know we are not alone.

Unlike the Victorian Era when mourning had a prescribed time limit and manner of dress, today there are no set-in-stone rules. Social media can keep us connected to the world, but still allow us private time alone.

We sustain ourselves by sharing our grief with others, be it family, close friends, co-workers, or a social media group we belong to. While this may not have been the way your parents grieved, it still allows for that needed human connection.

On Facebook, the deceased's page may become a heart-felt memorial  where friends, on-line and off, can pay their respects by leaving thoughts, messages and photos. This sharing can act as a catalyst for pain and grieving.

Walter Cronkite Announcing President Kennedy's Death
Remember, it wasn’t that long ago when newspaper, radio and television obits informed us of a death. Isn’t the internet just another way in which we communicate with each other?

In the end, each of us will have to make our own decision concerning mourning on social media. 

I suppose you could look it as our 21st century way of acknowledging a death. And just like our Victorian ancestors who hung mourning wreaths on the doors and scattered straw on the street in front of the deceased’s home so that the sounds of life were muted for a time; social media now gives us a chance to share our loss and grief with others and be sustained by them, while still allowing us the privacy to bow our heads and mourn.

~ Joy

Friday, January 8, 2016

6 Ways To Invite The Community Into Your Cemetery

Everything old is new again.” That phrase can encapsulate many cemeteries in the U.S. today. What became known as scary places filled with spooky superstitions is once again being embraced by the public.

Today, the community is being beckoned back to the bucolic atmosphere of the cemetery to enjoy a stroll, some music, a tour, even an event … just like our ancestors did in the 19th Century.

These hallowed grounds were designed as park-like settings for the purpose of creating a comfortable and lasting place that people could enjoy.

Today, we can entice our communities back into the cemetery by a number of methods: here are six to get you started.

1. Social Media
Yes, I know, you’ve managed just fine for x-amount of years without resorting to social media, so why try it now? Because this is the wave of the future – actually no, it’s already a very big part of the present. If you can only do one platform, let it be Facebook. There are over 1.01 billion active daily users, and 1.55 billion users per month. Suffice it to say you’ll need to learn the ins and outs, but it will be worth it. After all, your target audience, Baby Boomers, have embraced it.

2. Blogging
Blogging is better than a news release (You do use those, right?) to get your cemetery’s name out there. A blog can keep your cemetery in the forefront of people’s minds by expressing ideas and offering them all kinds of interesting information; it’s a way to stay active in your field, to connect with the community, to promote your cemetery, and to just have fun. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation; it just needs to be informative and real.

3. Volunteers
The main reason people do not volunteer is because no one has asked! Volunteers can be the life-blood of an organization. Start asking for volunteers in your newsletters. (You do that too, right?) Let people know that you would welcome their assistance and have a list of things written down that they can choose to do. Keep the duties simple, let it be fun and your volunteers will become the cemetery’s ambassadors throughout your community.

4. Videos
Today, the technology is too easily available not to have a video of your cemetery. It could be something on the most prominent ‘residents’, or simply a welcoming message from your CEO or superintendent. Once you start thinking, the ideas are endless, and a short, well thought-out video can gain you well deserved attention. Especially if you use it on your website, incorporate it into your blog, and tout it in your newsletter. Also, be sure to post it on your YouTube channel (I’m not going to ask, just get one.) and follow up with a news release.

5. Tours
Cemeteries around the country are slowly embracing “the tour” as an opportunity to get the public to visit their grounds. I’ve heard some people say that there is nothing 'special’ about their cemetery. Sorry, but that’s bull! Every cemetery has something special about it – the land, the story of the founding, the people buried there, the stones and artwork, the community’s history; it’s all relevant and interesting to people. Tours can be led by volunteers or costumed interpreters, and taken by riding a trolley, or walking through the grounds. It doesn’t matter how you do it, it only matters that you do it.

6. Events
Mid-sized and smaller cemeteries are slow to embrace this idea, afraid of appearing less than professional. But events can bring hundreds of people into your cemetery. Lawn concerts are favorite events, so are flower and tree walks, community picnics, and special dedications or remembrances. Some cemeteries have re-enactors portray what life was like during a specific time in the community’s history.

There are hundreds more ideas, but these should get you thinking in the right direction. You may start small, but with time and effort you can keep it growing.

(If you need help with ideas, or suggestions on how to implement those ideas, contact me. I’d be happy to work with your cemetery on a contractual basis. If you have a heritage foundation, or the leeway to create a position for someone to expand public relations and events; build and grow your social media and the online presence, and develop and maintain great media contacts, let me know. I have the knowledge and experience, and am looking for the right opportunity.)

Here’s to making 2016 a year where “everybody knows your name.”

~ Joy