Cape Tornado of 1949

My readers usually know more about Cape history than I do and they’re good about sharing their knowledge. This contribution stopped me cold. It’s an account of the May 21, 1949, tornado that killed 22 people, hospitalized 72 and injured hundreds, written by a pregnant newlywed to her mother on pages torn from a day calendar. I’m reprinting it here with the family’s permission.

Gallery of the Tornado letter

I’m going to present the letter in two forms: as a series of photos of the pages and as a .pdf document that you can download in its entirety so you can read it at your leisure. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

Letter in a downloadable form

Here is a copy of the 18-page letter in a single file: 1949 Tornado Letter by Kathrine Lamkin. You’ll need Acrobat Reader version 7.0 or later to open it. The file is fairly large, so I wouldn’t try to get it if you don’t have a broadband connection. If right-clicking doesn’t open it, right click on the link and chose Save Link As. Depending on your monitor, you may want to view it at about 125%. Save the file if you want to read it later.

Kathrine Porter Russell Lamkin

The writer was Kathrine Porter Russell Lamkin. She died Aug. 27, 2009, just a few days short of her 83rd birthday.

She was a society deb, pictured in Life Magazine’s Oct. 28, 1946 photo display of the Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis. (I’m sorry that I don’t know which specific photo she’s in.)

She attended Washington University, where she met John T. “Jack” Lamkin after he had returned from World War II.. They were married Nov. 6, 1948. She was pregnant with Central High School classmate Tucker Lamkin when she wrote this account of the storm.

You can read more about Kathrine “Po” Lamkin her in her obituary in The Missourian.

Names I recognized

  • Codeen is Codeen Sherwood, a Lamkin family friend and cook.
  • Jack is Kathrine’s husband.
  • Dr. Herbert is Dr. Charles T. Hebert. This was a particularly heart-wrenching part of the letter.
  • Rush Limbaugh’s house was wrecked but the family was at Rush Jr.’s wedding when the storm hit.
  • It ruined Dr. Parker’s house, touched the Boutin house and knocked down a tree at Libby and Jack Oliver’s.
  • The Medical Building is wrecked and Dr. Ritter and the other doctors are working out of Dr. Ritter’s home.

Missourian Series

The Southeast Missourian did a good job of pulling together photos, reprints and stories from the 1949 tornado. Rather than rehashing what they did, I’ll get out of the way and let Mrs. Lamkin’s letter and The Missourian retrospective speak for history.

Thanks to the Lamkin family for sharing this first-hand account of one of Cape’s biggest tragedies.



Flood Pits Neighbor vs. Neighbor

The controversy over breaching the Bird’s Point levee that’s putting Missourians against Illinoisans isn’t anything new.

A dam erected by farmers in 1967 pitted neighbor against neighbor.

My film envelopes were slugged “Dutchtown Dam 6/22/67,” and I thought the photos were taken south of Hwy 74 between Cape and Dutchtown. The newspaper story, however, describes it as “south of Cape Girardeau and east of old Highway 61 between that highway and the Mississippi River.”

Bits and pieces of the story ran for days. You can read the one that ran with my photo in the June 23, 1967, Missourian.

Farmers on the “wet” side of the dam contended that the structure would cause water from the Diversion channel to back up on their land earlier than it would have normally.

Threats to blow up the dam

The Cape County Sheriff’s office received at least two threats to blow up the dam. Some of the farmers stood guard over the earthen structure at night. At least one of the men in this photo had a rifle or shotgun. I’m going to surmise that it was probably more for snakes than potential bombthrowers.

A story on June 26, said the Little River Drainage District had ordered the dam removed. A flood story on the 27th said it was still standing. A story on June 28 said that attorney Jack O. Knehans was contemplating filing a suit seeking $50,000 to $75,000 in damages from the dam builders.

I scrolled through papers for the next few days and never did find how the issue was resolved.