Thursday, March 19, 2020

72 Years Ago - March 19, 1948 - Tornado Devastates City of Bunker Hill

NOTE: This is a follow up to the 1948 tornado posting that I wrote on my November 2015 blog at

On March 19, 1948, at 6:45 a.m., another tornado hit the town of Bunker Hill.  This tornado had an estimated cost of damage of 1 1/2 million dollars (the first one occurred ten years earlier on April 6, 1938 which damage was estimated at $250,000).  Over 80% of the city was destroyed with very few things left standing.

Washington Street in the Bunker Hill business district resembled a set in a Hollywood disaster film after a tornado struck on March 19, 1948.  Nineteen people were killed and almost every building in town was damaged or destroyed. --file/TheState Journal Register  

Aerial view of the Bank block showing the Dental Clinic in the lower right and the Drug Store in the upper left

Looking North from the top of the School building.

Many of Bunker Hill's churches were destroyed.  All business except First National Bank, Bahn's Grocery, and Jacoby-wise on the east side of Washington, and one building on the west side were destroyed.  Today, these are the only two story business buildings in town to remind us of what our business district once looked like.

Bahn's Market soon after the 1948 tornado.

Behren's Drug Store and Lincoln Theater had the second floor lifted off.  It had served as a recreational hall and gymnasium.

The second floor above Lincoln Theater and Behren's Drugstore was lifted off the ground by the wind.  The bandstand at the intersection of Washington and Warren Streets collapsed.  The new Legion home of Partridge Post 578 was destroyed.  The fire house and city hall still stood.

Helen Fahrenkrog Teakert in front of the bandstand at the center of Washington and Warren streets before the tornado.  Note the filling station which is now Louie's Barber Shop and the Fire Department.

Early 1940's view of Washington and Warren Streets before the tornado.

 The remainder of the bandstand after the tornado struck.

The toppled Lincoln Statue

When the statue of Lincoln was toppled in the tornado, the statue fell from the pedestal and the head was found in someones yard.  The person laid it back on its pedestal and the body was still lying on its side in front of it.

Front view of Meissner School which was the Red Cross Headquarters.

The Meissner School was used as a hospital.  Another part of the school was used as a morgue.  To enter Bunker Hill after the tornado, a person had to have a card or pass.  This was done to prevent looting.  An important mass meeting was held on March 26 to decide how to reconstruct Bunker Hill.

 Postmaster Edna Bauser's new 1948 Hudson.
 Bill Miller and Terri Teakert in front

Members of surrounding American Legion Posts stopped sightseers as they passed through Bunker Hill on April 4, 1948 and collected $2,463.00 in donations from them.  About a week before, they collected $618.00 from sightseers.  The total amount of donations collected in this manner was $3,081.00.

The Red Cross was here within hours after the tornado struck Bunker Hill and set up their tents in front of Meissner School.  They provided shelter for those who were left without a home.  They also handed out food and clothing to anyone who needed it.  They aided in building and repairing homes and buildings and supplied furniture and medical care too.  Farming and occupational equipment was given to anyone who needed it.

Delmer "D.D" Truesdale retrieves furniture from what was left of his radio shop after the tornado passed through. --file/TheState Journal Register

A truck parked in front of businesses on the East side of Washington Street was crushed by bricks. --file/TheState Journal Register

H.F Lund of Springfield set up a ham radio in the middle of Bunker Hill and relayed information to radio stations around the State. --file/TheState Journal Register 
NOTE: H.F. "Buzz" Lund was FCC licensed as Amateur Radio operator W9KQL
He was a member of the Springfield, IL  Amateur Radio Club and also an active member of the Red Cross
His son, Thomas "TJ" Lund is also FCC licensed as N9PFC and now lives in Champaign, IL 

Ham Radio operator (name unknown) from the Springfield Amateur Radio Club assisting with communications during the tornado cleanup operations.

The Red Cross called a large meeting in Springfield on April 28, inviting 1,000 Mayors and 101 Sheriffs to attend to discuss the disaster.  The Red Cross aid went as high as $110,389.00 and possibly even higher.

A Red Cross itemized bill that was submitted after six weeks is as follows:

  • Emergency Mass Shelter and evacuation - $750
  • Mass feeding, clothing and food for individual families - $10,000
  • Rebuilding and repairing homes and bu9ildings -$59,000
  • Furniture - $14,000
  • Medical Care - $3,000
  • Farm Equipment and Supplies - $1,000
  • Occupational Equipment and Supplies - $200

The Salvation Army camp at Tornado wrecked Bunker Hill

The Salvation Army was set up on Washington across from the present Conoco Station.  They distributed food and clothing to the tornado victims and served approximately 1,500 hot meals each day.

The Shell Oil Company donated 4,000 gallons of gas, diesel fuel, and motor oil.  The Standard Oil company donated 1,000 gallons of gas and diesel fuel.

  Bunker Hill Business District in 1947 before the tornado.

Bunker Hill business section from the Truesdale home.

Bunker Hill on the day of the storm.

Overturned Meissner school bus parked at the Bruckert's Garage when the storm struck.

Every day for a month people from Blackburn College came to Bunker Hill.  A ten-man work crew helped local residents clean up the debris left by the tornado.  They also helped in the rebuilding.  One hundred and sixty coal miners from Coalton, Illinois closed shop for a day to come to Bunker Hill to help in the cleaning and rebuilding.  Coal miners from neighboring towns also came to help.

Reverend Burke is speaking, Reverend Johnson standing by the tractor.  Berean Baptist's Secretary Berniece Sauser and Gertrude Hilderbrand sing a duet.

Residents and volunteer workers stop their task of repairing damaged buildings and clearing away storm wreckage long enough to gather around the demolished bandstand for an open-air Easter service.  Using a bulldozer for a pulpit, the Reverend M. E. Burke and the Reverend H. C. Johnson conducted the community service.  --BH Gazette, April 1, 1948    

The American Legion chapters from Benld and East Alton held benefit dances for Bunker Hill and they netted $578.50.  They Altamont community held a "Battle for Bunker Hill" campaign and raised $856.41 in tornado relief for the town.

Many construction companies were here to offer their assistance during the days of rebuilding.  William's Hardware in Shipman offered special discounts to any victim of the tornado who lost their homes and belongings.

To show thanks to every group, organization, business, and individual, thank-you letters were printed in most of the editions of the Gazette-News following the tornado.

Looking Southwest from the flagpole area.  The "X" marks the present Amoco Station.

Since most of the major building in the business district were destroyed after the tornado, many adaptations had to be made to continue their business.  For example, the Post Office was temporarily set up in the lobby of the bank, a combination hospital/morgue was set up at Meissner School, and many gas stations set up tents.

At the time of the tornado, E. A. Rich was superintendent of Meissner School.
 The school, closed during the weeks following the tornado was re-opened on April 12, 1948.  When the students returned, they were not required to make up the work from the three weeks of the disaster.  Closing activities and graduation would be conducted as planned.

Memorial Services in Tornado wrecked Bunker Hill

The tornado of 1948 was the worst disaster to ever strike Bunker Hill.  Many people were killed or injured and much property was destroyed.  Let's hope history never repeats itself in our town.  There were 19 people killed and 126 injured.

The list of Deceased from the 1948 Tornado:
  • Allen, Jacqueline Jean (Jean Fensterman Allen's baby )
  • Gregory, J.C
  • Gurley, Marvin
  • Hales, Elizabeth
  • Kay, Georgette
  • Kay, Jacky
  • Kehr, Charles 
  • Landreth, Georgia May
  • Landreth, Mrs. Rachel
  • Langacher, Mrs. Chris
  • Osburn, Juanita
  • Pollock, Mrs. Isabel
  • Ridgley, Rose
  • Tipton, William
  • Vroman, Carolyn Sue
  • Vroman, Danny
  • Vroman, James
  • Vroman, Norma
  • Weimers, Jane

Local People Requested To Call For Packages and Mail

All residents of Bunker Hill expecting packages are requested by Miss Edna Bauser, local postmaster, who has set up temporary quarters in the First National Bank, to call immediately for such packages and other mail as soon as possible.  Lack of space at the bank, from which the Post Office is operating, make it imperative that mail be called for soon.
Package mail has been held in St. Louis since the tornado, but was expected to start coming though Thursday --Bunker Hill Gazette, Thursday March 25, 1948

Governor Green Tours

Governor Dwight Green of Illinois, and Governor Jester of Texas, toured the Bunker Hill disaster area Monday afternoon and the Illinois Governor reiterated the statement made in a telegram to Mayor Miller Saturday that the State administration would render every assistance in its power to restore this stricken area.  --Bunker Hill Gazette, Thursday, March 25, 1948

Following taken from "Rembembering"
Anna Wieseman: A lot of people didn't want to come back to Bunker Hill and were going to live out of town.  Then the business people and the people who wanted to stay had an all night meeting to decide what to do.  If there were people wanting to leave town, why, the businesses didn't want to be here either.  So, they decided to stay and some of the businesses rapaired their building.  This made more people stay and rebuild their homes.

Wilbur Pullen: We were living just south of Woodburn and did not get much damage.  I watched the storm go over and then went to my neighbor Ted Huette's to see if anyone needed help.  While I was talking to him, another neighbor came across the field riding a horse.  He asked us to come help as a beam had fallen on his wife.  As we hitched up the wagon, we realized that his horse had a large sliver of wood through on front tendon.  Had had been so worried about his family he hadn't noticed his horse was injured.

Marie Bartels: Our house was one of the few left standing on Washington Street.  A path was cut through from the south end of town to our house so that the ambulance could come into town for the injured who had be brought to hour house.

You can also view more about the 1948 Tornado with videos and interviews from those that remember it at my link at

View my shared photos and video interviews from the 1948 Bunker Hill Tornado devastation stored on my Google drive located at

Be sure to visit our Youtube video links at the video provided by the State Journal Register at 


...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories here at

--Cite this story: Redford, Carol, and Betty Triplett. "Bunker Hill History." In Reflections: A History of the Bunker Hill-Woodburn Area, pp. 43-48. Bunker Hill: Bunker Hill Publications, 1993. Provided by the Bunker Hill Historical Society.


  1. If you want some pictures of tornado of 1948 contact me

    1. Photos are always welcome at our Museum here in town. We're open on Saturdays 10:00 AM until Noon or we can get them via mail addressed to the Bunker Hill Historical Society here in Bunker Hill. Thank you so much for the offer.