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Lucille & The Tornado - The Weekly Holler #23

September 25 · Issue #23 · View online
American Mythology
Welcome to The Weekly Holler. This newsletter is published by Luke Bauserman. Luke grew up in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio. As a young adult, he worked in a nursing home while studying history in college. During this time, he made friends with and heard many stories from the old-timers of his community. Shortly before graduating, Luke won the Randolph Stone Award for Historical Writing from Ohio University. Luke is working on his first novel, a mix of Appalachian folklore and history (updates forthcoming). 

Possum Story Contest
Last call for possum stories! Did you have one as a pet? Do you have a possum recipe with a story? Have possums ever infested your house? Any story featuring a possum is welcome! Here’s how to submit:
- Write your story in 2,500 words or less.
- Email your story to tonight by 11:59pm (EST) Sunday, September, 25th, with “Possum Story” in the subject line. Include the story in body of the email, along with your name and mailing address.
The prize includes having your story published in The Weekly Holler and a one-of-a-kind trophy (complete with bragging rights) shipped to your door. 
Lucille & The Tornado
San Antonio Light Sunday Sept. 2, 1928 with Lucille's first photo
San Antonio Light Sunday Sept. 2, 1928 with Lucille's first photo
Some of the most popular photographs of a tornado ever taken, were the work of Lucille Handberg, a sixteen year-old school girl. She took them of a twister that occurred near Jasper, Minnesota, on July 8th 1927. A little over a year after the photos were taken, the San Antonio Light ran the following story: 
The most remarkable photographs of a tornado, or twister, ever taken were recently made at the risk of her life by Lucille Handberg, a South Dakota school girl. Lucille not only faced the twister long enough to photograph it, but chased it a quarter of a mile to get two other snaps of it.
Lucille took the chance she did because she wanted to win a prize offered at the State Fair for the most unusual snapshots. Racing along though the wind and the lowering gloom, with nothing but an ordinary camera in her hand, she succeeded where scientists, safely ensconced in cyclone-proof shelters, with the most complex photographic apparatus have failed. Experts all over the world are now studying Lucille’s three pictures, and the United States Government has asked her for prints in order that its experts may learn something about tornadoes that they had not known before.
And Lucille certainly won that prize for snapshots at the State Fair!
It was a very hot, still afternoon that Lucille, standing beside her father on their porch, saw him cock a weather-wise eye up to the sky. There was a big black cloud almost overhead, sweeping southward. As they watched, they saw another black cloud approaching from the south. And suddenly, the two clouds seem to leap and send out whirling streamers of vapor towards each other.
“Jehoshaphat!” exclaimed Father Handberg, “Here comes a twister! Get to the cellar, Lucille, quick!”
Now the most violent storms on earth are these “twisters” or tornadoes that sweep across the cyclone belt of the United States. Springing up almost in a moment, they form gigantic funnel shaped whirlpools of wind, so swift that no instrument has ever ben able to measure their velocity. Moving over the ground like a waterspout at sea, the tornado picks up houses, barns and automobiles, and carries them for hundreds of yards, scoops up cattle and, in fact, anything movable in its path, and destroys what is not movable.
Furthermore, once a twister is started, its path cannot be predicted. The wind-spout is like a gigantic tentacle thrust out from the breast of the storm cloud. It writhes and coils like a snake and its suction arm, called “the broom,” will leap in an instant sometimes over half a mile of ground, leaving objects under it untouched, but striking with deadly efficiency everything upon which it lands. These objects are then either sucked up, as though by a vacuum cleaner or are whirled away hundreds of feet as dust is by the stroke of a broom.
All this Lucille knew, and as she stood staring, the clouds met, boiled for a moment and the out from them writhed the lead colored and awe inspiring tentacle of the twister.
“My goodness!” said Lucille to herself. “If I could only get a good picture of that, I could win that snapshot prize at the State Fair!”
Her father was calling the field hands and shooing them into the cyclone cellar. Lucille ran back into the house and seized her camera. She had a fairly accurate idea that her father would object mightily to what she planned to do, so she ran out the back door to the side of the house.
By this time the twister had dropped on the house of Oscar Kulsrod although Lucille had not known that, because neighbor Kulsrod was three miles away. It had not quite reached the ground yet, so it merely took the chimney off the Kulsrod house, broke down all the trees around it, sucked all the supper plates off the table and distributed them nicely unbroken from the door to the barn.
But in that brief time that it had taken Lucille to get her camera, the twister had traveled two miles. It was, it appeared, an accommodating twister, and seemed to know that Lucille wanted its picture, because those miles that it had journeyed made it two miles closer to her and it was then only a little over five thousand feet away. It was headed for the Petersen place, about a half a mile off. The great tentacle was clearly outlined in the sky and its broom end could be seen between the trees and neighbor Petersen’s house.
“Fine!” murmured Lucille. And with steady and rapid hands, focussed in the lens, and snapped it.
Looking up, she saw that the twister was still coming, but the Petersen house and farm buildings did not look at all the same. There was a reason for that. The enormous snake of air had sideswiped neighbor Petersen’s dwelling place, left only half a house where a whole one had been, and had scattered the windmill and water tank and a few outer buildings over a square mile of prairie.
Lucille did some quick thinking. She wondered whether that first picture had been a success. She wondered whether she had time to take another. She wondered whether she would have time to drop into the cyclone cellar. All this in a split second, because the twister was now only about a quarter of a mile away from her.
Then abruptly, by one of the unknown laws that govern its progress, it changed its direction, sweeping away from her.
“My goodness! Hey—wait!” cried Lucille, quite forgetting in her excitement that the twister had no ears, except about several thousand ears of corn which it had just picked up from a field and was lavishly distributing for several miles around. She ran into the open, dodging and ducking to get a good view of the tremendous whip that was writhing and squirming like an enormous air serpent. She saw that its end, “the broom,” was contracting and expanding rapidly, “just like a person breathing heavily,” she described it afterwards. “It looked just as though it were alive.”
The light abruptly became clear and good, the twister seemed to pause accommodatingly and Lucille’s steady hand took Picture Number Two, which with Number One are unquestionably, in the opinions of experts, the finest ever made of a tornado. It shows, as the reproduction on this page proves, the terrifying spectacle from ground to sky at close range. It was close range, too, for Lucille’s skirt was blowing out straight, her hair whipping like halyards in a hurricane, and Father Handberg, back in the house, had just emerged from the cyclone cellar and was running frantically toward her.
Lucille's second photograph
Lucille's second photograph
He knew what she also knew, but had forgotten—that the serpent might at any moment leap on her and distribute her around the neighborhood just as it was scattering the corn!
Lucille ran again before he could catch up to her. She ran for five minutes and took a third snapshot. By this time the foot of the twister had reached a point directly opposite her but the head had changed its course at right angles. The tube had stretched out and it had developed a most unusual loop. The length of the tube was at least five miles. The broom at the foot was lifting from the ground and getting thinner and the force of the whirl was evidently diminishing. 
A drawing made from Lucille's third photograph
A drawing made from Lucille's third photograph
Three minutes after Lucille took her last photograph, the tube snapped in two. The lower section vanished. The section nearest the cloud mass at the top seemed to draw up into itself like a telescope, and as it did so, threw off three rings of vapor just like the rings puffed from a locomotive chimney. Shortly afterward, a wriggling mass of cloud or vapor shot out of the top cloud, and faded away. Last of all, the broom at the bottom floated away slowly and dispersed as though it were a cloud of dust—which it probably was.
“I think I got some great pictures,” said Lucille to Father Handberg.
“I think what you ought to get is a good spanking!” said he.
Mr. Montgomery Meigs, a retired United States civil engineer, who lives in that part of the country and who, recognizing the value of the photographs taken by brave little Lucille, saw to it that they were circulated among scientist all over the world, has made some interesting calculations about the dimension of the tornado.
The lower part of the broom was about 300 feet in diameter at the earth, Mr. Meigs thinks, and surrounded a sharply defined core thirty-two feet in diameter at the earth and tapering gradually and evenly to about ninety-three feet at the top cloud.
This core was the tubular center of the furiously revolving currents of wind which make the tornado.
The twister, or revolving tube, trailed after the cloud, and apparently at a slower lateral speed, which accounts for the stretching of the tube. When picture Number Two was taken, the foot was at least 4,000 feet behind its beginning in the top cloud, and the cloud was 2,300 feet high.
The pictures of this tornado may give the key to other, more destructive storms of this revolving type, as Mr. Meigs points out.
“Some tornadoes have a broom or whirl half a mile or more in diameter,” he says, “but probably the tube is no larger than the one shown in Lucille’s photographs. If the atmospheric pressure has anything to do with the size of the tube, the tube ought to be uniform for all tornadoes that reach full violence, it is larger at the top where the air is less dense.
“When the cloud is very low and the tube is short, it is probable that the effects of the twister are most violent. The big forests of Minnesota are crisscrossed with so-called windfalls that are the tracks of former tornadoes. These storm paths vary in the width from forty or fifty to a thousand feet in width. Along these storm tracks the trees are twisted and splinter into matchwood and pile up like jackstraws.”
It is the tendency of all winds, from the great trade winds to little breezes, to curl and blow in a circular direction. When part of the hot moist air begins to rise it assumed a spiral motion and whirls like water going out of a wash basin. The rotation increases its speed, and it is this part of the tornado that does the damage.
Inside the whirl is a partial vacuum, formed by the decreased air pressure. When this vacuum passes over a house, the pressure on the inside of the structure is lessened, and since the walls are made to stand only equal pressures inside and out, the house literally explodes. But it is the whirling motion of the tube and, some people believe, its suction, that picks up other houses and automobiles, and carries them along the ground. Mr. Meigs thinks that it is suction that makes the foot of the tube cling to the ground and so elongates it.
Much remains to be learned about tornadoes, however. And a great deal, it is thought, will be learned from the photographs which scientists of the world are now studying, thanks to the courage of little Lucille. 
If you’d like to pick up a great read and support The Weekly Holler while you’re at it, check out River of Earth, James Still’s classic novel about a young boy growing up in an Appalachian coal town. If you use the link in this Facebook post to buy it, The Weekly Holler will be paid an “affiliate fee” by Amazon for sending them a customer. You can’t have too many good books, and River of Earth is one of the best!
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