1920 tornado turned Jefferson Park home upside down


The Northwest Chicago Historical Society recently came across photographs which show the damage in the Dunning and Jefferson Park neighborhoods that resulted from a tornado that touched ground in the city and suburbs on March 28, 1920.

The tornado hit as Palm Sunday services were ending at Saint Pascal Church, 3935 N. Melvina Ave. While her son was at the services, a woman was babysitting her grandchild when the winds caused a wooden beam to come through a window at her house, killing her but leaving the child uninjured, according to society researcher Frank Suerth.

Several other residents were killed as a result of the tornado, and at one home the twister took a piano through a front window before depositing it 1 ½ blocks away, Suerth said. There were reports of people playing the piano days later as it sat out in a field.

Suerth said that he found the pictures on eBay and paid about $10 for all of them. He said that he believes the seller got the pictures from an estate sale.

One of the pictures shows a field filled with debris, including the piano, while another shows a storefront that slid off its foundation as a result of the storm. The other photographs show damaged homes and a boarding house.

The storm eventually moved in east through Jefferson Park and then northeast through Norwood Park, Edgebrook and Wilmette. According to the society, 17-year-old Robert Shearin gave this account of the storm: “First we were pelted with hail stones as big as pigeon eggs. Then we saw a funnel-shaped cloud coming toward us. Then we saw shingles flying off the roofs.

“Chickens carried high up in the air. Telephone poles snapped off and went swirling off in a cloud of dust. Houses shook and collapsed. One of them seemed to fold right up. Another jumped up in the air and fell down all in pieces. We jumped out of the car before it turned over, and we were both blown into a ditch.”