The Frostburg Tornado of Nov. 23, 1891
While researching vintage photographs of tornado damage in Frostburg, MD, Bob Lemmert came across the following informtion on the NOAA website:
"November 23, 1891 at about 1000 hours EST, a F2 tornado struck Frostburg. The damage path statistics are unknown. Deaths and injuries is also unknown. The tornado touched down in the Consol area near the present day armory. It followed Water Street (northward) before shifting east down main street near St. Michael’s Catholic Church. It moved through the heart of Frostburg and down to Depot Hill. Buildings were destroyed, roofs lifted, chimneys downed and windows shattered. A horse and wagon was blown 50 yards, a full rail car was overturned, marble monuments were toppled and electric lines down. Damage amounts can not be estimated."
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Further research turned up the following account of the tornado/cyclone from the Frostburg Mining JOURNAL, 28 November 1891. The article is from microfilm and was found during a search by Dick Crow. The transcription is courtesy of MaryJo A. Price, Special Collections, Lewis J. Ort Library, Frostburg State University. Spelling, punctuation, and use of capitals is, for the most part, as found in the original article.
A Frightful Cyclone in Frostburg: Damages, $35,525.
Monday morning dawned cloudy and threatening rain. The air was cool, with a strong breeze coming from the east. From that quarter a storm might have been expected. And so it came about 10:55 with a remarkably heavy downfall of rain. Meanwhile it had grown dark enough to light the gas, and a light smoke-color appeared to tinge the outside air. In the JOURNAL office it was asked — “isn’t this singular?” A low, dull moan arose in the west, and, in less time than it takes to tell it, the sound grew into an indescribably frightful rush of wind and rain. In an instant the roof and upper story of George H. Wittig’s store, in close, full view of this office, were gone – gone even before the office-door gave way to the crush of falling brick and mortar from Wittig’s walls. Then all was over, save the steady rain which now came from the west, the eastern storm having been displaced.
The top and bottom of the JOURNAL’s outside stairway having been carried away, the office-workers could not get out for fifteen minutes, but enough had been seen from the front windows to show that Wittig was not alone in misfortune. Main street eastward was strewn with debris — timbers, tin, glass, etc.
The JOURNAL began its round of the wrecked territory quick as possible to survey for itself the track of ruin.
The cloud dipped here and there. It entered town between the houses of John Parker and Daniel Rawlings, not far apart, harming neither, but snapping off the top of a big tree nearly between them.
Then it lifted off the enormously heavy roof of L. M. Gorsuch’s big stable on the south end of Water street.
Two adjacent houses, belonging to M. Gorsuch, occupied respectively by William Hunter and Greenbury Humberson, were considerably injured, that occupied by Hunter, being moved several inches from its foundation.
Near by on Frost’s avenue F. W. Larue lost a portion of the roof of the addition to his residence.
The north-west side of the roof of the rectory of St. John’s P.E. Church. on the avenue , was struck and caved in. The carriage shed was destroyed.
Up the street Henry W. Wagner’s dwelling was loosened from its foundation, torn out of plumb and generally twisted.
Next on Water street the brick residence, owned by William McLuckie, sr., and occupied by John Davis, a Consolidation company mining boss, was almost demolished. The roof was lifted and two walls blown down. The front parlor was filled with the wreckage. Mrs. Davis, who was alone in the house, sitting in the dining-room, says the first intimation to her of danger was a door came sailing into the room. Much furniture injured. The stable at rear end of the lot was wholly destroyed. Mr. Davis moved at once to room in the Frost mansion.
A brick residence adjoining, property of William Thomas, lost part of the roof and walls badly injured. House was occupied by William E. Hartman, who had packed many of his goods for removal elsewhere. Nevertheless, he sustained considerable damage. When the storm was over Mrs. Hartman found the back of one of her hands cut open. She does not know how it happened.
Across the street Samuel Jeffries’ stable was made a total wreck.
A flying timber from Jeffries’ stable struck Peter Malee’s cow under the left horn and killed her instantly.
The roof of Charles Wade’s stable was blown off. O. H. Wade, driver, had just gotten the horses inside. The wind blew them out and in the melee Wade was struck in the eye by a piece of timber and hurt in the side.
A frame house occupied by an aged colored woman, Mary Johnson, for over 60 years, was quite destroyed and the wind made sad havoc of her goods. She was fortunately able to get out, or she would have been killed.
Just by an old frame house occupied by Mrs. Nellie Scott, colored, was badly damaged.
Next door a frame house owned and occupied by the heirs of Samuel Smith, colored, had the front blown in, roof razed and whole structure moved nearly off the foundation.
On Broadway the southern edge of the cyclone tore the protecting covering from the walls of the new St. John’s P.E. church. Damage slight.
Joseph Knode’s portico was badly injured and the chimneys of the residence blown off.
A section of Samuel Jeffries’ roof was lifted and fell back again a little out of place. The lot is thickly strewn with weighty debris from Mr. Gorsuch’s roof, over 1,000 feet away.
Charles Wade’s house adjoins. The outer wall of his kitchen was punctured by a heavy pine 5 by 8-inch beam, 12 feet long, from Mr. Gorsuch’s stable. Half the beam went through the wall, down through the floor into the kitchen and fell within a foot of the baby. Some of the splinters were afterwards found in its hair. The other half broke off and fell outside.
The slate roof of Mrs. Henrietta Steyer’s residence was badly damaged.
The glass fronts of the American Tea Store, L. F. Sadler’s confectionary and Henry N. Schneider’s shoe store were blown in and goods damaged by rain.
The roof of Albert Holle’s brick residence and store was blown off, exposing the second story to the rain which fell quire heavily for 20 minutes after the crash passed.
John Price’s property, just across the alley, was injured by Mr. Holle’s roof and other flying timbers.
The west windows of the Presbyterian church were badly broken, most likely by flying wreckage. The side and walls on the storm side are badly bulged inward at the top, the former about four inches. Inside the fresco is cracked all the way round the juncture of walls and ceiling.
Mr. and Mrs. Clayton Purnell were in Mr. P.’s office. A piece of scantling shot through the window and a loose curtain and struck the opposite wall within a few inches of Mrs. Purnell. It was a narrow escape.
The whirlwind skipped across lots and, striking, first, Mrs. Joseph Keller’s house, denuded that structure of part of its roof.
Next it tackled the rear warehouse porch or Marx Wineland’s “Iron Front,” occupied by D. F. McMullen & CO., and wrought a few freaks. It lifted two heavy 2-inch boards from under a pile of empty boxes; got one half-way up and landed the other on the roof of the warehouse. Meanwhile it had unroofed a portion of the warehouse, broken down a part of the eastern wall, got inside the room and carried out through the aperture a sack of leathers and deposited that also on the roof.
The wind then took hold of Hitchins Bros.’ building. Several gentlemen in the private office of the senior of the firm, Owen Hitchins, were notified to get out by the infall of a window sash. Out of the office into the rear part of the store they skipped only to be driven farther by the torrents of rain which poured through. The wind had “ripped” the roof “up the back” at least 30 feet and lopped it over the higher top of the Wineland building. Aside from this damage the Hitchins Bros. company sustained considerable loss from injury to goods by water. An examination of that portion of the roof which escaped disclosed a curious perforation by a piece of water pipe with a fragment of wood attached. Both pipe and wood penetrated and buried themselves in the metal. J. H. Hitchins, resident agent of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania railroad company, was standing in the store almost under the skylight. A crash of glass, and before he could look up a long, heavy joist from somewhere shot down to the floor within a few inches of him. Another very narrow escape.
The entire momentum of the storm appeared to pour through the alley between Hitchins Bros. and Wittig’s stores, the latter in William Thomas’ business building. As before stated, the roof and upper story disappeared instantly. The JOURNAL thought the roof had suddenly dropped in, but it took flight. Loss to goods here considerable. Mr. Wittig has moved what is left to Moat’s Opera House and opened up there.
Next down below Wittig, in same building, are Marx & Feldstein, clothiers, who suffered little.
A family named Warnick, living above Marx & Feldstein, were uncovered, but soon moved out.
A room in the rear part of William Thomas’ residence was opened to outdoors by the roof going off and a wall going in.
Then with slight damage to intervening roofs the whirlwind dipped and too off the roof of B. Stern’s building and blew out the front of the second story. The whole up-stairs was turned out-of-doors, and downstairs a deluge poured, destroying many costly goods. In the store the goods whirled around and around the room, blew out the front and went sailing away. Some of the furs displayed in the front windows were found in trees over a mile off. Up-stairs the marble slab of a table was blown away while a lamp that was sitting on it was left. Both his store and housekeeping were broken up. Mr. Stern lost about $80.00 from his money drawer.
Stern’s next building, occupied by M. Rodda & Co., was but slightly damaged.
The Catholic church property sustained some damage, mostly from flying timbers. The cornice and cross on the new parochial school building show indentations, and marks upon and around the Sisters’ dwelling exhibit similar memorials. The tall tower and culminating spire of the church stood in the edge of the whirl and, though damaged, they are believed to be in a safe condition by those who have examined the structure. Fractures of the spire slating were made by flying timers, 120 feet from the ground.
A tree in front of the parochial school building had about 20 feet of water spouting woven into its branches.
Main street thence down to H.B. Shaffer’s store was a scene to be remembered. Great rolls of tin roof, bricks, joints, rafter, glass and fragments of various articles littered the streets and pavements. The number of chimneys blown off and windows blown in are almost “too numerous to mention.”
A large telegraph pole was broken off at the ground nearly in front of the Sisters’ residence.
The large window front of J. B. Williams’ marble works was broken in. Out in the yard some heavy finished marble and granite work was tossed around and broken. Monuments were overturned and heavy dies picked up and set elsewhere. A piece of joist 5 feet long shot into the shop where the cutters were at work, and that started them to look for holes in the ground, thinking that all the other flying joists might be looking for them. A piece of roof slate struck the window-sill and buried itself nearly two inches deep in the wood.
The roofs in this vicinity show numerous punctures.
The roof of the McMillan building was dislodged and part of the back wall broken in. John Chambers’ and Archie McMillan’s families were thus uncovered, the latter particularly. Chambers’ store below was damaged by water, and the glass front broken. The glass front of McAllister’s saloon in same building, was also broken.
The upper Jandorf building, occupied by John Chambers’ confectionary and restaurant, and William Lewis’ grocery, was but slightly injured. Mrs. Lewis lost $75.00 in money she was counting at the time. It blew away.
The walls of the lower building — Joseph Bear’s clothing emporium, were slightly bulged outward.
Across the street the building occupied by Peter Lammert’s grocery and William Engle’s meat market was damaged considerably in the window and chimney line.
The roof and upper story of the frame structure occupied by Milton Lindauer as a shoe store were carried away. Charles Ehms, who lived in the upper story, went home to find himself practically homeless.
Mrs. J. P. Moody’s stable was destroyed.
Down to C. F. Nickel’s on same side John Geis saloon incurred greatest loss — the smash in of his window front.
The stores of Edward Donohue, printing office of J. M. Zimmerly, stores of W. B. Spill, Mrs. Mary Croft and Marx Wineland suffered more or less from broken windows.
A window-sash blew in at Mrs. Mary Croft’s and a hurricane went through the house, taking pictures off the walls, moving furniture and carrying millinery out the front window. Two bolts of ribbon were unrolled and rerolled upon the Main street electric wires.
C. F. Nickel is one of the most unfortunate losers by the cyclone. The wind caught his metal roof, rolled it up in scrolls and carried it off, while the brick walls of the third story of his building crumbled and fell. The rain damaged his goods considerably and put him to immense inconvenience and discomfort in a domestic way.
A number of lodges met in the third story of Nickel’s building, all having more or less of paraphernalia. The “Daughters of Rebecca,” the feminine annex to Odd Fellowship, had just equipped themselves with a handsome new regalia. All went glimmering.
The National hotel, James Aspinall, proprietor, was slightly damaged, and the stable looks like the angel of desolation had given it a special whack.
The front window of H. B. Colborn’s merchant tailoring establishment was broken.
Landlord Lynch, of the St. Cloud hotel, suffered loss to stable, outhouses and fences.
The metal roof of H. B. Shaffer’s business building was lifted off and a portion soared 80 feet high and demolished the gable of Ravenscraft’s Opera House. Luckily the floor of the upper story is very heavy, otherwise the rain would have damaged his stock.
Besides the damage to gable a portion of the roof of the Opera House, many windows and ceiling of the upper story were badly injured. The Women’s Relief Corps, running a fair in the uppermost hall, sustained some loss in the breakage of articles. The roof of the gable, loosened by the section from Mr. Shaffer’s store, went over the Opera House and shot down through the roof Gehauf & Mayer’s shed, opening up several square yards of skylight in that structure.
Mrs. J. M. Porter sustained considerable loss in damage to locust shade trees in her yard. The cyclone uprooted some and twisted others off at various heights. A stump 25 feet high was prettily curtained by a long section of Mr. Shaffer’s roof, and fragments of water-spout festoons hung here and there. To the JOURNAL’s eye the view of this yard is the most picturesque freak of the storm.
W. H. Koch’s fencing and stable were damaged.
A portion of the roof of the English Baptist church was carried away.
The Electric Light company lost their tall smoke-stack.
A front window of Edward Prices store was broken in.
Patrick Cronin’s residence on McCulloh’s hill had a fissure opened in one end. A window curtain blew in, the fissure closed when the storm had passed, fastening a portion of the curtain inside and a part outside.
On the way down to the Cumberland and Pennsylvania railroad station the view across the tunnel and ravine is suggestive of the ruin of the storm. The ground is sprinkled with broken timbers and rubbish, reaching through the Consolidation company’s land as far as new Hope. Wrecked stables and other outhouses exhibit how furious was the stroke which fell upon them.
The Consolidation coal company’s office was bulged out of place.
Near by a freight car, partly laden with flour, was overturned.
The new station was put to a severe test. Those inside regard its survival of the strain which wrenched, rocked and nearly tore it from the foundation as a testimonial to the builder of the strongest character. The slate roof was badly injured. Daniel Scalley, freightman, was caught in the whirl and, much to his alarm, his burly form was landed on the platform instead of accompanying certain huge timbers, which, wingless like himself, flew across the hills toward Wills Creek.
The building next below — a one story frame, dedicated to the use of resting repair-workers and trainmen, was completely demolished. Isaac Snoemaker and James Kerrigan were in at the time. That both escaped death is one of the gratifying miracles of the calamity.
Beall, Baush & Co.’s two-horse team was standing at the freight platform. The horses taking freight, David Winebrenner, driver, jumped from the platform into the wagon. The horses had gotten a start, however, and, making toward Paul & Son’s machine works ran over the embankment. The wagon upset with Winebrenner, taking the horses with it. When the lull came Winebrenner found himself under one of the horses. With some assistance he was extricated. On getting back to the store, T. G. Porter, manager, sent Winebrenner home. He was painfully strained and bruised.
Before reaching T. H. Paul’s residence the cyclone seemed to divide half going south-east of the building, wrenching off trees in its track. The other blew down the yard trees, and wrecked the moulding department of the iron works and played smash generally. A part of the roof over machinery division was taken off and the building sufficiently affected to throw important mechanical parts out of level and plumb. The damage here is great.
The number of giant trees uprooted or torn off at various heights is large.
The storm seems to have lifted after destroying the iron works stable and gone on without inflicting further damage in this vicinity.
An unfinished house in Beall’s addition, belonging to James Fuller, was switched by a segment of the cyclone, moved several inches off its foundation and knocked out of plumb. This seemed to be the only disaster reported in town outside the general track of the storm.
While its general course was a little south of west to a little north of east, it’s route was slightly zigzag. The lower tip of the narrow funnel dipped from 30 to 20 feet above the surface, or to a height which took the second stories. It traveled with immense velocity, all the damage at a given point being inflicted in a few seconds.
An eye-witness of its approach states that “there seemed to be two whirlwinds, each trying to outrun the other, and that their coming was preceded by a noise and rush similar to that of a swiftly flying railway train.”
It is notable that the cyclone traveled right through the burned district of 1874.
Up town, no farther than two squares away the people knew nothing of the havoc that had been wrought until those in the storm centre got out to tell the tale. The heavy rain had driven everybody indoors, so that there was no moving on the streets. Hence, there were few who saw the frightful whirlwind coming.
Considerable excitement ruled at the schools. At the Catholic parochial a panic was kept down with difficulty by the firm discipline of the Sisters. At the public school principal A. A. Daub and his assistants were cool and heroic. The storm centre passed within 300 feet of the massive edifice, and while it shivered, groaned and creaked under the pressure — while broken glass fell in on the little ones the teachers, as though by preconcert, held their numerous charges safely in hand.
One of the terrors which afflicted those in the storm was the after thought — what of those at home? What of the home itself? Are we, like Hager, houseless?
Another addition to the horrors of the situation was lent by the startling cry of “fire!” aroused by the smoke from a choked flue in one of the stricken buildings on Main street.
This brought out the fire laddies, but there was no real need for their aid. They kept their machinery on the street all day, however, so as to be ready for emergencies. They also rendered important service in pulling down dangerous walls.
Editor J. W. Avirett, of the Cumberland Times, deserves immense credit for his enterprise in getting out an extra Monday afternoon. Eleven miles away, you know, and wires down.
It is astonishing with what cheerfulness the losers accepted the situation. With several exceptions there was no complaint. Moreover, nearly all began at once the work of repair. In some cases less than an hour intervened before workmen were engaged to rebuild. If the weather continues favorable their [sic] will be nothing to do next spring. At this writing the progress made is very satisfactory.
The following table embraces, it is believed, the most reliable estimates of the loss sustained in town. In a few cases figures are too large, but these are balance by others rated too low. The estimates are those of the losers themselves, except where the parties could not be seen. In these cases the figures were given by conservation men:
§ L. M. Gorsuch $1,000.00
§ H. W. Wagner $500.00
§ F. W. Larbe $300.00
§ St. John’s P.E. Church $25.00
§ William McLuckie, sr $1,000.00
§ John Davis $300.00
§ William Thomas $2,500.00
§ W. E. Hartman $200.00
§ Mrs. Mary Johnson $200.00
§ Mrs. Nellie Scott $100.00
§ Heirs of Samuel Smith $100.00
§ Mrs. Sarah Colmes $50.00
§ Miss Sarah Wright $50.00
§ Joseph Knode $100.00
§ Samuel Jeffries $200.00
§ Otto Hohing $50.00
§ Charles Wade $100.00
§ Mrs. Henrietta Steyer $100.00
§ Presbyterian church $300.00
§ American Tea company $50.00
§ R. M. Wilderman $25.00
§ L. F. Sadler $5.00
§ Albert Holle $500.00
§ John Price $200.00
§ George Webner $50.00
§ C.O. Towles $60.00
§ Marx Wineland $500.00
§ Hitchins Bros. $1,500.00
§ The Hitchins Bros. Co. $1,000.00
§ George W. Wittig $800.00
§ St. Michael’s church $1,000.00
§ John Stack & Sons $250.00
§ Marx & Feldstein $50.00
§ B. Stern $7,500.00
§ M. Rodda & Co. $15.00
§ Mrs. William B. McMillan $700.00
§ John Chambers $250.00
§ Mrs. Fanny Jandorf $50.00
§ J. B. Williams $350.00
§ Peter Lammert $50.00
§ William Engle $50.00
§ Christian Fisher $800.00
§ Mrs. J. P. Moody $100.00
§ John Geis $200.00
§ John Wambach $100.00
§ Mrs. Joseph Keller $100.00
§ W. B. Spill $100.00
§ J. M. Zimmerly $30.00
§ Mrs. Mary Croft $300.00
§ C. F. Nickel $4,500.00
§ “Daughters of Rebecca” $50.00
§ James Aspinall $250.00
§ Mrs. Eliza Gross $200.00
§ C. Lynch $500.00
§ H. B. Shaffer $800.00
§ John Ravenscraft $600.00
§ Women’s Relief Corps $100.00
§ Gehauf & Mayer $25.00
§ John E. Price $5.00
§ Mrs. J. M. Porter $60.00
§ W. H. Koch $50.00
§ English Baptist church $75.00
§ Electric Light company $200.00
§ Edward Price $50.00
§ Patrick Cronin $50.00
§ Harry Robinson $300.00
§ James Fuller $500.00
§ Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad company $250.00
§ Consolidation Coal company $ 100.00
§ T.H. Paul & Son $3,000.00
§ TOTAL $35,525.00
The damages, occasioned by interruptions of business were not, of course, contemplated in making up the estimates
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Unfortunately, some of the original photos of the damage are badly faded and stained.
Photos courtesy of Bob Lemmert.
The Thomas House – Water St.
McLuckie Building – Water St.
Hotte Building – Broadway
The Journal article notes the location of Gorsuch’s Stable was at the south end of Water St.
From the vicinity of the current Mountain Cafe
The Nickels building was approximately four buildings west of Depot St. on the north side of the street.
Ravencraft’s Opera House was on the northeast corner of Main (Union) and Depot Sts.
Shaffer Bldg. East of Depot St. on the south side of Main (Union) street.
Stern’s Store – Main St.
Frostburg Mining JOURNAL, 28 November 1891
(Courtesy of Marion Chappell)