Remembering a 1902 storm that killed Brandon teacher, pupil
The tornado struck at approximately 1 p.m. on May 20, 1902.
BRANDON — Tornadoes are a yearly occurrence in Douglas County, and sometimes the havoc they wreak can be fatal.
One such tornado happened 120 years ago in May 1902, when a Brandon schoolteacher and one of her pupils were killed by a storm that leveled the schoolhouse and several other buildings.
The tornado struck at approximately 1 p.m. on May 20, 1902, the first damage taking place in Moe Township.
As reported by the Alexandria Citizen, the house of Carl Botner was "lifted from its foundation and crushed like an eggshell."
Botner's family was lucky. They took refuge in the cellar and only Mrs. Botner sustained slight injuries when she was hit with a section of wagon box which was blown into the cellar after the house was lifted.
The occupants of the District 82 schoolhouse were less fortunate, with the teacher, Ida Hanson, 25, and a pupil, Mary Thompson, 9, being killed in the storm.
According to the Citizen, school had just been called for the afternoon session and the children were gathered in the front part of the building when the storm struck.
"They were practicing their pieces for the last day of school, which would have been one week from tomorrow," it was reported. "There were 18 pupils in the building, and 17 of them escaped with slight injuries as if by a miracle."
Hanson had noticed the approach of the tornado and "had taken all available precautions," the Citizen reported.
According to the Brandon Echo, "No reliable version of the calamity can be gotten from the children as they were too much confused but it seems they made a break for the hallway at the approach of the storm notwithstanding the assurances of the teacher that they need not be alarmed."
The tornado "tore the building from its foundation and carried it high into the air, then, with an appalling velocity, the building was dashed to earth, and was torn, twisted and scattered," the Citizen reported.
Hanson was killed almost instantly and Thompson died of her injuries that night.
Somehow, they were the only two casualties of the storm.
"When the building struck the ground the front wall was blown out and several of the children were landed quite a distance from the site of the schoolhouse," the Citizen reported. "One little girl was carried over two barb wire fences into a wheat field. She received no great injury. A small boy was carried into a pond at the foot of the hill.
"It appeared to witnesses that the building had been turned over and over down the side of the hill from the southwest," the Citizen reported.
"Some of the children said it first felt like being rolled in a barrel and then they were 'blown all over the prairie,'" the Echo reported.
"The wreckage covers the ground for a distance of nearly 30 rods," the Citizen reported. "It is a mass of crushed and broken boards and twisted iron. Timbers were driven through the sides of the walls and in one place a scantling was driven almost two feet in the ground."
The Alexandria Post News reported that nearby farmers saw the disaster and "hurried to render help, while many hurried at once from Brandon. All the earnest men could do in the emergency was done."
Hanson was eulogized in the local papers as a teacher with "great promise and a splendid future."
"She was idolized by her pupils and was loved by a host of acquaintances," the Citizen reported. "She was possessed of a sunny disposition, a loving heart and a sympathetic nature. In her school work she was ambitious and hard working. Her tragic death deprives Douglas County of one of its best and ablest teachers."
"Superintendent Van Dyke pays an eloquent tribute to her worth and the loveliness of her character," the Post News reported. "He says she was especially capable. Her schools were always full of brightness, pictures were on the walls, flowers on the desk and sunshine everywhere."
A joint funeral for Hanson and Thompson was held on May 22, 1902, at the Lutheran church in Brandon.
"A large and sympathetic concourse of people assembled to pay their last respects to one so universally loved," the Citizen reported.
According to the Evansville Enterprise, "The floral offerings were of unusual beauty and were sent from numerous points by loving friends. It was a sad sight to witness the school children as each laid a flower on the bier — a last offering in memory of the happy days of work and play together."