Michael Bushnell
Contributing Historian

109 years ago today — July 10, 1915 — the skies over the tiny hamlet of Atlanta, Mo., turned black, the air grew still and oppressively humid following what many thought was a routine summer thunderstorm. Then, to the south and west of Atlanta, a funnel cloud fell from the sky and wrought an almost 20-mile path of destruction through the farmland of Northeast Missouri.

This real-photo postcard shows that cyclone as it dropped from the sky near Barnesville and churned up earth and debris on that fateful Saturday. According to newspaper accounts in the Atlanta Express and the Macon Daily Chronicle, this storm was responsible for the destruction of dozens of barns and farmhouses, one prize mare and the death of over 200 chickens on the farm of William Roan.

The Atlanta newspaper account gives a detailed, farm-by-farm description of the storm’s path and its damage wrought to each farm. Included in the account is a tale of two young children who were playing in a smokehouse, plucked up by the cyclone and carried over 100 yards before being dropped into a ravine. Astonishingly, neither were seriously injured.

In another farm-by-farm account — noted in the LaPlata Republicans July 16 edition — three cyclones were present in different areas of Macon County at the same time, wreaking havoc at every turn. Farmer Ula Ketcham lost a prize mare to this storm, as it carried said horse over 100 feet in the air. Ketcham also reported losing a “big sow” as it was“carried over a quarter of a mile and was killed by being disemboweled.” 

This postcard was mailed in Kirksville, Mo., to Miss Verna and Virgil Boyer of Grainger, Mo.,  July 30, 1915. The personal message on the back of this card reads: “Dear kids, Herewith photo of Cyclone which passed near Atlanta, MO last week. When you see a cloud like this, hike it to the caves. Best regards to all, Lee.”

The photo in this postcard was taken by the Wabash Railroad Agent at the Atlanta Depot. It was furnished to the LaPlata Home Press by Mrs. E. Hannah — wife of that agent. A page three article in the July 16 Macon Republican, gives a minute-by-minute account of the photo process undertaken by Mrs. Hannah  of  two quality images of the funnel cloud.