The St. Louis Cyclone of  1896

Damage at intersection of Jefferson and Lafayette Avenues after the 1896 Cyclone (Tornado).  Photo courtesy of Terry Harmon. 

     At 4:30 PM, May 27, 1896, "the temperature fell rapidly and huge banks of black and greenish clouds were seen approaching the city...All the time the wind kept rising and in the far distance vivid forks of lightning could be seen. Gradually the thunder storm came nearer the city and the western portion was soon in the midst of a terrible storm. The wind's velocity was about thirty-seven miles an hour. This speedily increased to sixty , seventy and even eighty miles, by the time the storm was at its height. For thirteen minutes this frightful speed was maintained and the rain fell in ceaseless torrents, far into the sad and never-to-be-forgotten night."

     The tornado first hit the ground along a ridge in the southwest portion of the city, near the St. Louis State Hospital ("City Hospital"). It next went along Jefferson avenue, through Lafayette Park to Seventh and Rutger streets. Then it moved on towards Soulard and the levee before crossing the river on towards East St. Louis in Illinois. In its wake, the storm left atleast 138 dead in St. Louis, another 118 in East St. Louis. Approximately 85 persons were missing in St. Louis and over one hundred more missing on the east-side. Many of those listed as missing were certainly killed  and their bodies either carried away by the wind or by the river, with little hope that the bodies will be recovered. Over a thousand residents were physically injured. The "Cyclone of 1896" has been described as the single most deadly event that hit the St. Louis area in recorded history. In little over fifteen minutes the storm fully completed its course of death and destruction.

May 29, 1896 headlines from the Louisville Currier Journal.
Courtesy of Alice Lee.
     Over 8,800 buildings were destroyed or damaged. Homes, churches, trees, fences and park facilities were uprooted or destroyed.  Elsewhere in the city, Eads Bridge lost  300 feet of its eastern approach, the City Hospital was badly damaged, gas lines cut, electric service knocked out,  trees uprooted, power plants ruined, street cars overturned, steamboats along the levee sunk. It was even reported that RR cars were blown from their tracks over on the East side. The sounds of roofs crashing to the ground was described as an "explosion of a hundred cannons". Property  carried away by the tornado have been found as far away as Vandalia, Illinois. An estimated cost of over 10 million dollars (as quoted by historian, James Neal Primm in his history of St. Louis, "Lion of the Valley").
For a listing of known dead from St. Louis:  Known dead of St. Louis of the 1896 Cyclone

Ruins half as high as the house, St. Louis, Mo.,
Photo published by B.L. Singley of the Keystone View Co.
  Photo courtesy of Patty Frazer.

The St. Louis Cyclone (1896)
Grand Descriptive Song and Chorus

Today, the song, "The St. Louis Cyclone" is a memorial to those that lost their lives during this tragedy. In 1896, it was heard as a rallying cry for relief efforts in other cities to help those thousands of St. Louisans left homeless.

To reload this page with background music from the 1896 song, "The St. Louis Cyclone", click select "Auto-Play" or "Download MIDI File"

Words by Ren. Shields, 1868-1913
Music by George Evans, 1870-1915
Arranged by Max Hoffmann
 Midi File courtesy of Benjamin Tubb

In the city of St. Louis on a busy afternoon,
Just before the ev'ning shades began to fall,
The streets were filled with people who were home from toil,
No danger seemed to threaten them at all;
Each one was smiling gay as they strolled along the way,
The world to them had never looked so bright,
When a cyclone with a roar down the streets and byways tore,
Leaving sorrow and destruction there that night.

Many hearts are aching,
Many homes forsaken,
Many lov'd ones gone forevermore;
Wives and mothers weeping,
At the harvest death is reaping,
As it travels on its way from door to door.

In a cheery little cottage on the outskirts of the town,
There a dear old gray-haired mother sat alone,
She had the supper ready and was waiting for her boy,
She knew the he would soon be coming home;
The weary hours rolled by, but alas! he never came,
Her lonely watch she kept till morning light;
She'll ne'er see him again, for the boy she watched in vain,
Like other mothers on that fatal night.

Many hearts are aching,
Many homes forsaken,
Many lov'd ones gone forevermore;
Wives and mothers weeping,
At the harvest death is reaping,
As it travels on its way from door to door.

When the wires flashed the tidings of the city's awful plight,
Every honest heart was touched with sympathy;
We'll all join in like brothers and will let St. Louis know
That we'll lend a helping hand from sea to sea;
We'll help with all our might to make her burden light,
And she'll find that we are with her to the end,
When her trials are all o'er and she's on her feet once more,
She will find out that *Chicago was her friend.

Many hearts are aching,
Many homes forsaken,
Many lov'd ones gone forevermore;
Wives and mothers weeping,
At the harvest death is reaping,
As it travels on its way from door to door.

-----*Any city.


Saloon and Tenement buildings on 17th Street, St. Louis, Mo.
Seventeen killed here. May 27th, 1896.
Photo courtesy of Patty Frazer.

"Taken near the house of John Conlan and Mary Hatch Conlan on
Hickory Street  in Lafayette Park". Photo courtesy of  Mary Sandler

Other Photos of Destruction


     The below photos are from the book, "The Great Cyclone at St. Louis and East St. Louis, May 27, 1896", edited by Julian Curzon, Cyclone Publishing Co., St. Louis, Mo. 1896. Recently republished by Southern Illinois University. This book gives excellent accounts not mentioned in the above article as well as a listing of those people killed or lost in both St. Louis and East St. Louis.

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