WHAT THE GOVERNOR SAW
When the belated news of the disaster at Omaha reached the executive mansion of Governor J. H. Morehead at Lincoln late in the evening, a special train was immediately chartered and rushed across the prairies to the stricken city, accompanied by Adjutant General Phil Hall of the Nebraska National Guard, Representative E. D. Mallory, and Nels Updike of Omaha, with others who went at the urgent request of Mayor James C. Dahlman, who was among the first to realize the extent of the damage done in the city.
Accompanied by Mayor Dahlman, H. W. Dunn, chief of police, and a score of newspaper representatives, the governor’s party left the Paxton Hotel in autos shortly after 5 o’clock Monday morning.
Just as day was breaking the party reached Forty-second and Leavenworth streets. South of this place the storm started on its trip of death and destruction across the town. From this point the party traversed the entire wasted district.
"It’s awful; awful!" Governor Morehead remarked before the trip was thirty minutes old.
Leaving his motor car the governor walked down through the streets, choked with debris, and in dozens of places went into the wrecked homes and personally consoled the bereaved and distracted men and women. Governor Morehead’s presence seemed to bring a feeling of relief. The afflicted citizens realized that the state’s executive was there to aid them in every way possible.
Down toward Fortieth and Farnam the party proceeded. Here was a scene of chaos. Again the governor got out of his car and personally inspected the ruins.
In this fashionable residence section of the city, where many of the town’s richest men and women live, there was scarcely a home left intact. Business blocks were razed as if with an explosive. Great ten and twelve-room houses were askew on their foundations and others had been swept clear of their fastenings.
Down Fortieth street the motor cars proceeded, oftentimes being unable to progress till the roadway had been freed of debris. Homes where men and women had been rescued by policemen and firemen were pointed out, and Governor Morehead stopped more than once to personally commend some of the officers and fire fighters who had been constantly on duty through the night.
Up toward the Joslyn "castle" the party made its way. Here still was desolation and waste. This beautiful and pretentious Joslyn estate was greatly damaged. The roof of the big stone house had been twisted off in places, windows were broken out, parts of the walls were torn away and the place presented a general appearance of ruin.
Over toward the Bemis park district the party made its way. This beautiful section of Omaha had been completely ruined. The pretty homes that adorned the graceful winding driveways were beyond redemption. The trees had been broken off short at the base, and many of them were even uprooted. One great home had been turned turtle onto the roof of the house adjoining it on the east.
The Convent of the Sacred Heart, not so very far from the Bemis park district, was badly damaged by the tornado. One entire section of the big building had been razed, and it was possible to see through the interior of the building from the street.
Governor Morehead was keenly interested in everything he saw.
"It’s miraculous how so many, many men and women escaped with their lives," said he. "I cannot conceive how a storm so disastrous permitted a single person to live. It doesn’t apear possible to me that anyone went through this awful thing and lived."
The party then went down through the Twenty-fourth street district. Here, if possible, the destruction was found to be greater than in the territory further south and west. In this congested district, where hundreds of the poorer families lived, in buildings closely adjoining each other, everything within view of the eye was in waste.
The automobiles were brought to a stop at Thirty-first and Hamilton streets. On the corner there A. E. Nelson conducted a little grocery store. All that was left to mark the site of the place was a great heap of bricks and broken timber. The bodies of two horses owned by Nelson could be seen in the ruins.
It was here that C. P. Weisen met his death. Nelson was within a few inches of Weisen’s body when it was extricated. Nelson’s head was severely cut and bruised. His father, Charles Nelson, received critical injuries in the wreck.
When the machines had progressed as far as it was possible north on Twenty-fourth street they were abandoned and the party made their way toward Lake street on foot. Climbing over telephone and telegraph poles, Governor Morehead led the sight-seers.
At Twenty-fourth and Grant streets the site of the Idlewild, a negro pool hall, was shown to the governor. Here, he was told, Willis C. Crosby, county coroner, rescued three negroes, but was driven back by fire and had to watch a fourth while he was slowly incinerated. In the ruins of this building twenty other bodies were found.
On the corner of Twenty-fourth and Lake streets, where there had been a two-story frame building—a saloon on the ground floor and living apartments overhead—there was but the ramshackle ruins of something that resembled a tumbledown squatter’s shanty. Two men, who had lived there, were trying to locate some wearing apparel in the debris.
Farther out on Twenty-fourth street the same scenes caught the eye. Now and then the stern command of a soldier could be heard, and some person who had no business within the stricken field could be seen slinking away.
At Twentieth and Ohio streets, where Clifford Daniels, a letter carrier, his wife and two small children met death, Governor Morehead stood for a long time and gazed at the ruins.
"I presume they did what they could to save their lives, but fate was against them," he said.
When someone told him that an 18-year-old boy of the family escaped because he was not at home, the governor shook his head slowly, and said:
"I would not be surprised if he was to lose his reason."
On and on through the tornado’s path the governor and his party went. Everywhere, just as far as could be seen in any direction, there was devastation. Finally Governor Morehead said:
"I can’t stand any more; let’s go back to the hotel. I have seen more destruction this morning than I believed possible. Omaha has received a terrific blow, but I am sure the citizens of this city will see to it that the wasted territory is immediately rebuilt.
"The loss of life is to be regretted, certainly, but everyone should be thankful that it is no greater. Had this storm swept across here at midnight, when everyone would have been sleeping, the death list would have been appalling. I am very grateful that no more lives were lost."
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman