Contributed by Carol Allsup
A Personal Account of the 1925 Tornado and it's Effect on the Theiss/Hartmann Family in Murphysboro.
A RECOLLECTION OF A MONUMENTAL DISASTER 67 YEARS LATER
Wilma Theiss Kimmel
In telling the story about the March 18, 1925 disaster, the most devastating tornado in American history, I plan to use facts as I remember them based on memories made 67 years ago. I have tried not to allow time to distort my memory as I reconstruct the events of that period in my life. The storm that slammed through the tri-state area, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, killing 689 persons did enough damage to put the fear of God in anyone's heart. I was 17 years old in February, a month before the disaster that would test the strength and courage of all of us for years to come. On that day I walked from school, Murphysboro Township High School, to my home at 609 North 16th Street for lunch with my family. My maternal grandfather, Franz (Frank) X. Hartmann, lived in the next block, north of us, at 1602 Gartside Street. Papa, (Johannes "John" Konrad Theiss IV) an engineer at Gartside Coal Company #4, where Grandpa was superintendent, was home for lunch. Mama (Clara Bell Hartmann Theiss) and my sister Berneice had recently started working at Brown's shoe factory at S. 19th Street. My brother Jack was a 6th grade pupil at Logan school, two blocks away on 15th Street, where we had attended school, including Mama in the 1890's. After we ate lunch, Papa showed us fruit he had bought that morning that was under a shade tree in the backyard. We were allowed a sampling before we went our separate ways leaving Papa to prepare the fruit for Mama to can, when she returned home. I have no doubt in my mind he was sitting under that tree when the storm clouds appeared two hours later. He never remembered.
My first class in the afternoon was Pedagogy I, taught by our principal M. N. Todd of Laurenceville, Illinois, who was to teach my Method Arithmetic I class at then S.I.N.U. at Carbondale, Illinois, the summer of 1925. He was the only person who expressed a suspicion of "wrong-doing" by the insurance companies (when I confided in him) who reneged on Papa's property policies because he could not prove the fire destroyed the property before the tornado did, or, that the tornado destroyed it before the fire. He "carried" both fire and tornado insurance. I have been disillusioned with insurance since. I have to wonder how many others were duped in the same manner.
After leaving the Pedagogy classroom, I made my way to the gymnasium in the southwest corner of the school building, in the direct path of the destruction already raging southwest of Murphysboro. I went directly to one of the dressing rooms built under the bleachers to change into the black bloomers, white middy blouse and tennis shoes required for Physical Education class. We were well into our exercises standing in a row before our teacher, Alice Frost, when she suddenly stopped, seemed to be listening and then screamed, "Run girls, run to the dressing rooms!" In seconds, we were huddled, two girls in each tiny room, listening to the roaring noise we could hear now, as though a thousand and one locomotives were bearing down upon us as the steel girders came crashing down. The walls collapsed in an unbelievable noise, the bleachers were smashed, but we were safe underneath them. The area under the eastside bleachers running the length of the gym accommodated the girls' dressing rooms and showers, in line with a narrow hall in front and between them, and the east wall of the building, which contained a low bank of windows at the dressing room level.
The girl with me I hardly knew, became hysterical with fear and tried to leave. We struggled but I was able to hold on to her, for which she sought me out later, to thank me. Otherwise, I doubt I would have remembered the incident, so much happened afterward. As soon as it grew quiet we ventured out of the tiny room and stepped in the hall which was littered with debris and shattered glass from the windows. Years later when I read the nursery tale about Chicken Little running and crying, "The sky is falling," to my small children, I'd remember the day I, too, thought the sky was falling. We stepped slowly around objects in our way, whispering in the dead silence, which was even more frightening than the noise had been. I never knew where, or when the girl was no longer with me. I kept going, stunned by what had happened. Hardly feeling at all when someone lying in the rubble grabbed at me as I passed saying, "help me" I looked at him as I jerked away, and continued down the main hall of the school. I have no clear recollection of anything more until I found myself at the Spruce Street entrance, outside. I was staring at what should have been a familiar scene. One I had seen for four years as I left the school building to go home. Now, the houses looked "tipsy", tilted on their foundations, with their roofs missing. Trees were uprooted, and the power lines down. I didn't cry. I didn't feel anything. I just wanted to go home. I did not know, then, I WAS NEVER TO GO HOME AGAIN.
In that huge, windowless, well-lit gymnasium, we were insulated from any sight or sound of approaching danger, but we had the advantages of an alert teacher and a safe place to hide. Neither of which would have been successful without the other. The rest of the student body who were able to see, hear, and watch the storm clouds grow ominous, apparently did not move from their seats or rooms. Frances Hammer, Bernard Shelley, and Bert Robinson, three students from our graduating class of 1925 were killed in the assembly hall, an immense room occupying the center of the building on the second floor. Ira Kimmel, also a senior (whom I was to marry five years later) survived in the same room. He told of the horror when the roof came down on them. The school had a fire alarm system, which enabled us on fire drill day to clear the building in minutes. The students that day did not have a warning or a place to hide from the tornado.
Miss Frost said later, that when she first heard the roaring sound it seemed muffled as from a distance. That's when she stopped our activities and listened. She could have waited to make sure it was what she thought it was, instead she acted immediately and gave the order to run, or I would not be telling about it. When I left the school I had seen no one. I thought I might be the only person left in the world. Now, I was hearing a voice speaking from a megaphone, or bull horn, say repeatedly, "Watch where you step, the power lines are live." I felt better to know there were people close by, although I did not see them. Carefully jumping over power lines and avoiding nails sticking out of boards, falling a few times, I made my way east, toward home.
In the next block when I was passing the Stevens house, which appeared to be unscathed, I heard someone call out to me from the porch. I looked up to see the Stevens family along with Mama and my sister standing there. They had come from the factory a few blocks away which was damaged, as well as the family car that was parked out front. Mama gave what was left of it to her nephew, Wilbert Green, who liked to tinker with cars. Mama was an asthmatic, a condition that was made worse by not knowing what had happened to Jack and Papa. It was decided I should go find out about them while my sister stayed with Mama.
As I started out I didn't know I had not seen devastation yet. There was little damage done to the residential area on Walnut Street where some of the finest houses were; from there to 17th Street, where the business district began, seemed untouched. I hurried past 17th Street, 16th Street. My goal was 15th Street where I turned north toward Logan School. I passed the Northern Methodist Church, as it was called then, undamaged, on my left at the corner of 15th and Pine Streets. Farther north I saw the Baptist Church, what was left of it, and knew Logan School was close by. I began to run when I saw the school a crumpled pile of bricks at the same time that I saw a small figure standing in the middle of what I thought was the street, waving and screaming.
Someone had put on him a long, oversize coat that hung a foot beyond his hands and fell to the ground. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, when I recognized Jack. I satisfied myself he was not injured, reassured him Mama and Berneice were all right at the Stevens house. He told me he crawled out of the 2nd story window when the walls collapsed in the schoolroom. The next thing he remembered someone was putting the coat on him and he was standing where I found him not knowing what to do, where to go, or what had happened. He was alone, a 12-year-old boy who would be 13 in May, standing alone, in the midst of destruction as far as he could see in any direction. There are not words to describe the feeling. Jack will be 80 years old May 28, 1992, a stroke victim living in a nursing home in Belleville, Illinois. On March 18, he calls every year. When I answer the phone he says, "Hullo! Do you know what day this is?" I tease, and answer "No, what day is it?" We laugh together, then we remember one more time, and we don't laugh.
We were all accounted for now but for Papa. The logical place to search for him was at home. That is where we last saw him just a few hours ago. We began walking north, from Logan School looking back at what remained of it to keep our "bearing." After we could no longer see it we did not know where we were until we noticed a large, uprooted fir tree we remembered passing many times on our way to school. Fir trees were not common where we lived. We were standing, then, in a neighbor's front yard on 15th Street. Our house should be a block west on the next street. We walked on never knowing when we reached 16th Street, as there was nothing resembling anything we had ever seen before.
We moved slowly, carefully picking our way through the rubble when we heard a sound in that vast silence. We stopped, stood still, looking at each other.
Then we heard it again. Just a short distance away we saw a figure lying there, scorched and blackened, moaning. We recognized Papa. Papa was 48 years old, 5' 9" tall, weighing about 145-150 pounds, a strong and healthy man, who had never been sick a day in his life. He was of German descent, born and raised in the Saxon Lutheran settlement of Wittenberg in southeast Missouri.
His second language was English, although he was fluent in both languages as was my maternal grandfather, Franz X. Hartmann. Jack and I knelt beside him crying, holding his head up, talking to him but getting no response, only an occasional moan that had first drawn our attention. He was deeply unconscious and badly injured. We could see that he had been in, or near, a fire. His hair was singed but his breathing seemed strong and regular. He had to have medical help but where, and how? We sat there beside him knowing we had to do something, and quickly. We talked in hushed tones not knowing until later, that our next door neighbor was dead, close by, buried under the remains of her home as Papa would surely have been by morning if we had not heard him moaning, or had not, even been there to hear it. We were aware Papa's life depended on us as we hurriedly discussed every possibility. 1. Leaving him and going for help. 2. Leaving Jack with him while I went for help. 2. Leaving me with him while Jack went for help. We ruled out these options because we could not be certain either of us could find him again. We'd be wasting time and it was getting late.
I had noticed a train stalled on a track a short distance from where we stood, that would be 17th Street. If we could get there we could "cut across" the railroad tracks and be within 2 blocks of the Stevens house. We started searching the area for something we could use to make a stretcher. I was hoping to find a wagon when Jack spied a bicycle that he pulled out from under some boards. It seemed to be in good shape. How could we use it? We were to lift Papa and lean him against me. I would hold him while Jack steadied the bicycle as I backed him onto the seat by putting my arms around him and griping the seat behind him. When we were ready I walked side ways as Jack struggled to keep the bicycle upright and moving. By the time we reached the train we were exhausted. We gently let the bicycle down, with Papa, to the ground. As we caught our breath we could see for the first time how far away the end of the train was. It would double our distance to go around the train.
We decided to crawl under it. Jack went first, crawling on his belly. When he was on the other side, I pushed the bicycle under as far as I could, Jack reached for it from the other side and pulled it through. Then I pushed Papa under as far as I could, left him, and crawled to the other side. Then, we both reached under the train and pulled Papa through.
Using the same procedure getting him on the bicycle again, we moved slowly across the tracks and in time, were on a sidewalk two blocks from the Stevens house. When we were seen coming, people ran out to meet us. The men carried Papa into the house and put him on a bed in one of the downstairs bedrooms.
Stinson, the older Stevens boy took charge. He said to me, "How bad is he?" I didn't knowhe was still unconscious and his leg was bleeding. We used scissors to cut away his clothing and saw a thick piece of wood that had stabbed into the outer right thigh, midway between his knee and groin, going through his clothes and into the flesh as if it were a knife blade. With the wood still in the wound, blood was flowing. We knew we could not leave that piece of wood in him, infection would set in. There was no way we could get a doctor.
Stinson left the room and came back with sheets that we tore into strips, and a bottle of whiskey, a pan of water, soap and towels. He said, "Give him sips of whiskey, a little at a time." I did, barely wetting his lips with it. After a while Stinson said, "I think that's enough to kill the pain. Now we have to take out the piece of wood." There was enough of it proturding to grasp with our fingers to pull it out. Papa didn't seem to feel the rough operation that terrified me even more. The blood flowed but did not gush, or spurt, which we took to mean there was no artery severed. Stinson poured the rest of the whiskey into the wound. We washed our hands and bandaged his leg tightly with the sheet strips hoping to stop the bleeding. After putting a folded blanket under him, elevating his leg, we covered him with another blanket and left him alone, shut the door, and joined the others on the porch.
Our concern for Papa was being overshadowed by a closer and more immediate threat as we watched the fires springing up all around. One house seemed to catch fire from another; there was nothing to stop the domino effect. By nightfall we were to see the whole town afire. There was a "grapevine communication," with information being passed along by word-of-mouth. A man driving a lightweight truck was helping to clear the street. He stopped, and from him we learned that Mama's sister Libby's house (Libby Helen Hartmann Bowerman) on the north edge of town had not been damaged. All the Hartmann's (Mama's family) were there, unhurt. Another of her sisters, Marie Hartmann Wheatley, whose home had been completely demolished, was giving birth to her 3rd child, Rosemary. Mama asked the man to take us out there. He said he could try but the streets were blocked in many places. After it was decided, a bed was made for Papa in the truck "bed" and a place for Mama. The rest of us walked beside the truck moving the obstructions as we came to them. As we neared my Aunt Libby's house, there was less and less damage. They carried Papa into one of the three bedrooms after we got there. The house was filled with family, friends, and strangers. Some were injured; one woman had a nail in her foot; a small child had a severe head injury. Night had come when we noticed an ambulance pull up into the backyard and several white-coated doctors got out and came into the kitchen. We learned later they were from St. Louis. After examining Papa they immediately took him in the ambulance to a temporary hospital in the Masonic Temple building. Two doctors stayed to perform surgery on the little girl with the head injury. The table in the kitchen was quickly cleared and the little girl put on it. I was standing nearby. The doctors asked me to hold the lamp. I watched as they shaved her head. She had blond curly hair. When that was done they got ready for surgery and told me exactly how to hold the lamp over her head so they could see.
Then, one of them took a scalpel and made an incision in her scalp. That's when I began to weave a little and without looking up, he said, "hold that lamp steady!" Years later, I was to learn the little girl's name (Wagner) and that she made a complete recovery. We stood on the back porch that night watching the town burn. My thoughts were what might have been, if Miss Frost had not heard that tornadic roar in time, if we had not found Papa, or if Jack had not climbed out the window. It had been a day beyond belief! I dreaded what tomorrow might bring as I lay down on the floor alongside other victims of the storm crowding Aunt Libby's house.
Early the next morning, my cousin Jessygrace Prosser, (married name Piper) and I walked to town. I was anxious to see Papa. We found him on the 2nd floor of the building where injured people lay in rows on army cots. He didn't respond when I spoke to him. He was still black so when a nurse passed by I said to her, "He hasn't had his face washed." She gave me a hard stare and said, "If you want his face washed, wash it!" That's how we found ourselves down in the basement kitchen. I was in search of a pan, water and soap. I washed his face and hands then returned the items I had used to the kitchen. We were asked to stay and help out. We did, and in the afternoon I went upstairs again to check on Papa. He was gone. I thought he had died until someone told me he had been moved to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. We were not to see him again for almost three months. Our only contact would be through the American Red Cross whose office was next to the Hippodrome Theater on 13th Street, a place I was to know well, in the months to come.
After the injured and displaced persons had found places to go, there were 15 of us left at Aunt Libby's house. Grandpa Hartmann, with the help of his sons- in-law, was fast getting his house on Gartside Street put together again. The front part that had blown off, he simply left off, making the front bedroom considerably smaller than it had been before. The wrap-around porch must have been a favorite feature, because it was replaced. It still looks today as it did then. Mama's twin sister Cora, with her daughter Jessygrace, moved into a sleeping room in a house on North at 9th Streets which helped relieve the crowded situation.
Until school started, I spent my time helping at the Masonic Temple turned hospital. Many builders, contractors, and carpenters from other towns came to get work and help rebuild the town. Mama's friend, whose house was destroyed, built a wood structure across the entire width of her lot, dividing it into two parts. One side was a man's dormitory, the other half was a huge kitchen, and across the front was a screened dining area. It could accommodate 12-14 men who needed temporary quarters. Most of them were out-of-town construction workers. Mama was hired to do the cooking for breakfast and dinner. I had gone back to school, which had undergone reconstruction. Jack was going to school in a temporary building. Logan School was to be rebuilt. My sister was working at an electric company off Walnut Street. Then, good news! Mama was able to rent two rooms upstairs, in the same house where her sister had a room. We had nothing with which to furnish them. That is when we made our first visit to the Red Cross office to register for help. Mama was reluctant and "stiff- backed" with embarrassment as she accepted the "orders" that allowed us each an army cot and blankets, (how I hated those khaki-colored items), a portable two-burner oil stove that we elevated to counter height by putting it on stacked orange crates, a table, six chairs, dishes and pans. It was bleak. We carried water from the bathroom downstairs, which we shared with the household. But it was home and we were alone as a family. We had two events to look forward to; my graduation and best of all, Papa was coming home.
One of the lesser cruelties of the disaster was the constant reopening of partially healed wounds. Now that we had a feeling of being at home we would reach for something we used to have in a drawer, or in a closet, only to realize it was gone. We were to be reminded of what we had lost over and over, for a long time, but we would learn from necessity how to adapt to loss and change. To lose something replaceable, (Elgin watch, a gift from Mama and gold pen and pencil set, a gift from Aunt Libby, both for graduation) is one thing but to lose a home and the accumulated contents from 20 years of marriage and four children, in the neighborhood of one's childhood is quite another. That was Mama's sorrow. She was never again to know the life she had before the tornado. She worked hard to keep us afloatit was too much for her. She was to die in 1935 at age 52, a victim of the tornado as surely as those who were killed.
The family stood on the platform in front of the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio railroad station on Walnut Street waiting for the train from St. Louis that was bringing Papa home. When it finally came, we watched for him to appear as person after person came down the steps. Then, there he was, a slender, handsome man in a dark suit (compliments of the Red Cross), using a cane and walking with a slight limp. We surrounded him, all talking at once. I think now, what a strange and difficult homecoming it must have been for him. We were the same, or were we? Nothing else was as he remembered it.
June had arrived and I was making plans to graduate in a few days. I needed a dress. There was no money to buy one. Mama swallowed her pride and went with me to the Red Cross office. We were given a money order for a certain amount at Ross Store on Walnut Street. The selection was meager. There was only one dress suitable for the occasion in my size. It was a pale orchid color in georgette crepe. An attractive style but a hideous color for a brunette, but we took the dress home. The day soon arrived for graduation. The class was assembled and waiting to go on stage in the auditorium at the high school.
Some mothers were waiting with us giving last minute touches as it was needed, when one of them tactlessly said to me, "Your dress is lovely, but that's not your color, is it?" The remark bothered me more than it should because I knew she was right. By the time I had been "capped and gowned" I knew what I was going to do with that dress! The next day I bought a five-cent box of Rit dye and then carefully following the directions on the box, I dunked the dress in the dye bath. At that point I didn't care much if I ruined it, but I'd have to think of an explanation to give Mama. As it turned out, I didn't have to. That hated orchid color disappeared, as the dress changed to a nice shade of blue that was becoming and serviceable. It became my favorite dress. I have a photo of myself wearing it, taken in Grandpa's yard, with my two cousins, Jessygrace Prosser and Lowell Green, in 1926.
After graduation it seemed conditions brightened for our family. Papa had a job at C.I.P.S. I had enrolled at Southern Illinois Normal University, starting the summer term. The people moved out downstairs. Mama's sister and daughter moved to Grandpa's house on Gartside Street and we rented the house at North and 9th Streets. My parents solved the problem of an empty 7-room unfurnished house by using the only option left open to thembuying furniture on "time." Mama chose bare essentials at Craine's Furniture Store. Making those payments each month, along with the rent, utilities and buying food became Mama's responsibility. It was to become a familiar sight the next ten years, seeing her at a table bent over a stack of bills with paper and pencil figuring the family finances. There was never enough money. She never lost faith in the principle of insurance, even though the insurance companies they had trusted and paid for many years, left them penniless. I still have the Prudential Life Insurance 30-year policy, dated March 1, 1926, she bought for me in Murphysboro. By the time the winter term started at school, Papa had been in and out of several temporary jobs. Gartside Coal Company had officially shut down and Grandpa was pensioned for life. Papa began to realize if he were to find another line of work, he'd have to leave Murphysboro as many people were doing. I left the house each morning with a dime to see me through the day; five cents for street car fare from Murphysboro to Carbondale and five cents for a candy bar at noon. I could always find a ride home with friends but getting textbooks for some of my classes was not so easy. We did not have money to buy expensive books. I borrowed books from friends when they were not using them and I spent time in the library. Even so, I flunked an English class because I could not keep up without books. I repeated the class the next term, same instructor, using books my friends who had passed the course no longer needed. I felt I had done very well. This was substantiated when the instructor said, "I knew you could do it!" What she didn't know was at what cost. Papa had received a letter from a relative, Richard Bowerman, Aunt Libby's husband, in East St. Louis, saying there was a job opening where he worked. Papa left immediately, and sent word to us a few days later that he had been hired as a machinist at Ramipo Ajax Company in E. St. Louis, Illinois. He was to work there until 1947 when he was retired after W.W. II at age 70. He was asked to stay on beyond retirement age of 65, because his job was crucial to the war effort. He made money, a lot of money. He said to me, "It came too late for Mama."
By the time I had earned a second grade teaching certificate at school, Papa was writing urging Mama to think about moving to E. St. Louis. She was born at Murphysboro, 1882, and had never lived farther than in the next block from her family home. Nor had she traveled farther than southeast Missouri. The idea of leaving was difficult for her to think about doing. I signed a contract August 1926 to teach a one-room school at Pomona, Illinois, a short distance from Murphysboro for $80.00 a month for eight months. It was to cost $20.00 a month to board at the David Lindsy farm home which was a short walk from the school house. It was understood without a word being spoken, that the money left would be given to Mama just as my sister contributed her salary to the family exchequer. If that seems harsh, it was. There had been no room for indulgence of any kind since March 18, 1925. Christmas 1926, we were together, in the house at North and 9th Streets. Papa came down from E. St. Louis to Murphysboro on the GM&O. I came up from Pomona to Murphysboro the same way. It had been almost two years since the storm. As we sat down to dinner, with wood burning in the fireplace, candles on the table, we seemed the typical American family; the scars that remained from THAT day were not visible but they would always be there. We exchanged gifts. Papa and I received identical suitcases we could use them. There were no impractical gifts. We all knew this would be our last Christmas in Murphysboro.
I went home again in February 1927 for my 19th birthday. Mama surprised me with a beautiful console Victrola. It was really for all of us to replace our old Victor machine with a horn and cylinder type records that we lost in the storm, of Enrico Caruso, an Italian operatic tenor, and Galli-Curci, an Italian coloratura soprano. But the records we would always miss with sorrow were the "blanks" Mama used to record Grandpa playing the harmonica or singing German songs of his homeland. Such as "Auf Wiedersehen" which brought tears to our eyes. My school was out in the spring and I made no plans to go back to school since Papa had written he had found a "flat" close to his work. "Let me know what you decide." We would be moving in the summer we thought. We had our first glimpse of the flat Papa had rented for us when we turned off 10th Street onto Brady Avenue in E. St. Louis. There we saw rows of identical two-story duplex brick buildings. They seemed regimental and forbidding since we were accustomed to individual wooden houses. We stopped at number 910, on the left side of the third house. It was downstairs and had four rooms and a bathroom in a straight line with windows on one side facing the brick wall of the next house. There was a fireplace and a basement with a coal furnace. My sister had left Murphysboro early in the summer to live with our Aunt Hazel Hartmann Hathaway in St. Louis. She was working at the Y. M. C. A. on Locust Street there. The large bedroom was divided between Jack and me as we settled in our new home. In the fall of 1927 the economy began to show signs of the Great Depression. Papa's work was cut to a minimum. After failing to find a teaching position I, too, went to work at the Y.M.C.A..in St. Louis. As the weather became colder the last of November, Mama was often huddled before a wall heat register wearing a red crocheted shawl (we still have it) trying to keep warm. She had developed a cough which worsened as the days went by, until she no longer was able to get out of bed. Dr. Stine came to see her regularly, but nothing he did or prescribed seemed to help. When we could no longer pay him or buy the medicine, Papa decided we'd have to take her to Grandpa's home in Murphysboro where she would get the help she needed. There would be other advantages. She would be at home where the air was clean and fresh.
It was 1928 when the family doctor, O. B. Ormsby came to Grandpa's house to examine Mama. He knew her well. Between him and his father, they had "doctored" the Hartmann family for over 50 years. He was very grave and asked for consultation with a lung specialist, Dr. Carter. The next morning their diagnosis was tuberculosis. I was given explicit directions for her care and the protection of people in the house, and myself. I was to learn years later, from a routine check-up that I had large calcified areas in both lungs where tubercle bacillus had attached but I have never had the illness. It was a long, difficult and lonely vigil before she was able to sit up in a chair in the living room on her 46th birthday, April 20th. She weighed 89 pounds. The family came from E. St. Louis that day to visit her. My 20th birthday, February 11, 1928, had come and gone without my hardly being aware of it. Now that Mama was able to go to the doctors office instead of him coming to the house she did not want for ways, or means, to get there. Both Stinson Stevens and Ira Kimmel were in attendance at Grandpa's,and had been since early spring. When she was well enough and strong enough to go home, her friend Lizzie Taveggia, a practical nurse, was to stay with her. Ira offered to drive them to E. St. Louis. I was to stay at Grandpa's and go back to school.
By the time I was prepared to teach again, Ira and I were engaged. We went job hunting together. I taught at Rockwood, Illinois 1928-29 while Ira taught in the high school at Campbell Hill, Illinois. He had his Ed.B from S.I.U., Carbondale, Illinois. After we were married and our first child, Carol Lee was born August 28, 1930, we lived in a rented, furnished house in Campbell Hill until Ira accepted a position as history and commercial teacher at the Royalton, Illinois high school where he eventually became Superintendent of Schools. Our son, Michael Gene was born February 19, 1932. We were to live there 14 years. Mama and I corresponded regularly and visited when we could.
Berneice had married and had a daughter, Janet Margo Thurmon. Jack, living at home, owned and operated a service station on State Street, E. St. Louis, Illinois.
In one of her letters she wrote, "Your Papa's leg is better. He has gone back to work." She was referring to the injury he had from the 1925 tornado. A wood splinter would surface in the scar causing fever and pain, but this happened less often as the years went by. He died July 17, 1953, from a stroke at age 76.
In Mama's last letter dated October 23, 1935, she wrote of feeling ill and being disappointed that she was not able to attend the "Veiled Prophet Parade," the annual affair in St. Louis, as she had planned. That afternon she had walked to town and had her hair done in anticipation of "stepping out" as she put it. Instead, she was home alone, feeling uneasy, afraid she might become sick again as she was before.
The theme of the parade that year was "Children's Fairy Tales," which was especially interesting to her because of her own grandchildren. This proved to be true when I found her unfinished letter after she died, on her closet shelf where she knew I could find it along with the children's story and coloring books she no doubt bought that same afternoon. Christmas gifts for Carol, Gene and Janet.
I am reading the letter once again, that she started writing October 23, 1935 and was too ill to finish, as I write about her last days. She died suddenly four days later, October 27, 1935 at age 52 years.
Copyright 1992-2008 WILMA THEISS KIMMEL
Used with permission of the late Wilma Theiss Kimmel and Carol Allsup.
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