Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Another Lucky '42 Tornado Survivor Story

by "Jimmy" Cunningham

As we zero in on March 16th, I vividly recall the 1942 Baldwyn tornado.

I was in the tenth grade, and it was around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. As was customary for boys my age, I had gone to the pool room to play a few games. It turned very dark for the time of day. Mr. Jack Enis yelled from the front of the building, "boys, it's coming a tornado"! We immediately crawled under the nearest pool table. The sound was similar to the roar made by a train coming through.

In a short time, after the noise ceased, we exited the building and started looking for damage. Tom Gentry and I walked East toward the railroad and didn't see any damage until we went up the railroad toward the Gentry home. We, first spotted the "Bud" McCarthy house on North Second Street. It was severely damaged, so we went West from there, over toward Fifth Street & Thomastown. All of that area had a 1/4 mile wide swath through it from Southwest to Northeast. Most of the houses, trees, etc. were destroyed. There was one car in a tree near Highway 45.

We found a Mrs. McBrayer who had been killed and placed her in a pick-up truck and carried her to the Caldwell clinic to be pronounced dead. The hospital had run out of beds, and they asked us to take the truck to M. Gorden's furniture store and pick up some beds. After parking at the store, we were directed to the South side of the building to get some cots. Mr. Jett Ford, "Brownie" Coggins, Olin Stanley, and I went to find and load the cots.

The time was now around 4:45 P.M. We noticed the wind blowing pretty hard again, so we barricaded the double doors. "Brownie" & Olin went down to the basement. Mr. Ford placed his arms around a linoleum rug, and I was looking for some piece of furniture to get under, but I didn't make it. The wind peaked, the roof left the building, the double brick wall came over, and covered me completely, fairly deep. I couldn't move, but was still conscious. I considered myself very fortunate to still be alive and not seriously injured. In about 20 minutes, I heard some movement on the brick somewhere in the area, so I knew I had to get their attention, if possible. My dad knew I was going to get the cots, so he was one of the first to get over the crumbled wall. I didn't feel that I could yell loud enough, so I began to give my loudest whistle. The search crew heard me, and began to toss the bricks off. After a few minutes, they had me uncovered, and I was in good shape except for a small knot on my head. I still praise the Lord for saving my life.

There were seven people killed in Baldwyn, by the first storm, and two in Wheeler.

Robert McWhorter, according to the story told to me by his brother, was taken by the wind from a poultry house on Water St. to the old High School Building, about 3/4 mile. He came walking in about an hour after the tornado.

Another tornado came in almost the same path about 50 years later, but did not touch ground.

Editor's note: Two tornadoes struck Baldwyn that day in '42, around an hour or less apart.


  1. You were very lucky, Jimmy! As Jerry Clower always said, "ain't God good"!

  2. Wow, that's a scary story. Wasn't Lanny Outlaw born that night?

  3. Jimmy, when I see you at the store or church from now on, I will think of how remarkably blessed you are!

    I had never known that you were ever in harm's way that much.

    Yes Lanny was born by a flickering oil lamp light that night. The power was out and people were hurting and had clogged the clinic after the storm.

  4. Well, I was around that day, 2 years old.... Guess I was also lucky and lived through it!

  5. Jimmy, that is an amazing story. I never knew you were in the tornado. There is little posted about the two tornadoes that day and this blog would be a great place for those who remember that day to put there stories here for all to read.

    I grew up just east of the high school and in our garden each year, we would fine pieces of glass and other objects that dad said were from the tornado. I wish I had paid more attention to those "artifacts" now.

    Jim Miller

  6. We are certainly glad you were spared, Jimmy. You have been such an inspiration to the people of Baldwyn for many years!

  7. Jimmy, who were the other five that were killed?

  8. Before Jimmy answers, Dr. Christian's wife (Bob and Jack's mother) was one, I was told. Don't know who else.

  9. Great story, Jimmy. That was a very traumatic time in Baldwyn. It made such an impact we are still remembering and discussing it 67 years later!

  10. My grandparents The Eptings picked up me and my mother from the train station in Corinth as she was coming home to have brother Bob..When we hit Baldwyn I remember debris all over the highway and I too saw that car in the tree. My grandfather and I went to check on his store and we were in his basement when the second one hit..Thankfully no serios damage there, but very scary.

    Larry Johnson

  11. Jimmy Cunningham found a 1942 Weekly News with a story about the tornado. Those who lost their lives were listed as: Mrs. Louise Christian..Bob and Jack's mother, Mrs.Mae Norman, Mrs Effie McBrayer, Mrs. Leonard Crump and her baby,an unknown black woman from Baldwyn. From Wheeler were Mr. Claud Kesler, and Mrs. William Kesler.