1888 tornado ripped up downtown Marquette

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE – At 2 p.m. on Aug. 20, 1888, a dark cloud passed rapidly from the west over Marquette, bringing a heavy rain and then a dead calm of 15 minutes when the sun shone and the heat was intense.

“Suddenly, there appeared another cloud of larger dimensions and much darker in shade, following in the wake of the first,” an account read in The Mining Journal. “As if moved by an intuition of approaching danger, our people hurried for shelter, even the children on the streets, in most case hastening in doors.”

The newspaper said the cloud was watched by hundreds of people.

“It appeared like a huge bird with long, fan-like wings, revolving in a circular movement around a funnel-shaped body,” the account read.

The speed of the “regular cyclone” was estimated at 60 mph.

“Surrounded as we are by high hills, the people have come to feel secure from visitors of this kind, but their 4-minute experience of Monday afternoon, has most effectually dispelled the feeling of security which has so long prevailed,” the paper said.

As the twister approached the downtown, spectators thought it would pass without causing serious damage because it appeared to lift upward.

“But as it reached a point about over Mr. Harlow’s residence, it seemed suddenly to plunge downward, and at the corner of Front and Spring streets it struck the buildings with full force,” the newspaper said. “It was then that the chaos began.”

The tornado tore the roof from the Adams block at that corner, tossing much of it onto the roof of the Thoney block opposite, leaving debris piled 10 feet high in Front Street.

“The other Adams block diagonally opposite the first unroofed building was next seized by the cyclone, nearly unroofed, and the top of the brick wall badly shattered,” the account read.

Roof appliances of a signal service station on the building were badly damaged.

“The tin roof of the Masonic Hall was entirely carried away and had not been found up to dark last night. It is probably in the lake,” the newspaper reported.

Hundreds of shade trees were knocked down, windows shattered and chimneys crumbled. The funnel cloud and its destruction dominated most all conversation in town the following day.

No rain fell in South Marquette and the storm had not reached Presque Isle.

“The casting house of the Grace furnace and Joe Reau’s old ice house were uncovered by the storm, and many other roofs were slightly damaged,” the account stated. “The skylight of the Brunswick smashed in Neuberger’s back door, the tower of the French Catholic church was damaged, some of the courthouse chimneys demolished and the plaster in some of the rooms in the jail brought down.”

The paper reported, “Old man Crochler, just coming into the harbor when the storm struck, found himself a moment later down by the Chocolay beach.”

But the merchandise dock was the site of the most remarkable evidence of the violence of the wind.

“It was found that the heavy coal hoists or derricks, which stand way out on the dock, had been torn from their fastenings and moved about 20 feet, while the two nearer shore were not touched,” the story said.

The hoists weighed 7 or 8 tons each, had been firmly fastened and had to be moved back into place with hydraulic jacks.

The newspaper concluded, “The visitation of the cyclone seems to have been purely local, as no damage occurred elsewhere in its track so far as heard from.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net.