By Shari Nachtwey
It was July 12, 1934. The temperature crept up to a toasty 84 degrees and all afternoon dark, ominous clouds hung in the northwest horizon. The pregnant storm clouds were preparing to deliver a punch that no one would soon forget.
Farmers in northern Outagamie County were busy with various chores related to planting and harvesting their crops. Vic Muenster Sr. spent the afternoon preparing the grain binder for harvesting barley the next day-installing the canvas, making adjustments, greasing and oiling the machine.
Albert Ring was hitching up his team to finish planting cabbage and John Appleton had his horses hooked to the mower preparing to cut and roll up 10 acres of peas, while the rest of the family was getting the cows in the barn for the evening milking.
My grandpa, Charles Sievert, and his family were doing the milking and evening chores. His wife Mabel and daughter Margaret, seeing the threatening, dark clouds were rounding up the little turkeys, herding them into the chicken coop. As it started to rain, Mabel and Margaret scurried into the coop themselves intending to wait out what they thought would be a thunderstorm. That’s when it hit! The angry skies opened up, hurling rain and huge hail stones to the ground. The hail stones were pelting everything in their path. Horse and cattle were running around in confusion and little piglets were being killed along with ducks and geese.
Although Mabel and Margaret corralled the young turkeys into the coop, the chickens were still outside and were being bombarded by the relentless hailstones. They would try to get up only to be struck again and again. Mable and Margaret found that sheltering in the chicken coop offered little protection because the roof was made of tar paper. The hailstones shredded the tar paper allowing the rain and hailstones to pour in. Margaret recalled how the hailstones pounded the tar paper into her hair. It took weeks to get the sticky tar out. The sounds were deafening as well. A hired man put a wash tub over his head and tried to save the geese but he had to give up because he couldn’t stand the noise.
The storm only last 10 minutes but the destruction it rendered would be long remembered. When the storm abated, Margaret and her mother slowly made their way out of the chicken coop. To their horror, 56 chickens were killed or mortally wounded. They slowly made their way to the house, the ground covered with dead or dying chickens and “baseball sized” hail stones. When they reached the house and peered inside, another shocking sight greeted them. The floors were covered with hailstones intermingled with shards of broken glass and shredded curtains. All the windows facing west and north were shattered along with the window sashes.
The remainder of the evening was spent cleaning up the mess and dealing with dead and dying animals. Storm windows were inserted into open window areas that still had sashes. When Margaret went upstairs and climbed in bed, she found shards of glass imbedded in the bed linens clear across the room from the north window.
The headlines in the Appleton newspaper the next day read, “Heavy Crop ad Property Damage from Hail, Wind.” It went on to relate how the storm swept a seven mile path through part of the county, the worst damage being in the Townships of Freedom, Oneida, Osborne, Black Creek and Seymour. The storm struck between 6 and 7 o’clock which spared many cows since it was milking time and they were safe in the barn.
Hundreds of windows on the north and west sides of homes and barns were shattered by the hailstones which were reported in some places to have reached more than two inches in diameter. In many instances, the roof damage to farm buildings and dwellings was so extensive that it would require total replacement. Heaviest damage was reported from the vicinity of the village of Black Creek, in Osborne, Oneida and Freedom. Crop loss was estimated at several thousand dollars. Before the storm, crops looked good as a result of recent rains, but when the wind and hail attacked the area, the fields were ruined. Grain was flattened and heads of grain torn off. Corn stalks and potato plants were stripped nearly bare. Fruit trees and berry bushes were denuded of their foliage and vegetable gardens were obliterated. One farmer described his hay field “looking like it had been plowed.” Others would pasture their cows in fields, utilizing what remained of their crops.
Farmers who suffered losses in the Black Creek area were Ed Kluge, Ed Nelson, Herman Seitz, Harvey Mueller, Henry Dietrich, Reinhold Heiden, Charles Zocholl, Charles Henning, Nick Rettler and Peter Uhlenbrauch. The damage was not quite as bad at the O. F. Rohm farm, one mile southeast of Black Creek since that farm was at the storm’s edge. The roofs on all the buildings was badly damaged and at the Kluge home, many shingles were ripped off.
Most of the houses in the Village of Black Creek had several windows broken and many (tar) paper roofs were damaged. Two warehouses, a garage, a residence occupied by B. A. Rideout and a furniture store, all owned by C. J. Burdick had to be replaced. Fourteen small panes of glass were broken in St. John Evangelical Church, seven panes in Immanuel Lutheran Church and only one in the Methodist Church. Trees were stripped by hailstones, described by villagers, the size of eggs!
The storm then continued on to the Township of Osbourne (Osborne). Among the farmers in that region who suffered losses were John Appleton, William and Edward Kramer, John Geenen, John Vanderlock, Al Ring, Victor Muenster Sr. and Charles Sievert. Town of Oneida farmers also reported thousands of dollars of crop damage. Kaukauna was the next area in the storm’s path. One inch hail was reported there causing much damage to trees and gardens. A huge signpost at the Gustman Chevrolet dealership was swept to the ground. Rain fell in such torrents that storm sewers were overwhelmed resulting in water backing up into cellars with small lakes being created on city streets. Residents on the south side reported many broken windows.
Eventually the storm abated leaving indescribable devastation in its path. Crops, intended to feed cattle through the long winter months, were now non-existent, so farmers were left scrambling to find replacement fodder. It was too late in the season to replant so feed had to be purchased and trucked in to replace what was lost. The county provided 2-3 days use of county trucks to transport feed if it could be found and if the farmer could afford it. Some people hauled feed from Hortonville, Mackville, Center Valley and from farms along Highway 54 east of Seymour. To make matters worse, the corn froze in the surrounding area on August 24 of that summer, further reducing the availability of feed.
The resolute farmers persevered, however, and with the help of their neighbors and families, survived this tragic event. The “Eve of Destruction” has never been forgotten and stories about that fateful day have been passed down through generations.
On July 12, 1934, a storm hit Outagamie County with rain and hail. Many buildings had to have windows replaced after the storm – Submitted photo
Shown are some of the hailstones from the storm. – Submitted photo
Corn Stalks piled high after the July 12, 1934 hail storm.
– Submitted photo
By Shari Nachtwey