WOODWARD, Okla. (KFOR) – In her memory, Gloria Fothergill is still the nine-year-old little girl sulking with her sister in timeout.
“My mother made us sit on the couch because we were fussing,” she clearly recalls.
That was the moment on April 9, 1947, when Oklahoma’s deadliest tornado struck.
Her mother was severely injured.
Her older brother Leon died that night at the age of 14.
Gloria and her sister survived without injury beneath that upturned sofa.
“It saved our lives,” she declares. “It tipped over and made like a tent.”
Searching for 75-year-old scar tissue is a challenge even for the lifelong Woodward resident.
The old hospital, overwhelmed with dead and wounded, lies abandoned in a quiet neighborhood.
The courthouse, damaged in the storm, survives.
Another casualty, the old Katy Depot, is offices now.
The proud Woodward Theatre shown in a photo from the day after April 9.
Gloria’s childhood home on 8th Street, the same one her parents rebuilt after the storm, is here too.
“That’s something people never forget,” states Fothergill, “Or at least I won’t.”
The rest of Woodward is built up and built over.
Fothergill is one of the only people left who can give an eyewitness account of the storm’s impact.
Robin Hohweiler’s mother told storm stories to her son, who compiled them as a historian.
He says, “The thing that always comes out, anytime you’re talking to any survivors, was the sheer terror of that storm.”
Author Lakin Kastl spent four years compiling eyewitness and victim accounts for a book she published in 2017.
She continues, “Without a doubt,
“The Woodward Tornado is a rabbit hole,” she tells us. “This tornado represents the worst night of these people’s lives.”
Many of the stories are heartbreaking.
The Woodward Tornado leveled 100 city blocks, injured more than 1,000, and left 3,000 people homeless.
But there was hope amidst the despair.
Bruce Benbrook’s parents were on their honeymoon in Florida in April of ’47, but drove back when they heard the news, and dedicated the next several years to helping rebuild their town through the Stock Exchange Bank.
“The community rallied around each other,” he argues. “That tornado in ’47 is just an example of the way our people react to tragedy.”
Deena Fisher grew up hearing the same sad stories, but she too witnessed her hometown’s response.
The tent camp called Tornado Town operated for more than a year until refugees could find their way back.
The scars cut deep, but the wounds weren’t fatal.
The same people who’d come through the Dust Bowl years and World War II were there to tough out Oklahoma’s biggest storm.
Fisher says, “Woodward wants to be remembered as the town that survived the tragedy of the tornado.”
Traffic is brisk on Main Street Woodward at noontime on this April day.
Life goes on.
Gloria’s brother, Leon, is remembered with so many other victims at a small memorial on a wall at the local middle school.
But the strength to move on is here too.
Woodward didn’t blow off the map that April night.
It came back better.
“We care about each other,” states Benbrook. “We care about Northwest Oklahoma. They care about our future, for our kids and grandkids.”
Robin Hohweiler and Deena Fisher collaborated on a new book about the Woodward Tornado for the Images of America series.
Kastl’s book is titled, “Relentless: The 1947 Woodward Tornado, Oklahoma’s Deadliest, as Told by its Survivors”.