May 18, 1883, had turned into a day of horror as evidenced by this account in the Jacksonville Journal of May 20:
“No one reading these hastily written lines can conceive, or form but little idea of the desolate and heart-sickening sight that is presented to all who visit the scenes in and about Liter (now called Literberry). Men, women and children standing about, their homes all gone, carried away by the stormy elements, nothing left but the clothing on their backs.
“The scene is horrible to look upon. Houses, trees, fences, everything scattered in confusion. Freight cars were lifted from the track and carried some distance away. In one instance a flat freight car was lifted from the track, and after hurling through the air some two hundred yards distant, was driven through the dwelling house of Mr. George Fleming. In this house was Mr. Fleming, wife and baby. At the time of this occurrence Mrs. Fleming was bent over the cradle of her infant offering up prayer, imploring God to be merciful to them. The house was demolished and the cradle torn to pieces, yet the babe and parents were but slightly injured.”
Most accounts report 10 were killed at Liter and another 24 injured.
The cyclone continued to move northeast, entering Cass County in section 33 of what is now Philadelphia Township. It charged across Fenton Vandeventer’s farm, destroying a dwelling and injuring members of the McLin family.
The funnel cloud marched onward, reaching the Charles Dunbrack farm property, which was occupied by Andrew Wright and his family.
The Virginia Gazette reported what next occurred:
“The storm went through some queer performances here. It struck the southwest corner of the house and tipped the structure over into the cellar; then it made a square turn and went off at right angles toward the southeast for a short distance to a hedge, which was completely torn up. Another turn to the northeast was made, and the big black cloud which was doing all the damage lifted somewhat. The barn and sheds on the farm were not hurt but the smoke house and another outhouse were entirely obliterated – not a trace left. The family took refuge under a culvert near by, on the line of the O & M (Ohio & Mississippi) railroad (sic), and while there heard two loud explosions at the time the tornado struck the hedge. Upon their return to the farm house they found it had shifted three feet from the foundations and tipped over to one side, but a clock and lamp were found as they had been hurriedly left – the former still running and the latter burning.”
In the same township lived George Leonard with his wife and son. The Leonards had retired for the evening when their hired man was alarmed by a sound he recognized. He roused the Leonards and all took shelter in the storm cellar.
The cyclone reduced the Leonard home to splinters, scattering the remnants for many miles. They never recovered so much as one possession.
The 1883 cyclone was reported to have claimed at least 63 lives, though it seems likely the actual death toll surpassed 70. At least 50 were injured.
After the storm passed, the weather suddenly turned cold – so cold that a heavy frost covered much of Cass County, killing corn and garden plants.
Next: 1911 tornado.