Bertha Rudy had just finished roll call when a sudden gust sheared the roof off the building a mile west of Carlisle.
The only warning for the Graham School teacher was the crack of a shutter being slammed shut by wind that blew in a window sash. It was between 1 and 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, 1891.
Described as a “cyclone” by The Evening Sentinel, the severe storm caused the gable end of the school to collapse inward and the ceiling to crash down upon Rudy and her students.
“All but one of the windows had been securely fastened, allowing no egress through them and towards the unfastened window all rushed terror-stricken,” Rudy, 19, told The Sentinel. “The larger boys and girls made their escape, and the window still being high up from the level, did not afford the same source of escaping to the little ones.”
Rudy had managed to get out of the building, but instead of running away, she “performed a commendable act of devotion to the pupils in her care,” according to The Sentinel.
“While bricks and timber were falling around her, she stood at the window rescuing the little ones until the shutter was lifted from its fastenings and blown against her.”
The impact broke her right leg in two places and left Rudy in a daze. She was evacuated from the scene and taken to her father’s home to recover.
Most of the 12 students hurt in the building collapse suffered minor injuries. Sallie Fisher, for example, was cut on the left side of her face by falling glass while a piece of timber broke Lewis Wilson’s nose.
There was fear the two Welch children were buried in the rubble, but a source later confirmed both students were safe. They had run home unnoticed in the confusion.
Sentinel reporter Robert Vale arrived on the scene to find the roof of the building 80 feet away in a nearby wheat field. “Between the roof and the school house he found bricks, plastering, lath, etc., scattered all around with the greater bulk of the ceiling covering the school house floor.”
This violent storm of wind, rain and thunder cut a path through the Carlisle area wrecking not only the Graham School, but also severely damaging the rear portion of the Sunnyside School on Walnut Bottom Road.
Rescuers feared the worst when fragments of brick and mortar collapsed on two girls seated in the back of the Sunnyside building. One suffered major head trauma, a fractured left arm and bruising on her body. The other had facial contusions, a broken leg and a dislocated ankle.
Two boys narrowly escaped injury after a strong wind blew a board from the courthouse cupola scaffold down onto High Street. James McGonegal, a well-known tinner, was almost hurt by bricks falling from a Carlisle home.
A chimney was blown over on East Pomfret Street and the Western Union telegraph line between Carlisle and Harrisburg was knocked down by the force of the tempest.
Franklin Hall damaged
Less than two weeks later, on Friday, Dec.4, a storm described as a “cyclone” touched down in Mechanicsburg with enough force to knock down buildings and scatter debris half a block away.
A strong wind blew off the roof of Franklin Hall exposing the third-floor Masonic lodge to the drenching downpour. Meanwhile, the Methodist church on the corner of Market and Main streets had its gable blown in, carrying away one fourth of the roof in the process. The Sentinel had a correspondent in Mechanicsburg who described the damage:
“The smokestack of Hauck & Comstock’s machine shop was blown down and crashed through the roof. Kohler’s wheel and spoke factory suffered a like misfortune, and Stansfield’s large blacksmith shop was wrecked, it being raised from its foundation.
“All over town fences and trees were blown down and more or less damage was done to buildings. It is impossible at this time to give a correct estimate of the amount of damage, but it will reach away into the thousands.”
There was one confirmed injury in Mechanicsburg. Charles Baker was driving a coal wagon when he was struck by a door that was flying through the air and knocked him unconscious for about an hour. “His injuries are not believed to be serious,” The Sentinel reported.
Mrs. Christian Long narrowly escaped getting hurt when the third-floor of an adjoining structure collapsed onto her home near the corner of Main and Arch streets. She was caught between a bedstead and falling debris. “The house and its contents are a complete wreck,” the newspaper said.
Providence had intervened on behalf of students who had no classes when the storm front rolled in and completely destroyed the Evergreen Grove schoolhouse that was located about five miles from Carlisle on Long’s Gap Road in North Middleton Township.
“First the gable end crashed in and then the whole building collapsed at once, the walls falling and the ceiling dropping down in the interior,” The Sentinel reported. “Desks, chairs and benches were broken by the heavy mass.”
The ceiling and roof came down as one solid body, crushing everything underneath. Even the large stove was cracked to small bits.
In Shippensburg, a wind storm tore the tin roof off the Lutz overall factory and carried the structure some 200 feet before crashing it down upon the home of Wesley Lutz. Another part of the same roof traveled 300 feet down Normal Avenue.
Two railroad roundhouses were totally destroyed when the wind lifted them off their foundations. Part of the slate roof of the Cumberland Valley Railroad freight depot flew off and struck Stewart Wilson injuring him severely.
Meanwhile, in Kerrsville, the wind was so severe it lifted a freight car from the rails and caused it to tumble down an embankment. The same storm lifted a stable up and down several times before the wind cut out and caused the building to come down with a crash dashing it into pieces.