Sunday, March 15, 2009
Judsonia and the Terrible Twilight
If one strolls through the Judsonia cemetery on Van Buren street, one might notice a considerable number of graves dating from March of 1952. W. E. Orr, author of That's Judsonia, has something to say about that.
"'We've got to get out of here,' Ernie shouted to Bernice. It was strange that they could hear each other even though they seemed to be buried in noise. Abraham pulled the door open. Roth grasped the back of Ernie's coat in both hands. To their horror they saw Waller's store, directly across the street, crumble into a pile of broken bricks and concrete. A sign, fully five feet long, came hurtling up the street and struck Abraham in the chest. Then, like an animated object in a movie cartoon, it instantly changed its course and sailed out of sight over the top of the two-story Farmers and Merchants Bank. Bernice, yelling above the storm, asked Ernie if he had been hurt. Ernie screamed back that he didn't think so. They grabbed a power line pole, only to have it sucked from their grasp and vanish. Then, Ernie saw the hydrant. They fell toward it grasping it with all their strength. As they hugged their stubby haven what was left of the Holmes building fell over them. Ernie heard Roth say that he thought his back was broken."
"Afterward they were to remember the silence--that and the eerie, yellow twilight. All over the stricken town people felt the clutch of that silence, almost as fearsome as had been the roaring a few minutes before. There was not a bird's call; not a human voice, not the sound of a single automobile."
"The next day Lin Wright used the following lead paragraph for his Arkansas Gazette story:
"'One thing can be said with certainty about last night in this area--it was hell.'"
Everyone who goes to Harding knows that we live in a particularly tornado-prone area, but perhaps we don't realize how close we are to doom sometimes. This particular 12th of March was host of at least two, possibly three tornadoes simultaneously, all of them attacking Judsonia. The little gang of tornadoes also took a nice bite out of nearby Bald Knob (a town which will be subject to several future entries...).
Orr's book was published in 1957, but I don't think Judsonia ever really recovered from their eerie twilight. Eventually the little town was bypassed by the two-lane highway 367 and then that bypass was bypassed by four-lane 67. Now most people probably don't know the town exists.
Here are some pictures of Judsonia, then and now:
Judsonia in 1908.
Judsonia during a rather severe-looking flood in 1927.
The same street, facing the opposite direction, in 2009.
Incidentally, W.E. Orr, the man who wrote the above account of the 1952 storm (and who devoted a whole chapter of the book to said storm; what is seen above is just an excerpt) is now dead and is buried in the same cemetery on Van Buren street. While visiting Judsonia, we ran across his grave.
I'm not sure what I'll talk about next, but it might be trains or theaters.
Also, I think I'm going to try for an update schedule of Tuesdays and Thursdays and perhaps Sundays.
Finally, for those interested, the pictures of the White County Courthouse featured in the previous entry were taken in the 1940s, 1957 and 2009 respectively.