Devastation in Darke County
28 March 1920

From The Shade-Clay Family History, compiled by Paul Warvel, 1994, pp. 10-17. Used by permission.

The following article was written by Claribel Shade Fellers. It records her memories and those of other people, of the Tornado that destroyed the Park Shade family home, on Sunday, March 28, 1920. Claribel was eleven years old at the time of the Tornado. Pictured to the left is the Absolem Parker Shade family. Standing in the rear is Lucy Ann and Mary Elizabeth, the parents Absolem Parker Shade and Elvia Esther Cox, and in the front is Glenn Henry, Gladys Marie and Claribel.


The weekend of March 28, 1920 had been very windy. My brother Glen and I had ridden our bicycles to Turkey Center School on Friday (March 26) morning. The school was a one room school in Washington Township, Darke County, Ohio, District #1. It is located on the Winchester Pike (now State Route 502) just west of the Coletown-New Madison Road (formerly called the Township Line). Friday evening when we came to the Township Line Road and turned south, the wind was so strong from the southwest we had to push our bicycles instead of riding them.

The usual chores of morning ushered in Saturday. This included cows to be milked; milk separated in the Separator; horses, hogs, mules, cows, chickens, and rabbits to be fed, etc. It was still windy.

My father, Park Shade had been ill with lung fever, but was improved, so on that Sunday morning my father, mother Elvia (Cox) Shade, sisters and brother - Mary, Gladys, Glen - and I went to Coletown Christian Church and Sunday School. My father taught his Sunday School class.

At noon my married sister, Lucy and her husband, Roscoe Bryson, and children, Esther Mae (20 months old) and Mary Catherine (6 months) came to our home for Sunday dinner. In the afternoon, Ira Warvel who was dating my sister, Mary, came to our home too.

In the afternoon it was decided the Bryson's would go home, do their evening chores, leaving their two daughters, Esther Mae and Mary Catherine, with the grandparents. They then would return to the Shade home in order for Ira, Mary, Roscoe, Lucy and me to attend services at the Coletown Church that evening. The four younger children, Glen, Gladys, Esther Mae and Mary Catherine would stay at the Shade home with my parents, Park and Elvia.

Having eaten a light supper of leftovers from dinner and nearing the time to leave for church, we went outside to view the weather conditions. The sky was black with clouds, streaks of lightning flashing constantly, and the wind blowing very hard. It looked very ominous. We went back into the house having decided not to go to church due to the weather.

Nearing eight o'clock p.m. (Central Standard Time), my mother, Mary and Ira were in the kitchen with some of the family while my father, some other family members and I were in the parlor. The stoves having fire in them were the kitchen range (wood burning), the base burner in the living room, and wood heating stove in the parlor. The one in the parlor was burning only because it was the custom to open up the parlor on Sunday.

The house was big with eight large rooms - especially the kitchen -and the ceilings were high. Along the back was a porch leading to a summer kitchen and wash house which contained a stove to heat wash water, etc. The wood house where wood, coal and corn cobs were stored was attached to the summer kitchen. Due to the high ceilings, there were transoms above the doors, especially the six doors to the outside.

At about eight o'clock p.m. (Central Standard Time) the transoms to the southwest began flying open with great force due to the wind. My father tried to shut the parlor transom but it just few open again. I had been at the piano, playing it, but got up on a chair to help my father shut the parlor transom. I got down off the chair to move it. It was by a window and the last thing I remember was the window coming at me.

In the kitchen Mother and Mary were trying to shut the south transom there. Ira had just walked into the kitchen. He saw the south side of the kitchen coming in and it seemed to him as if Mother and Mary were flying across the kitchen. His first thought was that they will hit their heads against the north wall, but by that time the tornado (funnel-shaped) was upon us. A tornado is like a vacuum which has such suction it causes everything to be drawn up into it. Buildings just collapse and debris, people, and all are drawn up into this funnel-shaped cloud. After all has swirled around, objects drop out as the tornado moves on.

The eleven people in the house were carried across a large orchard (trees having been uprooted) and dropped among debris.

A tall block Portland silo, dairy barn, tobacco shed, tool shed, regular barn with stalls for horses and mules, hay mow, granary, corn crib, garage for Chevrolet car, hog house, etc. were all southwest of the house. Thus the tornado hit all that first and the debris came toward the house. Nothing of the house was left on the cement foundation, but the basement was full of debris, including an old-time spring wagon.

Since three stoves had fires lit (especially the larger base burner) the debris also caught on fire. When I first came to, the first thing I saw was the fire. Thus I thought the house had burned down and caved in on us.

Most of us were pinned under cris-cross pieces of splintered lumber and some of this had caught on fire. Fortunately my sister, Mary and brother-in-law, Roscoe Bryson were able to get loose, having been injured though, stood up, grabbed pieces of carpet or whatever one could get hold of and beat out the fires. Another aid in putting out the fires was the fact that for a short time it had rained very hard. After the heavy rains the stars came out and shined very brightly.

Our house had stood on the southwest corner of Greenville-Nashville and Coletown-New Madison Road. The William Smith family (including Will, Bellzora, Earl, Carl, Mary and a niece, Mary Cox) lived on the northeast corner of the same crossroads.

The Smith house was badly damaged, but the log part stood. The Smith family members were not seriously injured. They were able to get out and were the first people to come to our aid and call or get other people to come help. Bellzora, Mary Cox, Carl and Mary Smith headed for the Armacost house where the windows were blown out, chimneys downed, etc., but the roof mostly remained. That property's barn was demolished.

Mary Cox (later Meyers) picked Esther Mae Bryson up out of the side-ditch and took her to the Armacost house. Esther Mae was 21 months old. Her head was smashed in, having a scar on the top of her head shaped like a chicken foot-print. There was also a large gash in her side showing her heart, etc. Her leg was broken. She was very critical for a long time. Mary Cox just sat and held her until 4 o'clock that Monday morning.

Jim Armacost ran up to the Ed Norris house (first house west) to get help.

As the phone lines were down, a drive into Greenville was needed. This was done by Ed Norris who happened to have a pair of pliers on the front seat. These were used to cut wires that littered the road, thus enabling him to continue on to Greenville.

The Perry Weaver family who lived north went to Bechtols and Roy Bandsons (south) for help. Aunt Min and Uncle Del Bailey arrived from Rush's Station.

All the family had bruises of course. Glen had his collar-bone broken; Gladys's eyes were filled with sand and plastering. Her eyeballs were not to be seen until the following Thursday.

Uncle Lon Shade and Helen came by train from Columbus to Greenville, then a taxi brought them out to the farm about midnight on Monday. Uncle Lon always told about Curt Lindamood's meeting the taxi with a shotgun. He was guarding the area as there had been some looting. Helen Stevenson kept working with five year old Gladys to remove the plastering, etc. from her eyes.

Mary Catherine Bryson could not be found at first. Her crying from under the debris was finally heard. The debris was lifted off piece by piece. She suffered only scratches, no serious injuries as the debris had left her in a pocket-like effect.

Mary Shade had head and elbow injuries, but was able to walk.

Lucy (Shade) Bryson had a leg injury which caused a running sore on her shin bone for a long time.

Roscoe Bryson was very black and blue but was able to walk.

Ira Warvel had a very severe scalp wound which bled profusely. He told the doctors to go help the others as he was too weak and would not make it. His pillows where he lay on the kitchen floor at the Armacost's were saturated with blood. He received stitches, did recover and was out going in a day or two.

When I came to, near the Nashville road, I could not get out due to the debris. Will Smith and Herbert Haines pulled away the debris. I was told that Herbert carried me to the Armacost kitchen where I sat on a chair by the sewing machine. My first thought (when I was conscious) was that the house had burned and had caved in on us. I would come to and then pass out again. My lower lip was cut off, dangling from the right side by a slender piece. Teeth were dangling below my chin on torn gum. The roof of my mouth was crushed, the bone in front above was gone. The roof of my mouth healed in four sections (together).

Dr. Rush finally got to me. He pulled my lip up and put a bandage over my mouth. I swallowed a lot of blood.

As soon as Dr. Fred Ruby, Dr. Arthur Zeller, and Mr. Ford, who owned the Union City hospital arrived, Dr. Rush told them to take me to the hospital, as my face needed much attention. As there was not hospital in Greenville, the Union City hospital was the one that had to be utilized. one of the doctors took off his overcoat and wrapped me in it. Our clothes were soaked with blood and also from the rain. After arriving at the hospital, my clothes were cut off. I was black and blue in places, also. When I was conscious at one time they had me write my name on paper. Before that they did not know who I was. I was put to bed to get warmed. I may have been given a shot.

About 1 or 2 p.m. I was placed on the operating table and ether (anesthetic) was started. When the doctors started they didn't know what to do so they called in a dentist who had served in World War I, Dr. Fred Beatty. He arrived with a friend, Harry Katzenberger who held an oil lamp to see to operate. The electric was off due to the tornadoes in the Union City vicinity.

They finally had my surgery with the help of Dr. Beatty. I was returned to my private room. The next day, March 29, when I came to I really vomited due to ether and all the blood I swallowed. I was unable to talk, might say form words. I couldn't figure out what had happened. I didn't know about any of the rest of the family.

In a couple of days Roscoe Bryson made it to Union City to see how I was. I could see he was all black and blue. After several days I was moved to another room. Our minister, Rev. John Watson, came to see me. The nurse told him not to let me talk. Of course I had a lot of questions but he could not understand me. However, he did tell me about my family and some of the things that had happened. I tried to ask for a Bible but they couldn't understand me. Finally they gave me a paper and pencil. I wrote Bible. In a minute I had a Bible.

Oh yes, Harry Katzenberger (who held the kerosene light during my surgery) asked , "Who is this little girl?" after the surgery. They handed him the paper on which I had put my name. I guess he nearly passed out. He had known me all my life. Our families had been friends for years through Coletown Congregational Christian Church. In later years he would tell me about this incident whenever we happened to meet.

For several days they could not get circulation in my lip--it turned black but finally they succeeded in getting circulation and did not need to graft new skin for a new lip. However the stitches sluffed out and my lip started to grow fast turned down (wrong side out). After two weeks I had my second surgery and they operated on my lip again putting in new stitches, etc.

During my second week I was moved into the Ford's private dining room with a bed since the hospital was so full due to other tornado victims as well as other patients. I was given the "run" of the downstairs of the Ford home. When it came meal time I had to lie down to get my food in order to keep food in my mouth. There was not bone above and a mangled lip below. They fed me gruel through a pitcher and a spout. These memories are still vivid after 63 years. Everyone was so good to me. A plea was put in the paper for help for me as I had no clothes, etc., and my family was unable to come see me due to their injuries. Uncle Lon Shade did come up to the hospital to see me. He was a first degree Mason and so was Mr. Ford, so they were very friendly. Uncle Lon told Mr. Ford to do everything possible for me and the bill would be "taken care of." Mother never had to pay the hospital at Union City for me. We never knew but I thought maybe the Masons paid the bill or Ford's did not charge.

Two weeks after the second surgery, Mr. Ford took me to the site of our former home. I couldn't get out of the car but I saw the ruins from the car. Mr. Ford also took me to the Norris home to see both my parents, then back to the hospital.

My second surgery was a success but my lip was thick and bulky for years but time helped.

The response from the plea in the paper for help for me was wonderful. I received letters, goodies, some clothing, etc. I became known as the "Little Shade Girl." Years later when we lived at Lightsville, George Denniston, a neighbor, was very surprised to learn Claribel Fellers was the "Little Shade Girl" from Union City in March 1920. George Denniston's sister had been brought to the Union City Hospital at the time of the tornado, but she died in a few days. George Denniston and his sister and her husband (Mr. and Mrs. Brooks) had visited me in the hospital. Another Denniston sister had been killed the night of the tornado.

I finally got to leave the hospital and I went to the Bryson home on the Wildcat Road where Mary, Glen and Gladys had been staying. I still had to lie down to eat for some time.

My mother had been seriously injured. The doctors called it a broken back and other injuries. She suffered very much. The doctors gave her morphine at that time. They finally had to cut down on the amount, but she still suffered so much and would want more morphine.

During the night mother was placed on a cot and neighbors carried her up to the Norris home from the Armacost's. The cot was too wide for the door. The Norris dining room had a very wide window which was removed and Mother was taken in the Norris home on this cot through the wide window. Charles Norris (5 years old at the time) still remembers all this.

The Red Cross was wonderful during this major catastrophe. In time the Red Cross paid a nurse to help care for my parents and also gave the Norris family a small sum for meals for people who helped to care for our parents.

On May 20, 1920, Roy Bennett who was a first cousin to my father and was an undertaker at New Madison came in his ambulance and took mother to Dr. Wolverton in Greenville. The X-ray located in his office was the only one around. It was very large as I remember, but they X-rayed her spine (back). Dr. Wolverton charged $7.50 and Roy Bennett charged $26.00. This helped doctors to know how to treat mother.

My dad was very seriously injured. Both my parents had head injuries. My dad's upper lip was cut. His right leg was badly broken. Due to the fact he had been ill and some thought he might have had T.B., his broken leg did not heal. They had specialists from Dayton and on July 7, Dr. Ewing, Dr. Rush and I think Dr. Matchett performed surgery on my father on the Norris dining room table. It was necessary to amputate the leg as it would not heal. Penicillin was not known then. When the doctors sawed the bone, my Father died. Due to the smell of the ether and the fact that I had had ether surgery two times recently, the smell was going to make me sick, so I stayed outside. The dining room had a door that opened onto a porch, and I never will forget looking in that door and seeing my father's leg lying in a big wash tub on the floor.

Mother could walk some by this time with 2 crutches. Roy Bennett was called by Roscoe and in time my father's body was taken to the Bryson home for viewing. The funeral was held from the Coletown Congregational Christian Church, Rev. Watson officiating. We all stayed at the Bryson home until in August when we moved into the Rank house (Philip Coleman home). Will Smith family was also living there temporarily until their home was finished so we shared the house. Smith's moved into their new home that fall - 1920. We lived in the Rank house for over a year, moving into our newly built home in the fall of 1921.


More than six weeks after Esther Mae's leg was set, they took her to Greenville and discovered the leg had not mended properly. So they broke it over, set it again, and brought her home lying on the table board. She had a cast from her waist down, both legs, with just her little pink toes sticking out. They left an opening just big enough for her kidneys and bowels to act. It was hot weather, too. The cast was off by July some time. The bones healed but have caused her problems (pelvic region) too as the years go by.

In 1921, after my mouth had healed, it became necessary that I go to Union City to Dr. Fred Beatty, to get the teeth I had left in my mouth straightened. After being all knocked loose, they grew back very crooked in many ways. Also the upper teeth pushed forward due to the bone being gone in the front above.

At first my sister, Mary took me to the dentist, but I learned to drive the old Model R Ford with 3 pedals, no gear shift, when I was 12 years old. In time I would drive to Union City on an average of once a week to the dentist. He put gold bands on each tooth, fastened to an arch above and an arch below. At times I had rubber bands on each side fastened in front above and in back below. When I opened my mouth the rubber stretched pulling my front teeth back.

He also tied Japanese grass thread around the teeth and when it got wet it shrunk, pulling the teeth in the direction the dentist wanted the tooth to go.

If a band came loose I had to rush to the dentist as the tooth was not grown solid yet.

This went on all through my high school years. Sometimes I would take the traction (inter-urban railway) from Coletown to Union City.

Finally after many X-rays, impressions, etc., in August of 1925 after I had graduated from high school, the dentist set 2 days of time for me in his office. I stayed overnight in Union City with my cousin, Grace Miller. The dentist was working with me to finish my first set of false teeth above. I had a bridge work below.

On Thursday of the fair, Henry took me to Union City to Dr. Beatty and I got my first set of false teeth with the missing bone above built in.

We came from the dentist's office to the Darke County Fair. My friends would all notice I had my teeth and comment because I had been without them for over 5 years. I had learned to keep food in my mouth with my tongue, so I nearly bit my tongue off with my new teeth. Also I could not pronounce several letters, so I had to learn how to speak several words.

In the 1950's I lost many of my own teeth and had to have new false teeth made. Dr. Beatty had passed away by then. The new dentist could tell by the impression of my mouth that the roof of my mouth had been in at least 4 pieces.

Claribel Shade Fellers passed away in Greenville, Ohio on 26 Dec. 1988. She was 80 years of age.

The tombstone of A. Parker Shade and his wife, Elvia Cox Shade in the Greenville Cemetery.

Tombstone photograph courtesy of Michael Reck.

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