January 21, 2014

Let’s Talk: Where were you during the tornado of ’75?

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From Vanity Insanity:

As if we hadn’t already missed enough school, in May we had another unexpected break from the classroom since, barely an hour after school kids made it home for the day, some of the classrooms were no longer there. At about 4:15 p.m. on May 6, several major tornados, with winds gusting up to 260 miles per hour, decided to blow down the center of town, turn left on Seventy-Second Street, and swing by the Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack and Archbishop Bergan Mercy Hospital before driving out of town and lifting at 4:38 p.m. The afternoon tour chopped a path across ten miles of streets and residences. Nearly a year after Elvis Presley sold out performances in his “Tornado over Omaha” concert tour of June 1974, the real-life tornado of ’75 caught our city’s attention.


  1. Bob Cannon
    March 25, 2014

    As the Tornado headed down 72nd street and towards my Dad’s bar -Cannons Bar & Grill – everyone packed into the walk-in beer cooler where they kept the beer and frozen food. Before entering they opened the front door and back door to the bar. As they sat in the cooler they heard a lot of “pinging” noise and the wind roaring through bar. What they discovered after the storm passed was something truly amazing. Apparently, someone forgot to shut the cash register. All the paper money was left in the cash register (there were no clips in the register to hold the paper money down) while all the coins were lifted out and shot down the hallway and out the back door. The pinging sound they heard in the cooler were the various coins hitting the cooler door. There was a wooden telephone pole on the street behind the bar that was embedded with pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. We were told by experts that having the front and back doors open, saved the bar. Truly amazing!

  2. Jane Kelley
    February 21, 2014

    I was being detained at JC Penney at the Westroads, while my daughter who was exactly 11 months old on May 6, was sitting in the house of a neighbor. Security wouldn’t let anyone leave the mall. When I finally headed to my house in Westgate, I could see from 84th & Gold that Westgate Elementary School had been leveled to the ground. This was a block away from our house. Luckily, the most damage was done up toward the school and south. My daughter was safe. Life is a gift. The images and the stories are etched in my head.

  3. Mary Pat Raynor
    February 20, 2014

    Maureen Konwinski, my sister Anne and I were selling Exacta tickets at the Aksarben Horse races. Over the loud speakers we heard”high winds and water are approaching, run for cover.” Our boss on our line of ticket sales came running down the line shouting, ” grab your money!”. We quickly grabbed all the cash that we had in our cash box and ran inside to the club house area.
    Afterwards, heading for our car, the entire area looked as if it had been bombed. We had to wade through knee deep water which had pieces of wood from trees and other debris. It was an event that I will never forget!

  4. Patti Grimes
    February 2, 2014

    I was about to graduate from the College of St. Mary’s Nursing School that May. I was STUDYING with my friend Mary Comstock for our last final at her apartment near 72nd and Center. We went outside (not the smartest thing I’ve ever done) to see if we could spot the tornado. We saw it in the distance and headed for cover. We were actually hoping the tornado would save us from our last final (which it didn’t). After the tornado had passed and we were able to safely go outside, we found a check that had been blown from the other end of town. Bergan Mercy Hospital was where we did our clinical practice and the hospital staff had done an incredible job of getting all the patients to safety, with no injuries. The tornado had raised the roof off the hospital and curtains were found In between the walls and the roof when the tornado had passed. Finals taken, Graduation completed. Bergan remained standing and I was able to start my Nursing Career there that summer of 1975.

  5. Dick Mangus
    January 26, 2014

    I was downtown working at the UP, hoping that my family, scattered all over the city, was OK!

  6. Robin Boeck
    January 23, 2014

    Mary Ann Bender and I were in the old Downtown Library, 1823 Harney, researching for a project. We were, maybe, Sophomores at Marian. We were sitting on the back steps of the Library, listening to the tornado sirens and wondering what was happening to our town of Omaha. Never Will Forget Where I Was!

    • Robin Boeck
      January 26, 2014

      Your reference to the Elvis Presley sold out performances in his “Tornado over Omaha” concert tour of June 1974 brought back a memory. At that time, Marian girls could volunteer to usher at Concerts at the Civic Auditorium and listen to the concert for free. My friend, Joan Johnson McGill and I were usherettes for that concert and towards the end of the concert, Joan and I snuck up to the stage. Elvis was singing, sweating and wiping his sweat with these blue silk scarves. He then threw them out to the audience. Since we were so close to the stage, I caught a silk scarf but on the other end of my scarf was a 37-year old female with her husband next to her. The next thing I knew, the woman’s husband pulled out a knife. I thought it was a little over the top to stab someone over a scarf but…then he cut the scarf into 2 pieces. Drama over. Scarf in hand. Successful evening. I still have that scarf. Good times.

  7. Kelly Mick
    January 21, 2014

    UNDER THE STAIRS. I grew up in Maple Village and we lived at the very top of a hill. I remember grabbing our dog, Snookie (it had a different meaning back then:), and heading with my mom for the crawl space underneath our stairs – we lived in one of those, “do I go up, down or just leave, kind of split entry homes”, (tee hee, couldn’t resist). Anyway, I remember Mom going to the doorway landing to ‘check it out’, I tried to follow and she SCREAMED at me to get back under the stairs – she could see the nightmare beginning East of us toward 72nd street. Our home remained untouched as did the others in our area. Days after, my family would gather under my fathers direction with a chainsaw in his hand moving through other neighborhoods helping with clean up. I was ten years old and remember it like it was yesterday. Mary Kay has done such an incredible job of re-creating the story through the details in time and place – LOVED THE BOOK!

  8. Sara Smith
    January 21, 2014

    Watching the news from Columbus and freaking out!!! All of my 5 year old self!!
    Everyone needs to read this book by Mary Kay Leatherman. Vanity Insanity is a remarkable story. So proud of MK!!!

  9. Sue Bee
    January 21, 2014

    We were newlyweds about to celebrate our first anniversary on June 1, 1975. On that day in May, I was in our apartment on 96th and Q and my husband was just arriving home from work. Storm warnings were broadcasted on the television and I was frightened. Hearing a loud sound like a locomotive and lots of pops and crackles, I looked out the kitchen window and there it was! A large dark gray funnel coming our way from the southwest. I screamed at my husband, “It’s coming! It’s coming!” Our only shelter was the laundry room downstairs. We ran down two flights of stairs, searching for safety. Along the way, we ran into a neighbor, an airman at Offut. He and my husband decided to take a look outside. They stood at the backdoor of the complex as the tornado made its way further east. It appeared to be traveling to the south of our apartment complex. I yelled at my husband and the airman to “get down here!” I couldn’t believe that they were outside, watching the tornado. Suddenly, I heard, “Oh, {expletive}!” Both men ran down the stairs and shut the laundry room door behind them. The airman said, “It turned. It’s heading this way!” We huddled in the corner of the laundry room, listening to the howling and crackling as the tornado came closer. The sound was deafening. I covered my ears and lowered my head as much as possible. Then it stopped. As quickly as it came, it was gone. It was seemed so quiet all of a sudden. We slowly stood and walked towards the door, gingerly making our way out of the laundry room. The scene was surreal. Our apartment building was intact, but houses and other buildings in the area were leveled. It was strange to see a flattened spot where a house once stood. Now only rubble and the bathroom fixtures remained. People slowly came out of shelter, dazed and “shell shocked.” So much destruction. We were grateful our apartment building had been spared but felt bad for the people who lived in the Wentworth Apartments just east of us. It was so unbelievable! My husband’s office,. located above the Westroads Bank on 72 & Dodge, was damaged but the building still stood. It was difficult to travel to work because of all the downed power lines and debris in the street. The path of the tornado led straight up 72nd Street, tearing out most of the businesses and restaurants that were Omaha landmarks and favorites. It would take awhile to rebuild. As our anniversary approached the next month, we thought about our first year of marriage. My mother had died in August, 1974, two months after we got married. We went through the worst blizzard in years in January, 1975. And now the tornado. I turned to my husband and said, “After this, the next 49 years should be a breeze!”