The Day the Skies Darkened Forever

In April of 1908, my great grandmother Gertrude Daniel was a ten year old girl living in Brasher’s Chapel, a small community in North Alabama very near Albertville. Something would happen that spring that would affect Gertie for the rest of her life.

Growing up in a household as the second oldest of seven children could not have been easy, especially in the rural south. Complicating things further was the fact that Gertie’s father, Seaborne Taylor Daniel, was a known bootlegger. It can’t be said that Taylor Daniel didn’t excel, even at bootlegging, since his moonshine was known to be the best in the county. This left Gertie, her mother and six siblings to run the small farm. Even in good times, they most likely didn’t have much. Life was hard and the events of April 24, 1908 would make things more so.

Daniel Family
Taylor Daniel family circa 1913 – Gertie is standing center behind her parents

Around four in the afternoon the clouds darkened with what was seemingly just another springtime storm. Residents soon realized that was no ordinary thunderstorm. What would later be classified as an F4 tornado ripped a 105 mile path of destruction through north central Alabama, killing a total of 35 people and injuring 188. Fifteen of the fatalities and 150 of the injuries were in Albertville as the northern side of the town was completely obliterated. The storm was so powerful that it picked up a freight train off the tracks in Albertville, smashing all nine cars. It also picked up a nine ton oil tank and carried it a distance of a half a mile. The damage path was anywhere from 200 yards to a half mile. Witnesses at the time described a funnel shaped cloud, with a “bounding and whirling motion” that swept away everything in its path. People reported hearing a loud rumbling noise and seeing lighting as the storm swept through. Damaging hail fell north of the storm’s path as well.

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Albertville after the tornado of 1908 (photo courtesy of Marshall County, Alabama)

Some of those killed were related to Gertie.  Fannie Decker and her two small daughters were killed when their house was picked up and slammed back down by the winds.  Fannie was Gertie’s aunt’s sister-in-law, but in such a small town, the deaths affected everyone.

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The Decker Family – Fannie Decker and two of her daughters were killed during the 1908 tornado

This storm had a very measurable impact upon a ten year old girl. For the rest of her life, Gertie was terrified of any bad weather. Her children and grandchildren remember her panic anytime it would rain. She always thought rain signaled bad things and you couldn’t convince her otherwise. Although she lived into her nineties, in her later years she slept every single night in a small block house outside her main home. She somehow felt safer sleeping in the small, compact space, away from her main home. Every evening before sunset you could watch her walk to the little house for the night, only to watch her return across the yard to her main house the next morning. Mother Nature had taught her a life long lesson at an early age. It was a lesson she took to heart and never forgot.

One hundred and two years to the day, Albertville is facing another cleanup. I wonder how many Gertie Daniels will remember yesterday for the rest of their lives?

 – cover photo courtesy of Eric’s Weather Library

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