Around 6 pm, on Tuesday, May 24, 1859, the sky darkened around Iowa City. Soon, a devastating tornado swept across the south edge of the city, leaving a swath of destruction – homes destroyed, crops obliterated, dozens injured, and five dead.
One of Iowa City’s first photographers and talented artist – Issac (I. A.) Wetherby – had a very successful business in Iowa City during this time and immediately after the storm, he made his way to the south end of town and began doing the job of a news reporter – plus he put together five sketches that caught the attention of the national press. By June, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper had picked up the story and printed both Wetherby’s text and his sketches.
In one first-hand account, John Springer, who was a nine-year-old at the time of the storm, reported…
When (the tornado) crossed the Iowa River, its color instantly changed to white, and at a distance of about a mile, it seemed to be 20 feet or so in diameter, going east at a frightful speed accompanied by a dreadful roaring.
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