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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Psychic Dogs and Naked Chickens

Tornado season is here again. Huge storms are crossing the Mississippi as we write tonight, prompting a reminder that everyone needs to be ready when the sirens sound.

On June 12, 1899, there were no sirens when a tornado struck New Richmond, in St. Croix Co. and 117 people died. Because a circus was in town, the town's population swelled as visitors came in from outlying areas. Shortly after the performance ended, the tornado passed through the very center of town, leveling a strip 1,000 feet wide and 3,000 feet long. More than 300 buildings were destroyed and multiple deaths were reported in at least 26 families. Six families had four or more deaths.

Although there were no sirens, there were some mysterious warning signs. Many of New Richmond's animals appeared to sense the tornado coming long before it arrived.

"There was something very remarkable in the actions of animals previous to the storm," Mrs. Boehm wrote the next year in her book about the disaster. "They seemed without exception as far as I could learn to be unrestful, nervous, and incapable of being quieted though cared for and petted more than usual. There was a Jersey-Holstein cow, the property of Mr. Jas. Link. This fine animal kept up a continual mowing for days previous to the cyclone...

"One very large St. Bernard dog. also the property of Mr. Link, exhibited more than ordinary uneasiness. The faithful animal showed more affection than usual, particularly towards his mistress. The animal left home a few hours before the cyclone struck and returned safely the day after. The poor faithful 'Judge' returned to find his master's home in ruins, and to seek in vain for his dead mistress."

She goes on to say that, "I learned that over thirty dogs left their homes like Judge a few hours before the storm and took refuge under an embankment out of the path of the tornado. Next day the poor dogs were seen returning, a few at a time, with heads low on the ground. Likely they were forced by hunger to leave their retreat. Those that did seemed to be seeking their lost owners."

Of course, most animals did not escape the tornado. "Whole flocks of chickens could be seen alive, denuded of feathers... Again, one would see hens deprived of their feathers only in part. One old hen was going around quite lively with one side completely denuded, the other side covered as usual." Large mammals were not as lucky. At least 360 horses died, and the number of cows put out of their misery was too large to be tallied accurately.

You can see a list of Wisconsin's major tornadoes in our online Dictionary of Wisconsin History, and learn more about them by following the links there. A selection of historic photos showing tornado damage is also available at Wisconsin Historical Images.

For information about how to protect yourself in tornadoes, visit this page provided by the American Red Cross. Plan your safe refuge now, before the dog starts pacing and the sirens go off.

:: Posted in Animals on April 22, 2009

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