Mattoon Tornado of 1917
The funnel of the tornado on May 26, 1917 first appeared at noon just west of a small town southeast of Quincy (Wilson and Changnon, 1971). It moved east along a remarkably straight line creating damages in several small towns and many farms.
At times along its path the tornado was accompanied by large hailfalls, with hailstone diameters of 3 inches. The tornado then struck and badly damaged both Mattoon and Charleston.
In Mattoon an area 2.5 city blocks wide and 3 miles long was totally devastated. The destruction included 103 persons killed, 400 injured , and 496 houses were totally destroyed, leaving 2,500 residents homeless. The local damages totaled $4.2 million (1917 dollars). These huge losses led to this tornado becoming named the "Mattoon Tornado."
"Late Saturday a twister, probably the most severe of the series, struck the rich corn belt of central Illinois, killing 54 persons and injuring perhaps 500 in Mattoon. At Charleston, ten miles east of Mattoon, 37 were killed and more than 150 injured," reported The Newark Advocate on May 26, 1917. The tornado, later known as the "Mattoon Tornado" for the amount of destruction that occurred in that city, killed around 100 people in central Illinois and injured more than 600. It was originally believed that one tornado covered 293 miles and lasted more than seven hours; it was later determined that four to eight separate tornadoes likely caused the destruction.
At one time, the series of tornadoes which struck nearly a straight line from near the town of Louisiana, Missouri to near Mount Vernon, Indiana was considered a single tornado. Lasting 7 hours and 40 minutes over a 293-mile (472 km) path through three states, this tornado held records for the longest tornado track, as well as longest-lasting tornado. However, it is now generally accepted that this was a family of at least 4, and possibly 8 or more separate tornadoes, with either short breaks in the damage path or sections of straight-line wind damage connecting the tornado paths.
The most severe damage was in the cities of Mattoon and Charleston, where 101 people were killed.
Charleston, lying ten miles east of Mattoon, with 5,000 population, suffered a larger loss in proportion to its size than Mattoon, the known dead totalling thirty-eight, with twenty or more missing. Scores were injured in Charleston also and some buildings were wrecked, including the Maple Hotel, two railroad stations, three grain elevators and lumber yard. Two thousand five hundred Charleston persons are homeless.
The twisting wind chose its victims in spots, and reports from the rural regions indicate that small loss of life occurred outside Mattoon and Charleston and only at widely separated places.
Sweeping through Modesto, south of Mattoon, where much damage was done, the storm rushed northeast, dropping down on the north part of this city. Leaving unscathed the business section and barely touching the industrial plants, the whirlwind lifted its tentacles until it reached Charleston.