By Lena Mitchell
The story of the tornado of 1848 has never been told in the columns of The Eastern Gazette, as far as is known, and to the late Miss Sarah Winslow it seemed to be of sufficient historical interest to have a place in the annals of our town. She felt that as it was a most peculiar gale, wreaking its vengeance on property and forests, but very considerate of human life, it stood out among the chronicles of tornadoes and cyclones. Nothing like it has ever been known since in this section of Maine.
In 1931, at the request of Miss Winslow, her Aunt Louisa, (Mrs. George R. Sampson of Ripley) then 94 years old and the only living person who witnessed the terrifying spectacle of the destructive tornado of 1848, wrote the following account: Mrs. Sampson, grandmother of Ralph Sampson of this town, died two years later in 1933 at the age of 98.
"Memory carries me back to a day 82 years ago last August. I was then past 13 years old and was going to school. I well remember it was a dark, dismal day. It thundered at intervals at a distance all the forenoon. In the afternoon it was worse. There was a continual rumble for hours which did not seem to be so very near. About three o’clock there was a big clap of thunder. The teacher said, “there is going to be a big shower, all of you go home soon as you can". "Well, there was some hustling. When I got out of the door I looked to the west. It was an awful sight. There were big black clouds rolling and tumbling. It looked to me like smoke; then there were things flying in it, I called them crows.
"The teacher and nine of her scholars went as fast as we could for home. We had not gone far when the wind blew so hard we ran for my sister’s home which was close by. They were all away but the latch string hung out so we all rushed in; that is, all but a little boy, Lamont Downing. I well remember holding the door so it would not blow wide open when all at once the door was wrenched out of my hands and I was hurled back into the room. At the same time I saw Lamont rise from the ground and go past the door towards a grove of small maple trees. He said he went up into those trees; the wind blew and twisted them all down and he came down with them. (This was somewhat verified as after the storm passed Lamont’s cap and lunch pail were found near the top of a tree.)
My sister’s house was lifted from the foundation and was carried back 15 or 20 feet. The roof was torn or carried to parts unknown. The walls collapsed and the front wall fell in on us. The furniture, I suppose, kept it from crushing us. It must have been a sight to see a teacher and eight children down among chairs, tables and other things. I was perfectly dazed, never could remember clearly about it. Some thought we could not have been in the house but we had good evidence that we were. Ann left a kettle of black dye on the stove, and every one was sprinkled with the dye.
We all got out without help. Everyone had a cut or bruise, nothing bad. We were all in the road trying to get over a big tree that had fallen when I saw some neighbors coming, headed by father. He was running and was bareheaded. I think that brought me to my senses, he looked so comical. He said, Where were you? I said, In Ann’s house. He said, You could not have been there. Then I looked and was surprised to see the house had gone.
The tornado commenced at the head of Ripley Pond. It took one set of buildings, swept it clean. What I thought was smoke proved to be black clouds, and my ‘crows’ were the wreckage of those buildings.
One thing worth mentioning was a little child tied in a high-chair. When found among the wreckage, she was but slightly hurt but the rungs of the chair were broken.
The storm passed on a few miles, leaving a trail to John Lane’s place. (This home was purchased by James Wintle in 1945 and we sold it in 1959.) There was a house, a long shed and two barns. It swept everything clean except the body of the house. Next it took our schoolhouse---lifted it clear up, carried it 25 or 30 feet, then set it down. The bricks in the chimney came down, seats, desk and stove were all piled with them in one corner. Next it took the house we were in. Pa saw it coming, and said, hurry and let us get in that thicket of willows way back of the house. Well, he and mother, my older sister and little brother started and when they got into the little orchard they could go no farther as the wind blew so hard. They all lay down flat on the ground and father put one arm around them and with the other hand he gripped an apple tree. When the wind passed over them, the tree bowed its head most to the ground, then righted up again.
It did but little damage to our house but the big barn was a perfect wreck; everything was swept clean. It took several tons of hay as if it was chaff, then it took what he had tumbled up in the field. Also a field of corn, there was not a hill left.
The storm rose and went two or three miles then dipped down and uprooted and broke down a number of acres of Sam Abbott’s hard wood lot. Next it took his buildings. He had just got a new house built ready to go into. It took that, the barn, and everything except the litle old house. Passing on it struck a big orchard uprooting and breaking every tree. From there it hit Dexter pond, scooping the water up. I really don’t know what it did to it, but no great damage.
Mrs. Julia Jones of Ripley, 19 years old at the time of the storm vividly remembered many incidents and related them in later years to her grandaughter, Mrs. Harry Seavey, of Dexter.
Mrs. Charles H. Ansell, through whose kindness this material was loaned, has a blue bowl from a set of dishes which came safely through the tempest. It was given to her great, great grandmother, Mrs. Richard Parker Lane, after the tornado.
NOTES: FROM JAMES WINTLE
Contact Jim Wintle by email or call 207-924-7598.
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