July 26, 1890 started out as a typically hot July day in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but early in the morning, disaster struck in the form of the Great Cyclone of July 26, 1890.
Nowadays we would call this a tornado, but regardless of its nomenclature, this storm wreaked destruction on part of South Lawrence, as seen in the above photo, where a house has been split in two and unceremoniously dumped onto the ground. Eight people were killed and 65 injured. The cyclone struck shortly after 9:00 a.m., and certainly there was no warning of the wind. Even today, tornado warnings are issued only minutes before the storm strikes and sometimes not at all, as the prediction of a tornado—where and when it will strike—is still a difficult science.
These photos, taken by A. W. Anderson of Haverhill, Mass., show the destruction. Houses were opened up by the storm, having walls and roofs torn off. Strewn around in the foreground of one photo is bedding and a chair, along with other unrecognizable debris while rescuers pose literally on top of what is left of the house.
A poem about the calamity, written by Alexander B. Beard of West Manchester, N.H., described the storm this way: “Like a demon loosed from Bedlam nought could its progress stay, / It spent its awful fury on all within its way. / The dwellings fell like ripe grain beneath the reapers blade, / Many poor industrious people were thereby homeless made.” Thankfully the damage was confined to a small part of South Lawrence, and the rest of the city was undamaged. Relief efforts poured in from Lawrence and surrounding towns and cities, amounting to a total of over $37,000, a substantial sum in 1890.
Anderson’s photos received widespread distribution at the time. A set of them can be found here in the Osborne Library, as well as in the Special Collections at the Lawrence Public Library.
Jane Ward, Assistant Librarian