A tornado just made a 6-mile swipe through the middle of Atlanta for the first time ever.
It seems a little strange to me that one has not hit before because there is area of North Georgia in Hall County that is known as tornado alley. Plus Gainesville, which is only about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, has had more than one tornado during my lifetime.
The big tornado that practically leveled the town of Gainesville was in 1936, killing several hundred people. I remember it quite well. It was around 8 in the morning and I was walking to catch the school bus.
My family lived on a farm in Madison County and I had to walk about a mile to catch the bus. I recall the black sky and the eerie feeling in the air. Back in those days, everyone had dogs that roamed the land freely and no one vaccinated their pets back then. Consequently, many wild animals roamed the farms, so there would be periodic outbreak of rabies.
At the time the tornado came through, there was an outbreak of rabies in dogs. Walking to catch the bus, I looked everywhere to see if there were any dogs near the path I traveled to school. I had to cross over a little creek on my way and according to local folklore, rabid dogs, what we called mad dogs, looked for water. I walked along plowed fields and a wooded area before the bridge, so I would run from one tree to another, thinking if I saw a mad dog, I would climb a tree.
After crossing the creek, which had an old log over it in order to cross, I climbed a red clay hill walking across an area we called, “Minnie’s Garden,” and along a fence to another clump of wild plum trees. I ran from the creek to the plum tree that dark cloudy morning of the Gainesville tornado.
Once I passed the wild plum trees, the path led to my grandparents’ house where I caught the bus. I knew a bad storm was coming and don’t know which was more frightening—the eerie feeling of impending disaster or the rabid dogs—but kept thinking that if I could make it to my grandparents’ house that they had a storm cellar. Needless to say, I made it to my grandparents’ house.
The next day, we saw pictures of the devastation in the newspapers and began hearing stories about the many strange things that happened during the tornado.
I recall one story about an elderly woman sitting in her house in a rocker. The tornado blew the house away and left the lady sitting in the rocker unharmed on two floorboards of the house.
Speaking of wild animals, we had a chicken house at the edge of our farmhouse where the chickens laid eggs and roosted at night. One morning, my mother went out to gather the eggs and all the chickens were dead. The strangest thing had happened; all the chickens had their legs cut off at the knees!
It was a mystery my parents talked about for months, until someone came along and explained that wild mink did it. It had nothing to do with the storm, but was just one of the many interesting happenings living on a farm and growing up in those Great Depression days of the 1930s.
If there’s any connection between tornados and chickens it’s the fact that I now live in Gainesville, which at one time was known as the chicken capital of the world.
Many chicken houses were destroyed, along with many other buildings, during that horrible tornado in 1936 just 50 miles above Atlanta.