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New stories of Tornado of ’36 told at survivor’s forum

History center employees recording memories of the survivors

POSTED: April 12, 2011 11:34 p.m.

Remembering the 1936 tornado

Survivors and others who have a connection to the 1936 tornado participate in discussion at the Northeast Georgia History Center.

SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Eddie Chambers, left, tells Phil Hudgins and others gathered at the Northeast Georgia History Center Tuesday evening his memories from the 1936 tornado that destroyed downtown Gainesville. Forum organizers invited survivors to share their memories of the storm.

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A historic week came to a close Tuesday night as survivors of the 1936 tornado once again shared their memories of that fateful April morning when Gainesville fell to ruins.

"My father wouldn't let me come to town because you could still hear the ladies screaming at the pants factory (as it burned)," Ed Dunlap, who was age 10 at the time, told a group at the Northeast Georgia History Center.

More than 100 people gathered to hear the recollections. And 75 years later, new stories still emerged.

Jack Wilson said he was just an infant living in Franklin County when the storm hit. His father drove to Gainesville a few days after the tornado where he met a man who had lost his wife and children.

As the man cleared wreckage in his front yard, he gave Wilson's father one of his children's tricycles.

"He said, ‘Take this tricycle and see if you can use it.' I rode that tricycle until I broke the wheels off," Wilson said. "... And I want to say thank you, not knowing a name or anything else to the fact. My first knowledge of Gainesville, Georgia, was that I had received a tricycle, and I knew, my dad told me that, at the devastation of someone else and another family."

In the moments after the storm hit, Dunlap's father ran through the devastation to the town's black neighborhood to check on a nurse he knew.

"She took in children, orphaned children," Dunlap told the group. "And as he got near the house he noticed the house was gone, blown away. But there was a bed still there and under the bed were four little children, ... and they didn't have a scratch on them."

The forum was the cap on a week of events that started a week ago with the dedication of a memorial on the downtown square. The history center's exhibit on the tornado will remain on display until May 7.

History center employees are also in the process of preserving oral histories of survivors' memories.

They've recorded about seven or eight people, with the recordings ranging from 10 to 30 minutes.

"We really want to have in our archives, statements from the people who are survivors, just as many as we can get," said Julie Carson, history center education and volunteer coordinator. "Just to think what they lived through that day and then just picked up and kept going."

History center president Phil Hudgins said the survivor forum was a fitting way to bring the anniversary week to a close.

"I think it's a perfect way to end, with these stories from these people who actually lived through this, some of whom who could have very well been killed," he said.

Hudgins said he hoped the week's events reignited the town's interest in the tornado and ensured a new generation will always remember the pivotal event in Gainesville's history.

"A lot of people sacrificed during that time," he said. "A lot of people had to do some hard work to rebuild and we don't need to forget that."

 



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