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Community to observe 75th anniversary of deadly tornado
Plaque to be dedicated at gathering
Tracy Buggeln walks past the statue of Old Joe in the center of the downtown Gainesville square recently. The square was the center of the destruction during the tornado of 1936 and will be the site today of the dedication of a marker commemorating the tornado. - photo by Tom Reed

Click here for more coverage of the '36 tornado


Remembering the 1936 tornado

All events are free

Exhibit featuring the events of April 6 and the aftermath
When: Through April 30
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St., Gainesville

Moment of silence, walking tour, plaque dedication
When: 8:15-8:30 a.m. today
Where: Gainesville's downtown square
Find the walking tour brochure online at

Survivors' reception
When: 5-6:30 p.m. today
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center

Lecture on the history of the 1936 tornado and the science of weather
When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center

Documentary showing and forum with tornado survivors
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center

Memories of the 1936 tiwster

Ruth H. Hamrick

How well I remember April 6, 1936. I was a third-grade student at Clermont.

The school had no electricity and it became so dark that we had to "close our books."

The principal came and told our teacher what had happened in Gainesville. Shortly, my parents came to pick up my brother and me. We went to Gainesville because my grandparents lived on Riverside Drive, and we had to know if they were OK.

I remember seeing the square with all the devastation and just couldn't believe it.

Every spring, I start worrying about tornadoes, and I hope and pray we'll never see another as bad as the one in 1936.

Tom Cox

At the time of the tornado my family and I resided at the corner of Sycamore Street and Brenau Avenue.

My sister Patsy and I were at home with the sitter.

Fortunately, our apartment was not seriously damaged; and we were uninjured.

I was 5 and my sister was 7; so my memories of the actual event are extremely vague.

My mother had just arrived at the Gallant-Belk store on the square and was killed when the building was destroyed. My daddy was at his place of business on Bradford Street downtown and was uninjured when that building was destroyed.

My grandparents, Walter and Minnie Cox, were in their home on Spring Street and were not injured when the house was destroyed. They moved into our two bedroom apartment along with my aunts Ema and Gladys Cox.

Of course, sleeping space was a problem, and my daddy was able to rent a room over the bowling alley downtown. I have been told that he got a job setting pins in the bowling alley to pay for the room until he found work for a brief period with Piggly Wiggly then was employed by Wright's Ice Cream where he later was made manager and worked until he retired.

By that time it was Mayfield Ice Cream.

My grandmother prepared meals for all of us, and we were so blessed to have them as surrogate parents.

During my years of growing up, traffic was such that my friends and I played football and rode our wagons and flexiracers in the middle of Sycamore and Brenau.

Even though it was a difficult time for everyone, my sister and I have many happy memories thanks to the loving care of my grandparents and aunts.

Lee Waldrip

Written in 1999 by the late Lee Waldrip. Contributed by son Jack Waldrip.

On April 6, 1936, I was working at the Cooper Pants Factory. I was on the third floor.

It turned dark at 8:15 a.m. on a Monday morning, then all power went off.

I jumped in a pile of pants, then the whole building came tumbling in. It blew me and the pants away.

When I came to, I was on West Washington Street at about the 700 block. I was trying to climb over a tree that was across the street.

Then when I got home at the end of West Washington Street, where I lived, our barn was gone, but the house was still there.

My own mother did not know who I was, as I was black and bloody and my clothes were torn almost off me.

I was hurt and taken to Chicopee Clinic. I had three ribs crushed in.

It is my understanding that there were 108 people in the pants factory that morning. Of the 87 who were killed, most were burned up. They were trapped in the stairways.

Time stood still 75 years ago as a tornado ripped through Gainesville's downtown.

City officials and residents will pause this morning to remember the moment it struck at 8:27 a.m.

The square hasn't featured any recognition of the devastating storm that reshaped the city, and officials decided a milestone anniversary would be the time to add a memorial.

"Since I've been here, I've wondered why there hasn't been anything on the square, and no one seems to know why we don't have a marker," said Angela Thompson, Main Street manager. "We realized the anniversary was coming up and decided to recognize this important and historical time."

Mayor Ruth Bruner and Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs will welcome the crowd invited to gather at 8:15 a.m., and the Rev. Bill Coates of Gainesville's First Baptist Church will hold a moment of silence and prayer.

A Northeast Georgia History Center official will give a history of the tornado, and Thompson will unveil the plaque that will hang on a brick pillar along Washington Street.

After the ceremony, Thompson will hand out brochures for residents to take a walking tour of the tornado's path. She posted a printable version on Gainesville's website so residents can download the brochure and take the tour on their own time.

"It's a very important time for people to walk through, relive and remember," she said.

Tonight, history center officials will host a reception to recognize survivors and open exhibits that feature the devastation and aftermath of April 6, 1936.

"I really like this little iron in one of the exhibits. The little girl held onto it through the tornado and kept it all these years," said Glen Kyle, director of the center. "You know she kept it for sentimental reasons and remembered what happened as she held onto it."

It's the recovery that makes a remarkable story, he added.

"The tornado killed 200 and destroyed so much of downtown Gainesville, but that's just part of the story," Kyle said. "The amazing part is how that community came together and pulled itself out of that disaster and came out stronger for it."

One Gainesville resident wants to take it a step further.

Architect Garland Reynolds wants to see a memorial in the downtown area that recognizes the Cooper Pants Factory, where dozens of women died from the tornado.

"Growing up here, I never heard about it other than when my dad talked about standing outside and hearing the women scream," he said. "It was a tremendous event, and no one speaks about it or knows how many women really died. I heard 40-70 and even up to 125."

When Gainesville officials put out a request for proposals in January to revamp four acres of downtown, including the old factory site, Reynolds wrote a letter to city officials about the monument idea. He also suggested it to several developers who are submitting proposals for the project.

"It's a very historic block and a strategic location where the rails cross, which caused Gainesville to be founded in the first place," he said.

"Gainesville desperately needs greenspace and a central park area with an open pavilion."

Reynolds envisions a structure shaped like a flower to go near Engine 209 at the corner of Jesse Jewell Parkway and West Academy Street.

"People pass by plaques and don't read them, and this needs something more recognizable that stands out as a landmark," he said. "We have the opportunity to do something really spectacular to draw people to downtown, something that has real pizzazz."