Deadly Sherman tornado remembered 122 years later

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SHERMAN, Texas (KXII) On May 15, 1896, Sherman was making world news with one of the most devastating tornados ever recorded still to this day.

"It was a very sultry day,” Dorothy McKee said. “Very similar to the day we had today. Ominous clouds started building in the southwest."

McKee is secretary and board member for the Sherman Museum.

Sherman historian Ivert Mayhugh owns A Touch of Class Antique Mall, and one of the original copies of H.L. Piner's book "Sherman's Black Friday" detailing those dark days in Sherman history.

"A tornado surfaced off of West Hill Cemetery ripping through the cemetery and hitting the Houston Street Bridge,” Mayhugh said. “Which at that time I think was just an old iron bridge with probably plank boards but twisted into a pretzel like shape."

The tornado that tore through Sherman was recorded as a rare F-5 tornado with winds of more than 260 miles per hour.

KXII Chief Meteorologist Steve Lanore said it was an unusual one.

“The only F-5 ever in Grayson County,” Lanore said. “It started down in Denton County around Pilot Point moved off to the northeast, which is pretty typical for tornados. Then it took a hard left turn which is rather unusual. The total path was 28 miles.”

"This was a big deal back then,” Mayhugh said. “And even though we had limited communications such as 1896 the world found out about it right away. And interesting enough people without being asked started sending money in."

McKee purchased and restored one of the homes on the corner of Birge and Wood Streets that had been built on the foundation of a home destroyed on Black Friday.

"Obviously from the pictures of the tornado, they were literally flattened,” McKee said. “Two homes did survive in the northwest area. And there were no hospitals at the time in the west side of town so those two homes became hospitals."

66 people lost their lives in Sherman out of 73 total along the tornado’s path.

“There were so many bodies,” Mayhugh said. “Sixty-six of them. And people were having a very great difficulty identifying their loved ones and the reason of all things was mud. With a tornado you get a lot of rain and water and we didn't have a lot of paved streets then, it was mud. This book tells the story of a man who visited his wife three times before he was certain it was her."

But Mayhugh says, it could have been much worse. The Tornado was on a path for the old North Texas Female College that hundreds of young women attended. At the last moment, it changed course.

"But no warning went out at the time,” McKee said. “For whatever reason, I don't know."