Even in 2019, it is becoming rare to find anyone in Lorain who lived through it or has any kind of memory of it.
That wasn’t the case fifty years ago in June 1969. It had only been 45 years since the tragedy and it was still fresh in the minds of many Lorain citizens. Thus it was easy for the Journal to find someone to interview for their perspective.
In this article that ran in the Journal on June 28, 1969, the paper mainly focuses on the reminisces of Antone Ujhelyi, the City Auditor at that time.
75 Died, 1500 Injured
The Lorain Tornado:
45 Years Ago Today
By KEITH ERVIN
But at five in the afternoon it turned into a day of terror and tragedy for Lorain residents. That was on this day 45 years ago when a tornado swept off Lake Erie and into downtown Lorain.
Many survivors still remember June 28, 1924. Two people who lived through it were Norman Siegfried, 1377 Nichols Ave., Lorain, and his wife Ethel – a couple married two hours before the disaster.
Siegfried recalls that the twister struck without warning just as the family was finishing taking pictures of the newlyweds in the bride’s house at 1246 W. Erie Ave., Lorain. “I was just too stunned to move,” Siefried says. “I just stood there with my wife taking in all we could through the window. The house was lifted about an inch off the ground.”
A few moments later the funnel had passed through the city’s business district into South Lorain where 13-year-old Antone Ujhelyi was talking to his father who had just returned from St. Joseph Hospital after an operation.
“I remember looking out of my house at the National Tube Company across the street,” says Ujhelyi, who 45 years later is Lorain city auditor. “I saw one of these bridging cranes collapse. Billboards were ripped off their frames and blown across the town like cards.
Siegfried recalls the terror of the storm’s fury: “I thought it was the end of the world to tell the truth. It was as dark as at ten. I saw telephone poles flying around. Then in five minutes it was all over.”
Siegfried said all the house’s windows were smashed in and part of the roof was blown off. Several homes in the neighborhood were lifted off their foundations, and the roof of the plush State Theater on nearby Broadway caved in, killing scores of movie viewers.
The Siegfried had to postpone their honeymoon as the young husband aided in rescue operations. Siegfried found that Lorain High School had been converted into a morgue and hospital for some of the city’s 75 dead and 1,500 injured. “We never got out of town," Siegfried remembers. “We had planned to take a trip.”
Because of looting and fallen power lines, it was a week before the National Guard re-opened the main business district which was decimated by the tornado. Damage to Lorain was so severe that 7,500 residents were left homeless. It was one of the worst tornadoes in U.S. history.
The damage was exaggerated by the press, Ujhelyi said. Ujhelyi notes that it was more than a week before relatives in Budapest found out it was untrue that “the entire city of Lorain was demolished and there were no survivors.”
A huge, front-page headline in the August 1, 1924 Journal read: LORAIN WILL INFORM WORLD SHE IS HERE YET – To Rectify Incorrect Information.”
For Ujhelyi the first intimation of unnatural weather came during his violin lesson at noon at 711 W. 5th St., Lorain, when a “tremendous rainstorm and cloudburst broke. Then it got hot and muggy. It got so hot that it was almost unbelievable after the storm. Then there came some yellow clouds and it got so eerie... Then it got so dark it was almost like night.”
“It’s amazing what ordinary air – forced air – can do,” Ujhelyi says. “Because when you get down to it, that’s all it is."