Friday April 21, 1967 was a bad day for the Chicago area. At 5:30 P.M. a F-4 tornado struck Chicago’s southern suburbs and continued on a 16-mile path thru the south side of Chicago before passing into lake Michigan as a waterspout. This massive tornado’s base was estimated to be a city block in width and traveled at a ground speed of an incredible 65 mph, out racing any vehicle. Thirty-three people died. Over a thousand people were injured. Sixteen of the deaths occurred in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn when the tornado touched down at the intersection of 95th street and Southwest Highway. This intersection was the epicenter of the tornado’s carnage. Buildings were leveled to the ground. Most of the deaths resulting at this fateful intersection involved vehicles at the wrong place at the wrong time. Half of the 33 people killed were motorists waiting in traffic.
Here are some historical images recorded on the NOAA (National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration) site.: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lot/?n=OakLawn_tornado_pics
A YouTube video sums up the event, titled “Terror in Oak Lawn”.
In 1967 I was six years old. Our famly had a Friday ritual. When dad came home from work on Friday, the family would go out for dinner at a restaurant. It was the only day of the week we dined out. Back then Friday was “payday” when employers actually paid weekly with a paper check. It was a time to celebrate the end a week’s labors.
Every Friday after dad came home we immediately got in the car and drove to the same restaurant. My mom and dad’s favorite restaurant was the Sherwood Forest Restaurant in Oak Lawn. After dinner, we’d drive to the bank so my father could cash his check. Sometimes it took nearly half an hour waiting in line to get that done on a busy Friday. Back then they did not have drive thru tellers. Or direct deposit checking. How primitive!
As usual, Friday April 21 we got in the car and drove off to have dinner. Traveling down Southwest Highway we arrived at the intersection of 95th street where our favorite Sherwood Forest Restaurant was located. I recall the sky was very dark. At the horizon was daylight, but the dark clouds above us were nearly pitch black. Yet oddly, I recall there was no rain.
Instead of turning left and entering the restaurant’s parking lot, my dad said, “Let’s go the bank first, then we’ll come back to eat.” It was a spontaneous decision. He never went to the bank before dinning. He made a right turn down 95th street.
In minutes of making the turn, my mother heard something and looked behind. She was startled and yelled at my dad, “There is a tornado behind us!” My father looked in his rear view mirror and saw garbage cars flying around. A huge dark mass was quickly approaching our car! He slammed on the accelerator and took off driving right through a red light. This swirling maelstrom was approaching to his left. My mom jumped in the back seat and pushed me down covering me with her body. I wanted to see what was going on but she yelled at me to stay down. The air was roaring with the sound of a freight train.
Dad did not know if he was driving away from the tornado or actually into it. He saw a brick building with an underground garage. He made a desperate right turn down the embankment. The garage door was closed, but even so he had a brick wall to his right and the car was lower then ground level. He told my mom to open the windows to equalize the pressure.
The car began to shake. My father said it felt like the car was about to be lifted off the ground. He looked out the car’s rear window and in the distance saw full grown trees being plucked out of the ground and vanishing into the sky.
Then it was over. IT had passed us by.
Slowly he pulled out of the drive and saw the street was filled with debris. The wreckage was everywhere. He couldn’t drive back the way he came and had to drive a distance around to return home.
The Sherwood Forest Restaurant was directly hit by this F4 tornado, demolished, leveled to the ground. Had we made that fateful left turn and entered the parking lot of the Sherwood Forest Restaurant, we might have perished. We would have been in the restaurant’s lot preparing to leave the car when the tornado would have overtaken us with a ground speed of 65-miles an hour. 16 people died at Southwest Highway and 95th street, many in cars.
I asked my dad what made him decide at the last minute to go to the bank instead of the restaurant, to turn right instead of left. He said he did not know…it was just a feeling. He could not explain it. He said maybe it was a premonition. Afterwards he kept the newspaper accounts of the event. They are now yellowed and fragile, but he still has them.
We probably would not be here today if he made a fateful left turn. Is there such a thing as fate or destiny? Do we have a date when we are all destined to die? Should we worry about whenever we’ll die, if there is nothing we can do about it?
History is full of convincing premonitions. It is said the Titanic carried far less passengers on its voyage into disaster, with stories of canceled reservations due to premonitions. If we all have a date we are destined to perish, perhaps it is still possible to sometimes cheat death if we listen to our intuition. We should listen to our inner voice. Which road will we take, the left road or the right road?