A premonition saved our lives: 1967 Oak Lawn Tornado



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.

1967 Sun-Times scan: Tornado's Path

1967 Sun-Times scan: Tornado's Path

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?

1967 Tribune's Tornado Special

1967 Tribune's Tornado Special

17 Responses to “A premonition saved our lives: 1967 Oak Lawn Tornado”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    I have several stories like this, personally compelling, from my father and grandmother. None are this spectacular, though.

  2. David Says:

    Stephanie, I wonder if premonitions are a sixth-sense survival instinct we all have. We just don’t pay attention to these instincts. We don’t even know they exist. How many times has a gut intinct kept us out of trouble, both big or small.

  3. *lynne* Says:

    Wow. Now I’ve got goosebumps all over my arms.

  4. David Says:

    Hi Lynne,
    As a young boy I was upset I couldn’t see the tornado for myself, with my mom on top of me holding me down. A child didn’t appreciate how close we came to oblivion. At least I was not traumatized by the experience.

  5. David Says:

    Hi Andre,
    Thanks for your story! That was incredible. Thank God you survived that tornado. Living in the Midwest, when the weather turns extreme, we always wonder if something wicked might be forming. There is a sense of danger whenever storm clouds turn heavy and rolling and green, with memories of what can happen.

  6. Edward J Wardynski Says:

    I lived in evergreen park where the tornado went through. 2 houses away from us had the front blown in. On the west side of richmond my friends house had its kitchen window blown in. several houses on the corner where distroyed. There used to be a garbage can cover in the tree bent around a tree branch, it was there for a long time.

  7. David Says:

    Hi Edward,
    We are survivors of that terrible tornado. Had it turned in a little just a different direction…we are lucky.

  8. Stephen Says:

    Hi David

    Something prompted me to do more research for this particular tornado, After watching a documentary on tornadoes on tv in my native land of Australia. The documentary actually featured the Oak Lawn 1967 tragedy in particular, and I decided to jump online and research more about this!.. my question is how do I find out the exact path of this tornado? is there any sort of photo reference or map I can find online that tracks this tornado from when it touched down to when it exited as a waterspout on Lake Michigan?


  9. David Says:

    Hi Stephen,
    My dad had old newspapers that covered the tornado way back then. I have pictures of some pages in my in the post. You could try to find some microfilm archive of both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. Their tornado specials are filled with information and they might describe what you seek.

  10. Vicky Says:

    It’s hard to believe that today is the 44th anniversary of that Black Friday! I read through memories on another website and bawled my eyes out. I was only 6 1/2 years old but reading the horror stories brought me right back to my own. Before the internet, I thought my story was unique. I never realized the gravity of that day for other survivors.My thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones, a fate we were spared from by the grace of God. Love and PEACE to all.

  11. David Says:

    Hi Vicky,
    I was watching what as happening this April, all those tornados. A new generation of people are experiencing the same thing…monster tornados.

  12. mark michals Says:

    i just wet my pants!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Bonnie Rynberk Says:

    My parents made the decision to eat at Sherwood Forest. The tornado arrived before we placed our order. We got out of our seats and saw the tornado coming. I did not understand why I could not see any edges to the tornado ..just a massive black wall from my perspective. My dad asked the waitress for the cellar. A man on the phone and a man having coffee failed to follow us and were removed along with every bit of debris. The rest of us fell down the stairwell as the tornado hit. The walk-in freezer door was wedged in the stairway sealing us safely below ground. My father and I and a stock boy were the only uninjured people who made it to the bottom of the stairs. Everyone else was injured, including the waitress getting a broken back.
    Locomotive is a good description which in an instant drown out all the crashing. The sound was tremendous! Then dead silence as the eye passed over sucking all the air pressure low and causing “pins and needles”. After the eye, there was just the whistling whirling roar… a different sound than the loudness of the front side. After being pulled out from underground, I looked at the highschool and the debris of the food store. But it seemed there was no evidence the restaurant had ever been there. Our car was found in the top of a tree a couple blocks away.

  14. Bonnie Rynberk Says:

    How we lived:
    -we were seated at the window and the waitress arrived just in time for dad to ask for a cellar
    -dad wisked my younger sister into his arms and ordered me to wrap my hand around his belt and never let go. as i started off behind him holding on, i could hear my mother fighting with the tray to get my baby sister out of the highchair until she blurted out Help me Jesus! then i immediately heard it crash to the ground and she rushed to catch up
    -the debris fell into the stairwell in a way that kept us from getting sucked away with the restaurant
    -at first in the dark of the cellar, people calling to each other and crying was like in a depressurized jet (i been in that too) in which sound waves are all distorted. as it returned to normal i could hear my father reciting the 23rd Psalm, which calmed us (though i walk through the valley of death, thou art with me)
    -there was a 16ft deep open well that my mother lost her balance and almost fell into. (only the shoe fell) then warned everyone to feel their step in the pitch dark
    -someone tried to use a lighter for light, but someone else was able to stop them in time as we smelled gasses
    -climbing on the crates under a horizontal steel door that is pulled open by trucks for deliveries, yielded no results as no human pushing could lift it. not a sliver of light, not a single sound of sirens or torrential rain could be heard – surely no one could hear us
    -i was still holding onto dad as he and stock boy could not crack it, when it suddenly *flew* open and a being of light stood above it
    -when this mysterious *man* grabbed my father, i saw dad’s feet *float* upwards and I thought he was being taken to heaven. dad says he felt weightless as he was held. as dad turned around then and reached down for the boy, i saw the light man vanish. dad then turned around to thank him and asked me where he went..just disappeared i answered

  15. Bonnie Rynberk Says:

    This what remained of the restaurant, although where we came out from underground was clean dirt with this debris pile nearby.

  16. David Says:

    Hi Bonnie,
    Thanks for the firsthand account of being inside Sherwood Forest. That is a remarkable story!

  17. Andy K Says:

    Does anyone know which Life Magazine of May of 1967 has pictures of the Oak Lawn tornado?

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