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Mullins, Jonita

On April 12, 1945 in the late afternoon, most people in Muskogee, as well as the entire nation, were huddled around their radios. The radio announcers brought the shocking news that President Franklin Roosevelt had died at his retreat at Warm Springs, Ga.

Roosevelt spent so much time at the Warm Springs retreat during his years as president that his home there was referred to as “the little White House.” He found some relief for the paralysis in his legs (from polio) in the warm mineral waters at the spa community. Roosevelt died of a massive stroke, but his 12 years as president had taken a heavy toll on his overall health.

While Muskogeeans listened to the news reports, many were unaware of the gathering storm clouds outside. Children were on their way home from school when a heavy rain began to fall. Anyone caught out in the deluge was thoroughly drenched in a matter of few minutes. The roiling clouds would have caused alarm if anyone had noticed. But most were listening in shock to the static-filled radio news. It wasn’t until the wail of sirens sounded above the noise of the storm that many folks became aware of a disaster much closer to home.

A tornado swept down upon Muskogee that April afternoon, the worst to hit the community. It tore through the eastern section of the city, damaging the School for the Blind and the Hyde Park area near the river. Three students at the school were killed that day and several others were wounded. The tornado cut a swath of destruction through homes around the school.

The destruction was widespread, and assistance was called for from nearby Camp Gruber. Ambulances from the Army training camp helped transport the injured to Muskogee’s hospitals. Much of the city lost electricity creating problems with the water pumps. To help allay the water shortages, the Army also assisted the city by pumping water from the Arkansas River.

The tornado that hit that day was one of several that swept across Oklahoma and the Midwest. Its destruction made the date of April 12, 1945 one to remember for those who survived the tornado. While Muskogee mourned the loss of three young students, it also joined the country in mourning the death of the president.

And as Muskogee picked up the pieces of its amusement park known as Hyde Park, the nation listened to the radio broadcast of Roosevelt’s funeral. Ironically, Roosevelt was buried at his home in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita@netscape.com.

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