(Pictured: This is not the tornado that struck my family’s farm 50 years ago today, although it looms that large in my memory.)
April 11, 1965 was Palm Sunday. Across the middle of the country, it’s the first warm spring day. In an old schoolhouse near his ranch in Texas, President Johnson signs the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s first law federally funding schools. Johnson, who had been a teacher himself as a young man, is joined for the ceremony by his first teacher. In today’s Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown battles the kite-eating tree. House Minority Leader Gerald Ford speaks at a dinner in Chicago and encourages support for the Israel Bonds Program. In his mostly lighthearted speech he compares Israel, “surrounded by a numerically larger and hostile army,” to the Congressional GOP, whom Ford says are similarly outnumbered by the Democrats. A gigantic tornado outbreak strikes the Midwest. Over approximately 11 hours, 47 tornadoes are reported from Iowa to Ohio. Storms in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio come with winds in excess of 200 MPH, and 271 people are killed. The most fatalities occur in Indiana, including 36 in and around Elkhart. Among the first communities to be hit is Monroe, Wisconsin, about 2:00 in the afternoon. The tornado carves a 27-mile path through Green, Rock, and Dane counties, destroying or damaging homes, businesses, and over 400 cars. Forty injuries are reported, but no fatalities. Winds in the Monroe tornado are estimated to have reached over 100 MPH.
A Texas entrepreneur announces the formation of the United States Football League, which will have six franchises in major cities. It is to begin play in the spring of 1966 with its championship game on Memorial Day, but the new professional league will never get off the ground. Conference finals continue in the National Basketball Association. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers take 3-2 leads in their respective series with wins today. In the National Hockey League, the Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Black Hawks 4-2 to take a 3-2 lead in their semifinal series. Marvin Panch wins the NASCAR Atlanta 500. Baseball’s regular season begins tomorrow; today the Chicago Cubs acquire pitcher Ted Abernathy from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for cash.
On TV tonight, ABC broadcasts Wagon Train and the sitcom Broadside, about a group of Navy WAVES assigned to a base in the South Pacific. Bonanza anchors NBC’s lineup. On CBS tonight, following Lassie and My Favorite Martian, Ed Sullivan welcomes Gerry and the Pacemakers (who are promoting their movie Ferry Cross the Mersey), Maurice Chevalier, and Soupy Sales among his guests. In London, the Beatles close the annual all-star concert presented by New Musical Express, which features the winners of the magazine’s annual popularity poll. It’s the third year the Beatles have appeared. Also on the bill: the Moody Blues, the Rolling Stones, Them, the Animals, the Kinks, and several other acts.
At WRIT in Milwaukee, several of the acts from the NME show are on the station’s latest survey. “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie and the Dreamers is #1; “Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders moves to #2. The hottest record on the chart is “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits, moving from #20 to #3. (Herman’s version of “Silhouettes” makes another strong move, from #32 to 20.) Also new in the Top 10 are “Go Now” by the Moody Blues and “The Clapping Song” by Shirley Ellis. Also moving up: “Count Me In” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys (to #22 from #34).
Perspective From the Present: The National Weather Service in Kansas City and local weather bureaus knew about the ripe conditions for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, so at about 10:45AM, they issued a Severe Weather Forecast, which was standard operating procedure at the time. At 1:00, they updated it to say that “one or two tornadoes” might occur, but they identified a huge area of threat—essentially from Madison to Peoria and Cedar Rapids to Chicago, about 50,000 square miles. But by then, tornadoes were already hitting Iowa. (My family and I heard that updated forecast on a Rockford, Illinois, radio station in the car on the way back from our Sunday dinner.) Further alerts were issued as the storms moved across Illinois and Indiana, but the terminology wasn’t clear enough about the urgency of the situation, and as a result, many people were unaware just how dangerous the storms were. In the aftermath, the National Weather Service devised the tornado watch and tornado warning terminology that we use today.
My first baseball glove, which I would get when I started playing organized ball three or four years hence, was a Ted Abernathy autographed model.