26-year-old tornado still fresh in Madeira


By Regina Villiers.  Originally published August 9, 1995 in The Suburban Life, added October 15, 2018.


State Senator Mike Maloney, Madeira Councilman Carl Schneider, U.S. Representative Robert Taft and Madeira Mayor Dan McDonald survey the damage from a tornado that hit Madeira in 1969. Sen. Maloney and Rep. Taft had come to offer help to Mayor McDonald.


Can you remember where you were at 7:05 on Saturday evening Aug. 9, 1969, 26 years ago today?

John Nolan, a Madeira attorney, can pinpoint it exactly.

He was hurrying across the grounds at St. Gertrude’s annual festival with his 9-year-old son in tow, looking for cover from a storm that was suddenly blowing up out of nowhere.

And then a tornado hit.

The Nolan son escaped, but John was hit by a flying booth and knocked unconscious.  When he came to he was being carried by two men to a vehicle for a trek to the hospital.

“I recognized one of the men carrying me as Russ Ward, a Madeira policeman,” John said, “so I knew I wasn’t in heaven.”

And John wasn’t in heaven.  But he did have a back injury and a concussion that kept him in the hospital until the following Wednesday.

The tornado hit without warning.  “Five minutes earlier,” Nolan said, “the sun had been shining.”  Then the tornado struck and was gone, leaving devastation in its wake.

There were injuries other than Nolan’s, though not as many as could have been.  The main tent at the festival collapsed, trapping everyone who was in it.

Albert Foltz suffered a fractured skull.  Nancy Beck had a broken arm, and there were other minor injuries.

But the damage was like none ever seen in this area before.  The storm hip-hopped its way across Madeira in a definite path.  It left parts of the city untouched, except for a power outage over the entire Madeira area.

But some streets were almost in ruins.  Streets hit hardest were in the areas of Dawson Road, Camargo Road and Shawnee Run.

The historic old home of Emery and Wanda Gardner on Camargo was severely damaged and the Gardners could not live in it for several months while it was being rebuilt.

Doris Burton remembers the extensive damage to the home of her mother on Dawson Road.  Doris and Dallas had been to a Cincinnati Reds game that night.  There was a rain delay at the game.  The game ended late so the Burtons knew nothing of the tornado until they tried to re-enter Madeira a very late hour.

Mayor Dan McDonald had sealed off the city shortly after the storm hit to prevent looting.

Mayor McDonald spent the night on the scene and at city hall, trying to make order from chaos.

“Damage was so bad,” he said.  “Two trucks from St. Gertrude’s were deposited on Madeira Hills Drive.  Many streets were impassable, and communication was difficult.”

At 4 a.m., McDonald finally went back home and got two hours of sleep.  Then he went back to city hall and put out a call for volunteers.

The volunteers came by the hundreds, McDonald said.  They were given chain saws, hatchets and armbands.  Men, women and hordes of teenagers went out to clear the damage and open up the roads.

Ohio’s Governor Rhodes also sent in the National Guard.

“But we couldn’t have done it without the volunteers,” McDonald said.  “It was a tremendous show of civic pride.”

McDonald ordered the debris to be hauled to Camargo Road and dumped on some land owned by Russell Patten, a former mayor.

“Russ was out of town,” McDonald said, “ but we dumped it anyway.  I knew he wouldn’t mind.”

The debris stayed piled there for a time.  Finally, someone mysteriously set fire to it, and it burned.

Though Madeira was a long time recovering, John Nolan quotes from Shakespeare’s “King Henry VI” the line, “ill blows the wind that profits nobody.”  John says that something good did come out of the tornado.

Frank Bostwick, at the time, was the president of the board of Madeira’s public schools.

“Through Frank’s leadership and hard work,” Nolan said, “a new harmony was born between Madeira’s public schools and the Catholic school at St. Gertrude.”

Bostwick personally organized a benefit for St. Gertrude, which brought in more money that they would have made on the festival, which had been wiped out.

Buy coincidence, John Nolan’s father had survived the last tornado to hit the area until this storm.  His father had been at a festival at St. Joseph’s in Covington in 1917 when a tornado hit and deposited the steeple of St. Joseph’s on the roof of a saloon across the street.

The memory of the 1969 tornado and all its details are etched on John Nolan’s mind as permanently as letters etched into metal by acid.  It’s something he won’t forget.

Nor will any of the people who went through it.  They still tense up when the sky suddenly darkens.