#tbt Local History Blog - "Stay Out of Monroe"
Normally a 50-year anniversary is something to celebrate -- the founding of a town, the start of a company, a wedding, a graduation...
But for residents of Monroe, Ohio, and nearby communities, one 50th anniversary date -- May 10, 1969 -- is anything but celebratory.
For them it was a day of destruction.
The front-page headline of the Sunday, May 11, 1969, Middletown Journal said it all:
“Tornado Rips Through Monroe -- Butler, Warren Areas Hard Hit”
“The village of Monroe was sealed off to curious motorists at 6 p.m. yesterday and that town and others, including 100-resident Maustown, were counting up their losses and injuries from a late-afternoon tornado,” the accompanying article began.
The newspaper reported that the devastation sent a number of residents to the hospital for treatment, including “three members of one family and a 70-year-old woman.” One victim was a 10-year-old boy. Injuries of a “slight nature were numerous,” the paper said.
The 10-year-old, from Maustown, was “apparently the storm’s most serious casualty,” according to The Journal.
He and his parents “were found beneath debris and a tree at their shattered home shortly before 5 p.m.” The parents were also injured.
The 70-year-old woman, whose residence was reported as Middletown Rt. 3, “suffered shock and lacerations” and was admitted to Middletown Hospital, where she had been discharged earlier in the day after “recovery from an illness.”
According to the article, “The tornado, which slashed a path across Monroe, apparently touched down in the Maustown-Pisgah area and then bounced through the center of Monroe in a north-east direction to Interstate 75.”
It pointed out that although “Maustown and vicinity apparently took the brunt of the force of the storm...Monroe, in dollar damage, suffered loss estimated unofficially at ‘much more than a million dollars.’”
A public utilities spokesman reported that “Hamilton and Middletown were apparently unaffected, but that Monroe especially and the Maustown and Okeana communities were hit with power outages.”
The level of destruction in Monroe was so severe that its police chief, Ray Freshour, issued a warning to curiosity seekers via the newspaper. He minced no words in a side article headlined:
“‘Stay out,’ Chief warns”
In the warning Freshour informed the public that emergency lights were being set up to prevent looting, that police were patrolling village streets, and that “guards were posted at all entrances to Monroe to turn away sightseers.”
“‘We don’t want anyone in here. We’re going to shut the town down at dark,” the chief said.
Several Monroe residents recalled the horror of experiencing a tornado.
Reed Musgrave described the funnel as a “dark swirling wind which would expand and contract and hit the ground and bounce back up,” the article continued. “It had that freight train sound,” he added.
Musgrave said that he and his wife watched the funnel for about two minutes before they took cover in the basement, where they prayed.
Another resident, Loy DeHart, opened his windows when he saw the approaching twister and took cover in the basement according to radio instructions, The Journal reported.
“The wind sure had the house working,” he was quoted as saying. “It was like a big vacuum, blowing in and out.”
The tornado didn’t discriminate as it ravaged the village. Anything in its path was doomed.
Among its victims were the Meeker Garage, the local First National Bank branch, Monroe High’s stadium (“where the south end was blown out”), the roof of the Odd Fellows Hall, the roof of an apartment complex on East Street at Ohio 63 and the “sidewalk roof” of the local IGA market on North Main.
Then there was the surreal post-tornado scene at the Monroe Methodist Church. In her pictorial history of Monroe, author Marcia McCartt included a photograph of the church building bereft of roof -- and steeple.
Its caption read : “The Methodist church stands, after the tornado, with no steeple. Anna Hale remembers it vividly. From her Britton Lane home she watched the steeple spinning as it shot through the air. The old sanctuary was later razed.”
The Journal also recounted the frightening adventure of Miami University-Middletown student John Petrocy who had just exited a local store and entered his car when hail stones and the twister struck.
“The next thing I knew the car was rocking back and forth. All of a sudden I felt the car starting to lift,” he recalled. After hearing a “thump” Petrocy exited the car -- only to find part of a roof beneath it.”
“I didn’t get hurt,” he said. “It scared me to death. Here I was standing on a roof.”
According to The Journal, “some persons reportedly took cover” from the twister in the empty Monroe Swimming Club pool. “Others fell to the ground at the North Cemetery.”
There was some good news, however. The Journal reported that “Nobody was injured at LeSourdsville amusement park, four miles west of Monroe, and at Fantasy Farm park adjacent to the LeSourdsville park, although power outages there stopped all rides and amusement devices.”
Our primary source of information for this article came from the May 11, 1969 front page of the Middletown Journal.
MORE PHOTOS OF THE AFTERMATH OF THE MONROE TORNADO CAN BE FOUND ON MIDPOINTE’S DIGITAL ARCHIVES: