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Terrible twister: Book offers abundant imagery of Fargo's 1957 tornado, aftermath

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This photo by Chet Gebert shows the 1957 tornado as it dropped from the sky. Forum file photo2 / 4
This photo by Cal Olson shows the damage to the Sacred Heart Convent on north Broadway. Archivist Trista Raezer-Stursa said some nuns didn't make it to the basement during the 1957 tornado and survived by seeking shelter in closets. Forum file photo3 / 4
During the tornado recovery efforts, 10-year-old Thomas Conner (foreground) and 10-year-old Gary Morris received donated shoes from volunteers assisting at the Red Cross Clothing Depot, which had been set up at University Drive and 7th Avenue North. Forum file photo4 / 4

FARGO — It may have happened more than 60 years ago, but the 1957 tornado that obliterated a northside neighborhood here and killed 12 people is still ingrained in the minds of many residents.

Now a book has been published about the fateful storm, those affected by it and how the community rebuilt once the tornado returned to the sky.

"1957 Fargo Tornado" was released last month, and authors Trista Raezer-Stursa, Lisa Eggebraaten and John Hallberg will discuss the book in coming weeks. (A fourth author, Jylisa Doney, has moved from the area.)

The trio will present striking photographs included in the book as well as share highlights from the disaster and their research on May 10 and May 21. The first presentation will take place at the NDSU Archives in the West Building, 3551 7th Ave. N., Fargo, while the second will be offered at the Main Library downtown, 102 3rd St. N.

The majority of the 200 photos included in the book came from the NDSU Archives' Cal Olson Photograph Collection; Olson was a Forum photographer when the tornado struck. Images taken by other Forum photojournalists Alf T. Olsen and Chester "Chet" Gebert are included as well. All three were members of the Forum staff that won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the disaster.

Raezer-Stursa said the Archives received a Pulitzer Prize Centennial grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council in 2016, and the research involved in that project inspired the authors to contact Arcadia Publishing about a tornado book (Arcadia published Raezer-Stursa and Hallberg's book about Herbst Department Store in 2015).

This photo by Cal Olson shows the damage to the Sacred Heart Convent on north Broadway. Forum file photo

While many here appreciate the tornado's local significance, the storm also carries international significance. Meteorologist Dr. Tetsuya Fujita studied the tornado to create his Fujita scale, and later rated it an F5, the most destructive rating. The NDSU Archives has a copy of Fujita's original report, which provided ample information about the tornado.

"This particular tornado was well-photographed, and (Fujita) was able to map the development of the tornado by using photographs from various angles," Hallberg said.

The timeline of the tornado's path was provided in the report, which helped provide captions for the photos included in "1957 Fargo Tornado".

Not only was the storm itself an important entity to document, but the victims and recovery efforts as well, Hallberg said. More than 300 homes were destroyed while hundreds more were damaged, leaving 2,000 people homeless. Numerous photos in the book illustrate the destruction along the storm's path just south of 12th Avenue North in the Golden Ridge neighborhood. Also included is a photo of the damaged Hasty Tasty restaurant on 13th Street North (now University Drive), which eventually became the Bison Turf.

Culling an extensive photography collection to the 200 images included in the book was a daunting task, but Raezer-Stursa said they tried to focus on the story the photographs would tell.

While both archivists were familiar with 1957 tornado, they still learned more during their research, specifically about the American Red Cross's role in the recovery efforts as well as how Canada came to Fargo's aid after this city had assisted Winnipeg, Manitoba, when it experienced a catastrophic flood in 1950. National Guard units and the Salvation Army helped with cleanup, traffic control and even cooking and serving meals to displaced residents. Clothing and supply donations streamed in from across the country.

Another important aspect of the book is showing damaged structures that have been rebuilt, to give residents a glimpse of the buildings as they stand today. Raezer-Stursa pointed out the Golden Ridge Lutheran Church as well as a rebuilt home with a two-toned chimney.

"You look at those pictures, and there's just nothing left," Hallberg said.

Raezer-Stursa agreed.

"You look at these photos and wonder, 'How did anyone survive that?' " she said.

This map shows the 10-mile path the 1957 tornado traveled through north Fargo. Forum file photo

While compiling the book, the authors kept an eye out for striking images that could be used for the cover. While certain images have become synonymous with the tragedy of the storm, like Olson's shot of Richard Shaw cradling the lifeless body of 5-year-old Jeanette Munson, or Olsen's image of children running away from the impending tornado, neither of those photos were used on the cover.

Instead, an unidentified man stands amid the Golden Ridge neighborhood rubble with only one structure standing visible. A downed bike lays nearby. Muddy rainwater can be seen in the background. He's looking down and his face is shadowing, but his despondency is palpable.

"He's got that dejected look like, 'Where do I even start after this?' " Hallberg said.

If you go

What: 1957 Fargo Tornado book talks

When: 3:30 p.m., Thursday, May 10, and 7 p.m., Monday, May 21

Where: NDSU Archives in the West Building, 3551 7th Ave. N., Fargo, and the Main Library, 102 3rd St. N., Fargo.

Info: Both events are free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served at the May 10 event, and anyone with memories from the tornado is encouraged to sign up to have them preserved as an oral history or bring them in written format. Books will be available for purchase at both events or at Zandbroz Variety.

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Danielle Teigen

Danielle Teigen is from South Dakota, but she headed north to attend North Dakota State University where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication. She worked for Forum Communications first in 2007 as an intern and part-time reporter. Later, she served as editor for two local magazines before switching gears for marketing and public relations roles for an engineering firm and the chamber of commerce.  She returned to Forum Communications in May 2015 as a digital content manager and is currently the Life section editor.  She is originally from Turton, S.D., and is the author of "Hidden History of Fargo".

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