11 April 65 : Chicago Police and deadly Palm Sunday Tornadoes : Chicago, USA

This continues the letter dated 8th April 1965, which began:

Dear Family,

Sunday 11th April

This morning we went on a tour of the Chicago Police Headquarters. It is said to be the most modern and advanced in the world and I can quite believe it too. We went on a tour with the aid of a printed sheet which told us where to go. When we got to each place we watched the work going on and by picking up a telephone we listened to a recorded talk which explained each department.

We saw all over – and were very impressed. It was all very electronic and we got the impression that the criminal didn’t stand a chance. We saw an exhibition of guns which had been impounded over the years. They ranged from sub-machine guns to little miniature pistols. In the lab they were working on a machine gun. We also saw plaster death masks of famous criminals.


1965 04 11 tour of Chicago Police HQ
Tony’s leaflet from his tour of Chicago Police Headquarters


Last night we went to see the night spots in Chicago and had a great time. It’s a very lively place at night and there are two main areas. One is where all the nightclubs and shows are, and the other area is called Old Town which is very old and has real old American bars with jazz and folk singers.

We went into a few, and in one met a girl from London who has been over here for seven months and was working there as a waitress (she is a secretary also) – and in another a barman who is German and working his way around the world.


1965 04 11 Chicago skyline postcard front


1965 04 11 Chicago skyline postcard rear


I like the place very much and it is the nicest place in America I have seen so far. It has everything to offer and is already called the ‘second city’ and is still improving. It’s about the only place in the US where I feel I could ever live. It hasn’t got the violence or fear that New York has, and the difference is very noticeable.

We had a last look around today (Sunday), took some photographs, had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the lake, and which also overlooks the private airport for small business planes, which is built out onto the lake.

1965 04 10 Colin in Chicago
Colin in Chicago


1965 04 10 Tony in Chicago
Tony in Chicago


We then set off for Indiana. I don’t know if you have heard, but in the area where we have been there have been violent tornadoes, and the journey back was quite eventful.

The winds were very high and it began to thunder and we had vivid flashes of lightning. As it got dark it was fantastic. The entire sky, from horizon to horizon, was a mass of continuous lightning – both sheet and fork. I have never seen such a sight. There was no rain and very little thunder, but the most unbelievable lightning ever.

At one point we passed a huge tree, which had been ripped out of the ground. It was on its side, its trunk (about two feet in diameter) half burnt through and still smouldering!!

This went on for about three hours, but we were lucky and missed any actual tornadoes. So far in this area twenty two people have been killed, and the storm is still raging.

We arrived at our hotel at about 10 o’clock and about 15 minutes later it started to blow like mad, and started to rain. Then suddenly there was the most horrific crashing noise. I opened the door and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Huge chunks of ice (hailstones) were falling out of the sky and bouncing off the roofs and off the cars and falling into the swimming pool with terrific splashes.

I risked it and dashed out and picked one up – and it was about the size of a tennis ball!!

This lasted for about 10 minutes and then it stopped. All very odd believe me, especially as the temperature was about 70 degrees at the time. I certainly wouldn’t like to have been struck by one of them.

I don’t think I have told you this before, but there isn’t a sign of any leaves on the trees here yet. It seems very late to me, and I gather from your letters that things are beginning to come out at home. I even went up to some trees in a park in Chicago to have a look, but there is no sign of any greenery yet.

Well I think that’s all the news for this week. If all goes according to plan I shall be back in New York but there is one consolation – the New York World Fair opens again this week, so we should be able to go to that.

So I will write to you next from the ‘concrete jungle’. That’s all for now.

All my love.


p.s.   I’ve just heard on the news the tornado death toll has now risen to 75. But luckily it has now passed so all is well.

p.p.s.   The enclosed photo is one of the approaches to Cincinnati. When we were there we used to go up the broad lane in the middle every morning to work. This is about average. There are other systems far bigger than this.

p.p.p.s.   Have just heard the latest news. Death toll for tornado now 220, and the centre of it was Fort Wayne, which we passed through just before it hit!!

It then moved on to Chicago, which was very badly hit. So considering we have been all over that area, we were very lucky indeed.

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Note from Tony: The tornadoes of  Sunday 11th April 1965 became known as The Palm Sunday Tornadoes

The storm lasted eleven hours and covered a swathe of 450 miles, hitting the states of Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. That day, there were 47 individual tornadoes which included four double / twin funnel tornadoes.

It has been described as “amongst the most intense outbreaks in terms of number, strength, width, path and length of tornadoes ever recorded.”

Damage was caused to the tune of ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ (later estimated at $5.5 billion at 2007 prices) – while 1,500 people were injured and 271 people were killed, with 137 lives lost in Indiana alone.


1965 04 11 Palm Sunday tornadoes headline


Colin and I spent that Sunday driving 253 miles from Chicago, Michigan to Richmond, Indiana without a car radio, so we had no idea that tornado warnings were being broadcast all day. Blissfully unaware of the danger we were in, we were happily commenting on the high wind and spectacular lightening.

I don’t believe that it had really sunk in when I wrote this letter. It wasn’t until the next day, when we witnessed the total destruction caused, that we truly realised how awful it was, and how incredibly lucky we had been not to be caught up by a tornado ourselves.

Even now, I still remember vividly the awful scenes we witnessed the next day.

NOTE: You can watch some powerful news footage from the time HERE.



3 thoughts on “11 April 65 : Chicago Police and deadly Palm Sunday Tornadoes : Chicago, USA

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