Iowa Tornado – May 31, 1958

Cedar Rapids Gazette

On Saturday, May 31, 1958 two separate storm systems raced across Iowa causing a wide range of destruction. The headline from the Cedar Rapids Gazette on the day after the storms is shown above. According to the Gazette, “A howling windstorm, accompanied by rain and hail swept across Eastern Iowa…” The winds caught boaters and swimmers at Rock Creek Lake between Newton and Grinnell unaware and at least one person was drowned. Hailstones the size of baseballs struck Oelwein, Edgewood and the surrounding areas. Dysart, Walker and the rural area around Toledo suffered tornado damage. Strawberry Point reported 4.5 inches of rain in a two hour period. In the Norma Anders Library in Dysart, there is set of newspaper clippings showing how the storm affected this small town. It is not clear what paper these clippings are from. What follows is a retelling of their account of that day.

“Dysart Hit Hard as Tornado Winds Rip Building, Fell Trees”

Map of Dysart With Writers Best Recall of Location of Homes and Businesses

Paul Wieck Gives His Eyewitness Report

“There wasn’t time to get scared said Paul Wieck after he witnessed the cyclonic fury of the Saturday noon storm which ripped open two Dysart business building as he stood in the office of one of them. Paul was in the driveway of the Wieck Feed and Livestock building at the height of the storm and saw the roof lifted off the long Farmers Lumber company building across the street. He then stepped into the Wieck office building and found himself looking out of an office without a front.”

“In those few seconds of devastation, the front of the Wieck office was torn loose and flattened on west Wilson street. Paul heard nothing of its going as the roar of the winds drowned all other sounds. Had he been sitting at his desk, he might have been dumped outside with the broken boards of the front. Total damage to the building and stock was estimated at about $2,000 by Ernest Wieck.”

The Storm Came From the West

“It was 15 days short of a year since a similar twister swooped into Dysart on practically the same path and damaged some of the same buildings. This year’s disaster struck on a Saturday too. It was shortly after 12:30 p.m. when the storm hurtled in from the west. Cutting a swath of destruction down Highway 8 from Traer…”

Cedar Rapid Gazette June 2, 1958





Des Moines Register June 1, 1958

Traveling Down Clark and Wilson Streets

“…the wind struck first at the Mrs. Martha Schulz home and roared on down Wilson street. Huge trees were twisted in a giant grip, torn from their moorings and tossed aside. Felled were friendly shade trees at the F.C. Lewis, Ernest Wieck, Alvin Schutt, and John Burhenn homes. A massive tree crushed the vacant house on west Wilson owned by Mrs. Gertie Cone.

The Bob Bohnsack family saw the black clouds close in, accompanied by a driving rain. As they headed for the their basement, a giant tree toppled against the front porch of their home, tearing it from the house and snapping the posts. Their garage rose straight in the air for about 10 feet, then was whipped east and dashed against the neighboring homes of Floyd Tuttle and Jack Fordice.”


“In the same vicinity, three big trees crashed to the ground at Ed Gleim residence and one in front of Gerald Dunlavey’s. A television aerial was ripped from atop the Roy Hahn home and deposited several blocks away on the roof of the Bader grocery. The garage was flattened on the Bill Schultz property. A metal awning was torn from the Mrs. Hilda Jansen home and dropped behind the Stein Tavern.”

Cedar Rapids Gazette June 2, 1958

Moving Into the Business District

“Total destruction was the fate of the cement block building on west Wilson owned by the Evergreen Hatchery. This structure simply exploded, cutting wires at the adjoining electrical sub-station that sputtered dangerously.”

“Ray Baker was caught in this building as it was demolished. He had just driven a truck inside and dived under the truck when the storm unleased its power. Blocks and beams tumbled around and on the pickup, but Mr. Baker was unhurt. ‘It sounded like a freight train,’ said Baker. ‘I never did find where the wind carried my cap.’ A small portion of the door of the Evergreen building was found near the Barnes Hardware more than 2 blocks away.”

The hatchery suffered considerable loss on the building and contents stored there. At the hatchery plant, an auxiliary generator again kept the incubators going during the 12-hour period of power outage.”

Cedar Rapids Gazette June 2, 1958

“Next in line was the build building of the Farmers Lumber Company. The west driveway door was ripped off and flung a block east near the D-X bulk storage tanks. About four-fifths of the roof was striped away and dumped helter-skelter over a wide area.

Evidence of the storms might was a heavy hog ringing chute which stood on the south side of the lumber yard. It was whirled through the air until it struck the side of the Evergreen Elevator office, leaving red paint marks for a trail, then carried on 20 0r more yards to the north. Two large portable hog houses were shattered.

Manager R.L. McMurray had a crew of about 20 men at work Sunday laying a new roof to protect the contents of the yard from rain. ‘I was really sick,’ he said, ‘when I saw the damage.’ The wind freakishly burst downward through the ceiling tiles of the office, then pushed the scale window out. In the path of all this, not a paper on the office desk was moved.”

Cedar Rapids Gazette June 2, 1958

“The large neon sign atop the Evergreen Elevator office was bent double. Across the street, a gaping hole was torn in the roof of the coal sheds of the Townsend-Merrill company. The Barnes Hardware building badly damaged in the 1957 tornado, suffered again. A gaping hole was gouged in the brick wall of the building along east Wilson street. The cap on the false front of the Village Inn was raised. The decorative brickwork atop the three-story Keidel building was pushed backward onto the roof.”

More Damage As The Storm Leaves Town

The north edges of Dysart was badly bruised. A new double garage built by Richard Bednar was demolished. A tile workshop behind Bill Mattheisen home collapsed. The garage went down at the Ray Larsen home. The porch of the Mrs. Mary Barta residence was severely damaged by a falling tree.

There was damage in south Dysart also. A branch from a tree in the high school yard was flung against the John Theile home to rip away siding. Trees fell at the Dick Moeller, John Loeb, D.C. Wunder, Herman Lenaburg, Rev. J.E. Albertson, Leonard Siemens homes. Harland Downs lost his garage and William Hilmer’s car was damaged when the garage tumbled around it. ”

Cedar Rapids Gazette June 2, 1958


Charlie’s Depression Wedding – Part 2

August 1935 

He completely lost track of time sitting out there in Hayward’s Grove that day. In the same way he had been unaware how he had gotten there; he was equally unaware how he got home. Eventually, he had gone back to the house that he and Margaret had recently rented. You couldn’t really call it a home. They had not had time to establish it as such. The next day, Charlie did what people with troubled lives do, he got through the day. Charlie managed his basic physical needs, he met his financial responsibilities, he took breaths in and let breaths out. He got through that day and then did the same on the following days.

Just as he had so zealously invited everyone he met to the wedding; he started quizzing everyone about Margaret. Had she said anything to them about why she might leave? What cues had she left about where she went? The answers he got were as unsatisfactory as the one he got from Postmaster Schroeder. Most people said they did not know anything, and others refused to betray her confidence.

Charlie Begins to See Things Differently

Slowly, though enough hints had been dropped that Charlie was forced to see some things that his anger and disappointment had hidden from him. Perhaps, the glorious wedding event he had planned for them, was not quite so glorious for her. Possibly, he had overwhelmed her or worse scared her. He felt a little foolish now that he had not seen that as a possibility before. Margaret had ridden a thousand miles on a hot bus to start a new life in foreign place with a strange man. She and eleven-year-old Jarvis had barely gotten into his car, when she had been swept up in his unusual schemes and expectations. He had not even given her time to breath in the clean Iowa air before he started sucking most of it out the automobile with his exuberance.

They had not spent any time together before she was expected to stand in front of 200 strangers and pledge her fidelity to him. She had not been given an opportunity to plan any of the details of her own wedding. There had been no question what  traditions she wanted to honor. He had done it all. What he had initially seen as taking care of business now looked more like taking control and although he did not understand women well, he understood this might not be desirable.

On the day of the wedding, she only had two people present who knew her while Charlie had two hundred. If he had gone about the whole thing in a more reasonable fashion, she might have seen the guests as potential friends instead of spectators who had purchased a ticket to watch her perform like a circus act, but he hadn’t. The newspaper said that after the minister pronounced them man and wife, he had insisted on kissing her and she had resisted this. It appeared everyone had seen that. Everyone except Charlie.

From the moment she met him on that Tuesday and on through Friday night, it had been a constant whirlwind of activities and people, Charlie’s people. When all that was over, she found herself alone in an unfamiliar place with him. Nothing was the same for her. She had never been outside of New York before, and she certainly had never seen so much corn and flat land. White Falls was a  small city in New York with access to public transportation and shopping so unlike this one-mile-square town with limited business options and no freedom to travel outside its boundaries.

Charlie had never been much for sentimentality but in retrospect, he could see how things might have been for her and regretted his lack of insight. He thought he might be able to do better if he was given another chance.  And then, one week later, he got his chance. As mysteriously as she had disappeared, Margaret and the boys returned.  No explanation was offered regarding where she had gone or what she had been doing. She let him know that his fight with Bill was completely unnecessary and unfounded. Charlie was a fool for making such a big deal out of her leaving and once again getting their names in the papers. This did not seem to be something they could avoid. After her return, her name appeared in the paper again as a one sentence update: Charlie’s depression bride had returned.

Margaret’s Return

By the time she returned, it was late August and two months had passed since their wedding. She enrolled Jarvis in the fifth grade in Dysart where he joined his new classmates, Dean Klinzing and Bob Knupp as well as others. The weather that Fall was warm and sunny. Margaret watched as the crops were harvested and brought into town to the grain elevator. Jarvis participated in school activities. All around them everyone was busy getting ready for the winter ahead. They managed to stay  out of the spotlight. James finished the canning season in Vinton. The nation was still in the grips of the Great Depression so he and Charlie both tried to find what work they could. They celebrated their first Thanksgiving and Christmas together.

Starting in January, the weather across Iowa became quite brutal. After several smaller blizzards, Tama County was hit by a major storm in mid-February that completely overwhelmed the available equipment and manpower for snow removal. Most of the small towns and farmers were cut off from the outside world as many roads throughout the county were declared “closed until Spring”. Trains were unable to pass through the twenty feet high snowbanks and so supplies coming into town were cut-off for days. Daily temperature averaged nine degrees adding to the feeling of confinement everyone experienced. The winter of 1936 was one of the worst ever experienced by the state of Iowa. The new family were basically trapped in their rented home seeking whatever warmth and comfort they could. They forged a bond and weathered the winter together. Storms continued until very early in March when hope started to return to the landscape.  The snow melted, roads opened, and little signs of Spring started to return to the area.

It All Falls Apart Again

Everything seemed to be moving along well for them until April 5, 1936, when Charlie somehow discovered something about his wife, that he could not reconcile. For the second time, she was about to make him the object of ridicule and gossip and that damnable pity he had sensed before. After six months of relative peace and harmony everything was about to come crashing down around them again and he would not have it.  The realization that she and her two sons had conspired to deceive him day after day in his own house enraged him. He ordered her to pack her bags and take her sons and go. He assured her that this time, he would not look for her. There would be no fights with people in town over her honor. They were through.

He drove the nine miles to the Traer office of Bordewick and Powell, Attorneys at Law, where he engaged their services to file for an annulment as quickly as possible. Not only did he want the marriage annulled, he wanted whatever protection the state could give him over his money and properties. She was to get nothing further from him. His decision was final, he told the lawyers because Margaret was never really his wife. Margaret already had a husband and the boys already had a father back in White Falls, New York.

It did not take the lawyers long to help Charlie fill in the gaps. Margaret had been married to a man named, Chauncey, a junk dealer, since she was nineteen. They were the parents of two boys, Jarvis and Chauncey D.R. who had gone by the name James while in Iowa. They had all lived together up until the time that Margaret left for Iowa and her marriage to Charles. In fact, Chauncey was still living at the address in Little Falls that Margaret had used in her letters to Charlie.

The state’s newspapers snatched up this new twist to Charlie’s story and for a brief period between September and November of 1936, Iowans were once again privy to the details of Charlie’s life and annulment proceedings. Facts, however, don’t provide insight into people’s motives. The reasons she had chosen to commit bigamy were never made clear. By the time the annulment was decreed in November of 1936, he no longer cared. It was over. Charlie sold the household possessions and moved out of town, never to live in Dysart again. The papers and Charlie presumed that Margaret had returned to White Falls.

Writer’s Notes

When I first set out to the tell the story of Charlie and Margaret, I confess, my sympathies were primarily with Charlie. Initially, I did not use his last name in an effort to protect his surviving family. I used hers because, I reasoned, she had committed a crime. She knew what she was doing. It did not seem necessary to try and protect her identity. But, to write a good non-fiction story, you need to immerse yourself in the people you are writing about. Using whatever resources are at your disposal you try to get the broadest picture you can of their life. This helps you represent the individuals better to a reader.  For the writer, the “characters” become much more personal. Getting to know Charlie, Margaret and to some extent her children had an impact on me and I became  more sympathetic to both of them. I saw Margaret in a much different light and have since removed her last name from the story.

Charlie seems to be one of those guys who despite his best efforts, never really seemed to get anywhere. He worked for a lot of different people and moved around a lot even within Tama County. Granted, the depression was going, and everyone was forced to do what they had to do to survive but there is a pattern to his movements and decisions that left me wondering about his ability to stick with things. He was also someone who did not mind drawing attention to himself as seen by this advertisement he put in the Dysart Reporter the year before his marriage to Margaret.

Over time, I came to feel that his scheme to get money from the wedding was consistent with who he was as a person and less of a quirky move by a guy who just got excited.

There is no way to find out how Charlie learned of her bigamy. Did Jarvis slip and say something? Did they have an argument and Margaret blurted it out? Did something arrive in their mail from Chauncey? It’s interesting to speculate.

There is hardly any information available about Margaret or her husband, Chauncey so any conclusions about her are purely speculation. I found myself wondering why had she started answering matrimonial ads? Why would she agree to come to a place she had never been before and marry a stranger? Why would “James” and Jarvis help her in this ruse? Charlie was not a successful farmer with a great fortune for her to secure. Even if he represented himself as such in his letters, once she got to Iowa the truth was self-evident. The fact that she enrolled Jarvis in school and stayed through that horrible winter caused me to believe that she meant to stay and see it through. That she was building a new life and identity for herself.  It also made me wonder what was going on in New York that she was willing to do all that? There is no way to know but I like to think she was a mom living through a rough time in this country’s history and she was looking for a better life for her boys.



Charlie moved to Keystone, Iowa, sometime after Margaret left in April of 1936. He continued his pattern of advertising himself out for work and appears to have maintained a close relationship with his son, Leonard. In 1940, while riding in a car with Leonard, Leonard’s wife and young child they were rear-ended by a young couple and their infant from Waterloo. The accident happened four mile west of Cedar Rapids on Highway 30. Charlie spent some time in St. Luke’s hospital with stomach and chest wounds. He was fifty years old. In October of that year this clipping appeared in the Des Moines Register.

Whether he ever made it to Oklahoma is unknown. By 1942, Charlie was living in the Baltimore, Maryland, area. He was remarried to a woman who was 20 years his junior. Interestingly her name was also Wilhelmine. He was engaged in farming with her family until his death in 1958 and ran several ads in the Baltimore Sun selling farm related items over the years. It appears he finally found a woman who loved him and a measure of success. The obituary his family posted in the newspaper partially reads:

On September 17, 1958, Charles E., beloved husband of Wilhelmine (died) 


Census records tell us that Chauncey was eight years older than she Margaret and that she only had  a fifth grade education which would not provide her with a lot of options. It is clear from those same records that she returned to live with Chauncey after she left Iowa and as far as I can tell, that is where she stayed until his death in 1948. Where she went from there, is not clear. It appears that she stayed close to her sons. She died in 1968 and is buried in the same cemetery as her sons in Norwich, New York. Chauncey Sr. is buried in Little Falls.