Hemingway’s Twister: The Candlestick Tornado

On March 3, 1966, a supercell thunderstorm developed over central Mississippi and produced a large tornado around 4:00 pm CST near the old Adams community in Hinds County, several miles south-southwest of Raymond.

Tracking generally to the northeast, the tornado moved through mostly rural areas, though several barns and a few homes were heavily damaged. Around 4:30 pm CST, the storm struck the southern limits of Jackson as an F4 or F5 tornado and leveled the Candlestick Park shopping center, which gave the tornado its name; cinder-blocks from the structure were scattered for long distances, a number of homes and businesses were destroyed, eyewitnesses reported pavement scouring and a few cars were tossed upwards of 0.5 mi (0.80 km). A brick church was destroyed with such force that it seemingly exploded. Once the storm moved through Jackson, it crossed the Pearl River and entered Rankin County, maintaining a nearly straight northeastward track through the county.

The tornado reached its maximum strength of F5 near the Leesburg community; multiple homes were swept away, large swaths of trees were leveled, pavement was scoured, and chicken houses were obliterated. In Neshoba County the storm began to weaken though not considerably as about a dozen more homes were destroyed before the system crossed into Alabama. The tornado finally dissipated near the city of Tuscaloosa around 7:45 p.m. CST. During the storm’s three-hour-and-forty-five-minute existence, it traveled roughly 202.5 mi (325.9 km), one of the longest paths ever recorded. Overall, the tornado ranks as the second-deadliest in the state’s history, killing 57.

The Candlestick tornado touched down in what was in 1966 rural Rankin County, which like the area around Cooper Road is more heavily populated today. The tornado crossed Highway 25 (Lakeland Drive), and homes and businesses in the area around River Oaks, the north side of Jackson International Airport, Laurel Wood and Castlewoods lie in or very near where the tornado passed. The storm was also going through the Jackson metropolitan area between 430 pm and 5 pm, during the afternoon rush hour. In 1966, the interstate system was in the process of being constructed, but today the tornado would have been moving near the Stack just south of downtown Jackson where Interstates 20 and 55 converge. The tornado would have also been passing near or through the heavily trafficked areas along Highway 80, Flowood Drive and Lakeland Drive in Flowood.

The tornado’s story is told by Lorian Hemingway in her book, A World Turned Over: A Killer Tornado and the Lives It Changed Forever (Simon & Schuster; July, 2003). Hemingway, the granddaughter of novelist Ernest Hemingway (the daughter of Hemingway’s youngest son, Gregory, who left his wife and eight children when Lorian, the youngest, was 6 years old), moved to Jackson with her mother and stepfather into a house fifty yards north of Candlestick Shopping Center some years before the storm and moved to Nashville a month before the tornado hit, but in an interview after the book’s publication said the tornado, “… wouldn’t let me alone. I was haunted by it. I’ve been haunted by it all my life; I’ve been haunted by it in dreams. Each time I would go back to Mississippi — and I did not go back until I was well into my adult life — just by happenstance, just sitting around and hearing people talk, that tornado would come up. Not through any provocation of mine. I was amazed to see how much it had lived on and how much it had impacted people and become a part of their history.”

Hemingway’s book takes us back to Jackson with interviews of friends and neighbors. Included are the stories of Ronny Hannis, who was severely injured but helped dig survivors from the rubble,  and Donna Durr, who was sitting in her Volkswagen with her child and was carried away in the air, only to be gently set down in a field. As you might expect, there are plenty of people who talk of God and their belief that there was a plan to nature’s savagery. Hemingway, who shares her contrary thoughts with the reader, brings a sophisticated yet sympathetic tone to the conversations, never passing judgment. In fact, she seems desperate to reconnect with the people who made Jackson seem like home for her. Her style is radically different from that of her grandfather’s; the story is told in fully-rounded sentences often brimming with emotion, and the descriptions of the area around Caney Creek along Cooper Road seem pastoral.

She tells the story first in her own words then in the words of the survivors. Weaving nostalgia for the world of her childhood with apocalyptic images of that world “rolled onto a spear, of the sky punctured at its heart,” Hemingway draws the reader into the nightmare, describing the moments preceding the tornado and the instant when everything was turned upside down. Hemingway describes how a familiar setting is suddenly turned into a morass of shattered concrete, twisted metal, splintered glass, mangled cars and broken bodies and how everyone walks and speaks “with reverence because what is heaving and bending at jagged turns all around them is a burial ground they must undo.” Even after Candlestick Shopping Center was rebuilt, local residents stayed away. They couldn’t bear to remember.


3 Replies to “Hemingway’s Twister: The Candlestick Tornado”

  1. Jesse, I remember it well. I was a senior at Murrah and the Murrah Misses were practicing outside with the band as it crossed the river. In fact, my typing teacher (wow!) lived in South Jackson and her house was severely damaged. Stupidly, we all watched it go by.

  2. My folks lived and dies in the Candlestick Park tornado. They lived in the community of Midway in Scott County MS. My mom witnessed the tornado itself and I had an aunt who lost her mom, dad and a sister to this storm. I was trying to find a list of the people who died during this tragic event. From the reports I’ve read, there is not much mentioned about the people is this community. Their accounts of what happened during this time should be documented as well.

  3. I to remember that tornado. I was 12 years old, with a family of 5 kids, me being the oldest. I remember a little store front that had electrical or mechanical race cars and a track that kids of all ages went to to. My 3 brothers would go and race their little cars all the time. On that bad weather day they were told not to go there., we only lived a couple of blocks away from Candlestick Park just a bicycles’ ride away. I remember after the storm had passed my mother doing her best, trying to round up her children. She found all but one, my brother David. He is the middle child of our family. I remember that frantic look she had on her face and the fear in her voice as she tried to call neighbors to see if he had been there at their house. I don’t remember if the phone lines were out or not . We didn’t have cell phones back then but I do remember that she went running down our street looking for him. Well long story short he was at the Pinsons’ house playing. We were all relieved. I am now 66 years old and that day will always be remembered in my mind. It changed us all there in south Jackson. Candlestick Park never really recovered from that deadly day, never was the same again.

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