May 20, 1957 Ruskin Heights Tornado was a night to remember.
The deadliest single tornado to strike Kansas City metro area was on May 20, 1957. An F-4 or F-5 by todays standards left
a path seventy-one miles long from Williamsburg Kansas through Martin City into Ruskin Heights up to Blue Springs. 5 died
in Kansas.7:37 pm it entered Missouri. Martin City suffered damage. 7:48 Ruskin Heights heard the sound of freight trains
passing in the sky.
Homes were destroyed over 531 people were injured and 34 died in Missour and 5 in Kansas that night. The death eventually
climbed to 44, some sources reported 46 as a result of the tornado. Trees were ripped apart along with homes. Ruskin Heights
Shopping Center was devastated. A car hit the top of the water tower and the driver died. Ruskin High School, Junior High
were all destroyed except the gynasium arching beams and the word RUIN left on the remaining wall from RUSKIN. Principal Steck
was in Ruskin High School at the time, along with Atla Guyll in the cafeteria, and George Kildow. Mr. Steck dug his way out
of the rubble looking for the others but did not find them. Sadly they died buried near the front of the school.
The area looked like a war zone. H. Roe Bartle, Kansas City Mayor, called the KC Police on and off duty into the area.
Eventually the National Guard came and martial law was set in effect. That stopped or slowed some from entering to see if
their families were alive but kept looters out of the area. Overall people helped rescue others. Strangers drove people to
hospitals, other homes and safe havens. The shock and pain felt that night was numbed by the power of the vortex vacuum of
the tornado. Car horns and lights from demolished cars filled the night with an eerie aftermath. People looked for spouses
and children that had been grabbed by the tornado. Some children not found for days in hospitals. Carolyn Brewer has gathered
a wonderful account of that night in her book, "Caught in the Path." People recall that night in such a moving compilation
Ruskin homeowners rebuilt and reclaimed their homes in the months to come. A year later the Memorial was dedicated to
those who died. Trees were planted behind the monument for each person.
Many people who have lived here for all their life, did not know what was the purpose of the monument, or how the Ruskin
Tornado was such an event. The train that comes on the Kansas City Southern line blows it horn to let people know it is a
train not a tornado. For years people were afraid of that roaring sound.
Glass and wooden splinters surfaced from deep under the skin for years to come. Some people never came to terms with the
loss of that night. Many did not speak of the tornado.
50 years later, many of the monument trees have died and look worse for wear. The monument has been hit several times
by cars, and it is still structurally sound. The monument will be restored with a complete retuck, sanding, and resealing
the bricks. The anodized letters will be refinished, and "MEMORIAL" will be added at the bottom under the plaque.
On the back a new plaque will be added with the names of the people who died. A new tree will be planted in memory of each
of those people. We hope to purchase the trees with donations. The monument will maintain the dedication of the past, remind
people of the present of the night our neighborhood was destroyed, but our neighbors heroically helped each other, and forever
to the future let the names of the fatalities never be forgotten.
On May 19th we will rededicate the Ruskin Heights Memorial at 1 pm. People will come from far to remember their loved
ones in this rededication.
Many people have expressed gratitude and excitement over this upcoming event. Already people have made donations to the
Ruskin Heights Memorial Tree Arbor Fund. Families of the victims are proud to know their loved one's name will be on the monument
and a new tree will be planted to add beauty to our neighborhood growing to the future.
Photo by Rev. Robert Alexander in Kansas.
This site is dedicated to those people whose lives were affected by the Ruskin Heights Tornado May 20, 1957. The 39 who died,
the 531 who were injured, and the thousands who lived through the event that changed our lives.
Where were YOU?
Where were you May 20th, 1957 when the Ruskin Heights Tornado hit. If you were alive and lived in Hickman Mills or Kansas
City or Martin City, or Grandview, or Spring Hills, or Ottawa you probably remember where you were and what you were doing.
It is amazing how many people in our area remember that night to this day in vivid detail. Not just the people who where
hit by the tornado, but people all around remember this one and only F5 tornado in our area.
People remember where they were when Kennedy died, and it seems that the Ruskin Heights Tornado affected many others in
a similar way. That huge cloud on the horizon did not look like the typical single vortex tornado. As it moved closer you
could see the destruction and the fingers of many vortexes ripping the path.
So we ask YOU, "Where were you when the Ruskin Heights Tornado hit?" Send us an email and tell us your story.
We would love to hear from you.
Share your memories.
days until the May 19 2007 Rededication.
This site was created by Ruskin Heights Homes Association to share our Rededication.
Photos on file at KC Library