1939 tornado left mark on Anoka
The tornado that struck Anoka on June 18, 1939, left a lasting impression in its wake. Although the damage is long since cleaned up, repaired, or covered over, the effects of the storm continue in ways we might be less familiar with today, 80 years later.
One way the legacy of the tornado, and of Anoka’s recovery from it, lives on is in the athletic team name for Anoka High School, the Tornadoes.
Prior to the tornado, Anoka High did not have a specific mascot for its sports teams. The school colors were often used for a name, “Maroon and Grey,” or names might be given to specific teams based on the coach’s name or on a characteristic of that particular team.
On June 18, 1939, two Anoka citizens had a close encounter with the tornado: Ralph B. and Verna Heineman were outside when the storm struck and took what shelter they could under a tree. Verna held on to a tree, but the whole tree was pulled up by the twister, taking her with it; she survived the encounter, but had to spend some time in the hospital afterward. Ralph Heineman was the principal of Anoka High School at that time, and while she was recovering, Verna suggested to her husband that “Tornado” might be a good mascot for the school, since it was so powerful.
Anoka High School teams used the mascot officially starting in 1940, although the “Maroon and Grey” (and later “Maroon and White” as the colors changed) stayed in use until the 1950s. Today, all of Anoka High’s athletic teams use the Tornadoes mascot.
Other stories we have about the tornado drive home the very real loss that followed in the wake of the storm. Numbers (nine dead and over 200 wounded), tell part of the story, but in at least a few cases we know the names and faces of the victims, digging deeper than statistics.
These photographs show the Harrington family and the wreckage of their home after the tornado had passed. One image is Harvey Harrington kneeling next to his younger son Warren and examining a bicycle, possibly Warren’s, which was destroyed by the storm along with their house. Another image shows Harvey’s wife, Opal, with their daughter Bessie Lou, perhaps testing whether or not their sewing machine still worked. A third photograph shows where their house used to be, at 636 Johnson St., just west of Seventh Avenue.
Dr. Henry Kline (son of Dr. James Kline) reopened the family’s local hospital, the Kline Sanitarium, as a temporary shelter for victims of the tornado. Harvey and Opal took advantage of the shelter to make sure their children, Warren, Bessie Lou and their older brother Phillip, had a roof over their heads until the family had a home again. Although the number of people killed in Anoka by the 1939 tornado was fortunately low, it was still a devastating storm for the many people whose homes could not withstand the ferocious winds.
Audra Hilse is the archivist and administrator for the Anoka County Historical Society.