Ohio History Journal

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edited by

edited by



Crossroads: The Xenia Tornado,

A Retrospective View





It is possible to factually document the cataclysmic tornado which cut a path

through southwestern Ohio on the third of April 1974. Pictures can show the de-

struction; words convey the impressions of the participants. There will be many

publications of this nature. What is difficult, perhaps impossible, to impart is the

break in historic continuity such an event will produce, particularly in a community

such as Xenia. What is meant by "historic continuity"?

A village or city can be considered as an entity of infinite parts, some definable,

some forever inexplicable. The structures and residents can be statistically

analyzed, photographed to the smallest detail, but the important element-the es-

sence of the community-can never be completely captured in words or pictures.

This essence is understood best by those who have lived their lifetimes in or near an

urban environment. Buildings are appreciated for their memories as well as for

their functions; certain streets are passages for reflection, others simply connect

points on a map; a single tree, an old stone sidewalk, an odd chimney pot-each

might rekindle a half-forgotten event, an indistinctly remembered story told by a


This, then, is what is meant by historic continuity. It is an interaction of thought

and object, and is conveyed from one generation to the next. The gradual altera-

tion of a community through growth and reconstruction does not necessarily disrupt

the continuity between the townspeople and their surroundings. Nor probably is

this continuity as severely disturbed as one might think by man-made disasters such

as war. The dangers of destruction are apprehended, and there is a local or na-

tional conscience desirous of preserving objects and memories of cultural impor-

tance. There are cities in Europe which have faced such crises many times.

The sudden destruction of a city by an unforeseen event such as an earthquake,

tornado, or fire is different, however. The gradual alteration of a building cannot

be remarked, the growth of trees remembered, or old memories relived in the face of

impending ruin, as might occur during a war. When sudden destruction occurs, the

youngest generation might retain memories, yes-but immature as children are, the

significance of the structures and scenes relative to their historical continuity will be

unknown to them, so cannot be passed on to the next generation. It does not mat-

ter if a new house of 1974 stands exactly on the foundations of a nineteenth century


Mr. Hutslar is Associate Curator of History. The Ohio Historical Society. He was the photographer

for all the scenes except the aerial views.