For those who lived through the May 11, 1953 Waco tornado or arrived on the scene afterward, the memories still linger.
Retired Waco banker John Hawes Jr., then a 21-year-old Baylor student, remembers crawling over the rubble outside the damaged Citizens National Bank at 514 Austin Ave., thinking surely there were bodies of people crushed beneath him.
“There was no warning,” he said, “although we did hear about a tornado that killed people in San Angelo six hours earlier.”
Hawes was a part-time bank employee in an upstairs room using a proofing machine to take pictures of checks the bank received that day.
Much like others who recalled that storm, Hawes said the sky grew very dark and “the wind started gusting big time.”
The east wall of the bank fell against a neighboring building, he said, but the floors didn’t collapse, unlike the five-story R.T. Dennis building that flattened upon itself and accounted for many deaths.
Hawes, now 81, will be among those taking part in a public remembrance May 11 at Heritage Square. The ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m. with a moment of silence planned for 4:40, when the tornado hit.
A decade ago, the city of Waco, the Dr Pepper Museum and the Waco Tribune-Herald were among those who worked together to present a weekend of activities marking the tragic day. The large teardrop-shaped black granite marker in Heritage Square with the names of the 114 people killed was unveiled then.
The scope of this year’s remembrance won’t be as large as the 50th, but an exhibition at the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute has about double the number of tornado-related images from its exhibit 10 years ago, according to Jack McKinney, the museum’s executive director.
The Storm Watch 2013 exhibit debuted April 20. In addition to presenting images and artifacts from the tornado and remembering the loss of life, the exhibit will celebrate the recovery and revitalization of downtown Waco, McKinney said.
More than 2,400 Waco ISD fourth- and seventh-graders will take field trips to the Dr Pepper Museum to view the exhibition before the school year ends. The exhibition will continue through the summer.
As people go through old photo albums or family keepsakes, previously unknown images showing the aftermath of the tornado are found and the Dr Pepper Museum is made aware of them, McKinney said.
Among photographs discovered since the last anniversary are 16 color Kodachrome slides from photographs taken just after the tornado cut its path through downtown and into East Waco. The photos were taken by Dr. Hannibal “Joe” Lucas Jaworski, a surgeon at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center who was the older brother of famed Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski.
“Dr. Joe,” as he was known, was at his practice downtown when the tornado struck. He and his wife, Madge, were among the first on the scene, according to a biography by Baylor University’s Texas Collection. Before rushing to the hospital to treat the injured, Jaworski snapped several photographs of the desruction.
The slides were in a collection bequeathed by Jaworski after his death in 1999 to the Texas Collection.
Geoff Hunt, the Texas Collection’s audio and visual curator, was amazed at the find as he went through the collection.
“It was unexpected,” said Hunt, who is a member of the committee for the 60-year anniversary remembrance. “They were in a small box marked ‘Waco Tornado Slides.’ I opened it up, and they appeared to be in good shape.”
Hunt scanned the images with a high-resolution scanner, realizing that they were a little dusty from the years stored away. He used preservation techniques to clean them up and rescanned the slides.
“The color held up very well,” he said. “I was incredibly surprised at the images he captured.”
The Jaworski photos are among those new to Wilton Lanning, one of the founders of the Dr Pepper Museum and an expert on the Waco tornado. Lanning was 16 years old when he came upon the downtown devastation after returning from an errand.
“It was later considered a level-5 tornado,” Lanning said. “For where and when it hit in the heart of downtown, it’s amazing more weren’t killed.”
Between 60 and 80 enlarged tornado photographs will be part of the exhibition, said Joy Summar-Smith, associate director of the Dr Pepper Museum. Some will be images will have been shown in the previous exhibition, while others are new, she said.
The exhibition also will include QR codes to access websites that have more images and related tornado material, including a Texas Collection Flickr page. Previously created videos about the tornado will be available to view in the museum, which lost its top floor to the 1953 tornado.
Summar-Smith said another new addition will be a collection of comparison photos that pair a post-tornado image with a current-day color shot taken from the same perspective. It will show the changes for that area since the devastation, she said.
In some cases, that spot might now be a parking lot, Summar-Smith said, but even that shows the need for parking with the growth and revitalization of downtown.
In conjunction with the remembrance ceremony and Storm Watch exhibition, the Tribune-Herald’s museum, will be open to the general public for the first time. The museum, which includes reproductions of historic front pages such as coverage of the tornado, can be toured from 1 to 4 p.m., when it will close to allow visitors time to attend the 4:30 ceremony at Heritage Square.
The museum is in the Tribune-Herald building at 900 Franklin Ave. There will be no charge to tour.
Another tie-in to the exhibition is that the Historic Waco Foundation’s summer camp June 17-21 will focus on examining big weather events in Waco’s history. The camp program will include a visit to the Dr Pepper Museum, said Holly Browning, HWF curator of collections.
But among the enduring memories of the tornado and its aftermath are how people pulled together, both Lanning and Hawes said.
Hawes recalled that the power in the Citizen National Bank building was out and people found flashlights and candles to help the women who worked as check routers find their way out from the pitch-black room where they worked.
Hawes said he hadn’t considered it at the time, but now figures God must have been watching out for them because their lighted candles weren’t near any gas leaks, which certainly would have ignited.
From Hawes’ banking perspective, he said he saw a wonderful spirit of cooperation. The new Community Bank on 18th Street, which escaped the destruction, allowed the three downtown banks — Citizens National, First National and National City — to set up shop there with tellers for each of the banks.
“I’m not aware of any money being lost or people being taken advantage of in the days that followed,” he said.
He also remembers a stream of eight to 10 ambulances making their way through the ravaged streets to take the injured to the hospital. And in the days after, weary funeral directors and pastors handled seven to eight funerals daily of those killed, he said.
But through it all, Hawes said, “Waco’s citizens bravely responded and recovered.”
When: 4:30 p.m. May 11
Where: Heritage Square, Fourth Street and Austin Avenue
Storm Watch 2013: Exhibition at Dr Pepper Museum, 300 S. Fifth St., runs throughout summer. Admission costs $8 adults, $6 senior adults and $5 students and children. Call 757-1025. Online: drpeppermuseum.com
Tribune-Herald Museum: Will be open 1 to 4 p.m. May 11 at Tribune-Herald, 900 Franklin Ave. Free. Call 757-5757.