June 8, 1953: Remembering the Flint-Beecher Tornado

via Absolute Michigan

Tornado Damage in Beecher

Tornado Damage in Beecher, courtesy Flint Public Library

“The noise sounded like two freight trains going over a trestle right over your head; it was an ugly roar. My wife said the noise when the house went was like a giant pencil sharpener working.”
-Tornado Survivor Robert Blue

The National Weather Service relates that the Flint-Beecher tornado was Michigan’s worst natural disaster in terms of deaths and injuries:

This was the last tornado to kill over 100 people in a single tornado event anywhere in the United States. On June 8th, 1953, 116 people lost their lives in the Flint-Beecher community, and 844 people suffered injuries. The Flint-Beecher Tornado was just one of eight tornadoes that occurred that horrible evening across the eastern portion of the Lower Peninsula. Those other seven tornadoes resulted in an additional 9 deaths, 52 injures, and damage stretching from Alpena to Erie.

The Flint-Beecher tornado was rated as an F5, the highest rating on the Fujita scale of damage. Winds were likely in excess of 200 mph as the 800 yard wide tornado moved on its 27 mile path through Genesee and Lapeer counties. Approximately 340 homes were destroyed, 107 homes had “major damage”, and 153 homes had “minor damage”. In addition farms, businesses and other buildings were destroyed and had damage. These totaled another 50 buildings destroyed and 16 with damage. The damage was estimated around $19 million (about $125 million adjusted for inflation).

So great a number were killed by the monstrous tornado that the National Guard Armory building, along with other shelters, was turned into a temporary morgue. The scene of bodies pouring into the Armory (as an intermittent light rain poured outside) was incredibly bleak and horrifying, especially for the families and friends of the victims. At least 100 people waited outside into the rainy night before they could move inside to try and identify the bodies.

Read on for more at Absolute Michigan.

See more in the Flint Public Library’s Beecher Tornado gallery and watch this video account from tornado survivors below.

More history and more from Flint on Michigan in Pictures.

Charles Stewart Mott and the Mott Foundation Building

Mott Foundation Building in Flint

The Mott Foundation Building in Flint, photo by Steve Brown

My post on Tuesday generated a little controversy because I stated who I was supporting in Michigan’s primary and also that I’d continue to share my personal opinions here on Michigan in Pictures. Most readers who commented agreed, including Jim Schaefer who shared the most powerful comment I’ve ever read on my work:

Dear Farlane…I’m so glad you posted item #4 today along with the great photo. I had to move to Sheboygan, WI in 2014 for health reasons, leaving behind 45-yrs of life in Flint, MI. I’ve been saving your photos and their accompanying stories on a daily basis for several years now in their own special folder on my laptop. They are my daily reminder about all of the good things about Michigan that some Michigan residents seem to take for granted.

Unfortunately, some of these same people have conveniently forgotten about your 1st Amendment rights to editorialize on your own website. Shame on them! I am also a 72-yr old Army veteran who served a 13-month tour in a combat zone in Korea in 1966. That’s why I’m so glad that you reminded people to vote today. I was drafted against my will back in 1966 but I served my country and did my job over there and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone take away my right to vote. So you keep right on posting all of those great photos along with the Michigan history behind them.

May God bless you always…Jim Schaefer

God bless you too Jim, and here’s something for your desktop folder from Flint! The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation shares this about their founder:

Charles Stewart Mott
Charles Stewart Mott

Charles Stewart Mott established the C.S. Mott Foundation in 1926, in response to his deep concern about the welfare of Flint, Mich., as well as his abiding affection for his adopted community.

An automotive pioneer, Mr. Mott was an original partner in the creation of the General Motors Corporation, founded in Flint in 1908. As one of the city’s leading industrialists, Mr. Mott was elected mayor, serving three terms (1912–13, 1918) during periods of overwhelming and turbulent growth in the city. As mayor he was responsible for instituting fair property assessments, orderly accounting audits, health and safety ordinances, building codes and a house numbering system.

Read more about Mott in Autos not Apples. Here’s a few facts about the 16-story Art Deco building that bears his name and houses the Mott Foundation:

  • Flint’s first skyscraper with a total height of 226 feet to the top of the passenger elevator penthouse.
  • Designed by Smith, Hunchman & Grylls (SmithGroup) the oldest practicing architectural firm in the US.
  • Construction took one year to complete at a cost of approximately $2,000,000.
  • Original design included seven retail stores on the first floor. There were also originally men’s rooms on every floor, but women’s restrooms only on every other floor.
  • The Freight elevator is still operated with the vintage 1930 controls.
  • Building name was changed to the Mott Foundation Building on January 1, 1945.

View Steve’s photo big as a building and see more in his Flint, Michigan slideshow.

More Flint and more architecture on Michigan in Pictures. Also check out this guide to the architecture of Flint for more of the city’s architectural heritage.

Singing along in Michigan

Pure Michigan Statewide Singalong in Flint, photo by Rob Bliss

via Absolute Michigan

Rob Bliss & Jeff Barrett, creators of the fantastic Grand Rapids lip dub video premiered their Pure Michigan Statewide Sing-along at halftime of the Lions game on Sunday. It was filmed in 50 Michigan cities in 7 days. It’s a pretty cool travelogue of the Great Lakes State in under 4 minutes.

Check out the finished video on YouTube and also don’t miss the behind the scenes blog from PureMichigan.org.

The Descent

The Decent

The Descent, photo by J.M.Barclay

Here’s hoping that the equivalent of the Fun Slide passes through your weekend!

View it on black and in J.M.’s slideshow.

More great black & white photos on Michigan in Pictures.

The Guru Of The Green and our science fiction moment

Guru Of The Green  -  Flint, Michigan

Guru Of The Green – Flint, Michigan, photo by J.M.Barclay.

“It’s almost like science fiction at this point.”
~Weather Underground weather historian, Christopher C. Burt

Dr. Jeff Masters flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990 and co-founded Ann Arbor-based The Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He’s Wunderground’s Senior Meteorologist and has been writing some insightful and frankly scary articles about what he calls “Summer in March” which has seen up to a week straight of record high temperatures. Yesterday he wrote:

Since record keeping began in the late 1800s, there have never been so many temperature records broken for spring warmth in a one-week period–and the margins by which some of the records were broken yesterday were truly astonishing. Wunderground’s weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, commented to me yesterday, “it’s almost like science fiction at this point.” A few of the more remarkable records from yesterday:

Pellston, Michigan in the Northern Lower Peninsula is called “Michigan’s Icebox”, since it frequently records the coldest temperatures in the state, and in the entire nation. But the past five days, Pellston has set five consecutive records for hottest March day. Yesterday’s 85° reading broke the previous record for the date (53° in 2007) by a ridiculous 32°, and was an absurd 48°F above average.

The low temperature at Marquette, Michigan was 52° yesterday, which was 3° warmer than the previous record high for the date!

Also don’t miss this article where Jeff looks at how extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day.

James snapped this amazing capture of the Guru frozen above some green water left over from St Patrick’s Day at Flint’s Riverbank Park. Check it out bigger and in his free run sun slideshow with some Free Running / Parkour action. He also has a show starting Saturday – details on his Facebook.

A long shot in Vehicle City

A long shot

A long shot, photo by flintstoner.

Editor’s note: Midway through writing this post, I realized that I had blogged about the Vehicle City arches four years ago. I figured that if I had forgotten, most of you probably would have forgotten too or never seen it, so here you go.

Last week Governor Rick Snyder appointed Michael Brown as Emergency Manager for Flint. You can read all about that (including some interviews) on Absolute Michigan.

When I was looking at photos for that feature, this one with all the arches on Saginaw street caught my eye so I decided to learn a little more about them. Flinn’s Journal (which is a really cool site by the way that has a dynamic Facebook page) has a column on the Flint Arches that explains:

On November 29, 2003, a part of downtown Flint’s past officially returned to become part of Flint’s present and future when the replicated Flint Vehicle City arches were dedicated and lit for the first time. The arches are reminders of Flint’s glorious past as “The Vehicle City” as the city faces an uncertain future.

The vehicles which were made in Flint when the original arches were built were horse-drawn carriages. The leading maker of horse-drawn carriages in Flint was the Durant-Dort Carriage Company which was co-founded by William C. Durant and J. Dallas Dort and was in business from 1886 to 1917. Both men would also start companies which made horseless carriages. Dort founded the Dort Motor Car Company which was in business from 1915 to 1923. Dort Highway was named in his honor. Durant took over the then-small Buick Motor Company in 1904 and made it the leading motorcar company in 1908, the year that Durant founded Buick’s parent company General Motors Corporation. The first arches were erected in 1899 and built by Genesee Iron Works.

The arches were each fitted with 50 light bulbs which were illuminated at night. The arches replaced gas lighting. To celebrate Flint’s Golden Jubilee in 1905, an additional arch was erected near the point where Saginaw Street and Detroit Street (now M.L. King Ave.) split off north of the bridge over the Flint River. This arch was topped off by an illuminated sign saying “FLINT VEHICLE CITY”. For the Christmas holiday season, the regular light bulbs were replaced by multicolored light bulbs.

Click above to read more and see some photos. The arches were fabricated by Bristol Steel of Davison Michigan – check their site for photos and video of the installation. You can see some cool old photos at the Flint Vehicle City Arches site too.

Check this out background bigtacular and in flintstoner’s Flickriver.

Below is a photo by Arthur Crooks from the excellent Making of Modern Michigan gallery showing the Vehicle City Arch erected in 1905 as part of the City’s 50th anniversary. The caption of the photo says “South Saginaw St from Detroit Street looking South” while the description says it’s on Saginaw Street looking north. Can anyone clarify this?

October in Michigan is filled with light & color … and some great events!

A River Runs Through It, my New Years Resolution version

A River Runs Through It, my New Years Resolution version, photo by posthumus_cake (www.pinnaclephotography.net).

“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”
~John Burroughs

We’ve posted our October Michigan Event Calendar on Absolute Michigan. It’s one of Michigan’s best listings of events, featuring everything from ArtPrize in Grand Rapids to the Famous Pumpkin Train. Check them all out and learn a lot more about the 10th month!

The photo is the Big Carp River seen from one of Michigan’s premier vistas, the Lake of the Clouds Overlook in Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Check it out on black and in his Porcupine Mountains slideshow. He adds that one year later, it was a blizzard! More from Matthew at pinnaclephotography.net.