Old Photos: 1957 Ruskin Heights Tornado

All the devastation happening around the country this year has a direct parallel to the weather events of 1957 when an unusually high number of tornadoes and floods caused a significant death toll and property loss. Everyone in this area knows about the F5 Ruskin Heights tornado that destroyed a neighborhood in Kansas City  but it was only one of the 57 tornadoes registered during the 3 day period in May of 1957 which killed 59 people.

These pictures taken for the Life Magazine article “New Terror in a Savage Spring, A Record Rampage of Tornadoes and Sudden Floods” are not that different from what we see on the news from Joplin, MO, Reading, KS and Oklahoma. In 54 years the science and technology didn’t significantly improve our safety, and although we have better storm warning and detection systems and instant channels of communicating the information to the affected areas, this article could have been written today – from devastation and tragedy to looters – not much have changed.

Missourians groping their way, stunned and bleeding, from homes just shattered by a tornado, were the latest terrified victims of a terrifying season for the Southwest and Midwest……In the battered area all this seemed to confirm a widespread belief that the weather patterns in the region were changing and producing more tornadoes than ever…


©Time Inc. Grey Villet

©Time Inc. Grey Villet

©Time Inc. Grey Villet

At her ruined home in Hickman Mills, Joan Schultz, 6, clutches her kitten Joan. Her family and kitten crawled under house during tornado.©Time Inc. Grey Villet

Arrested for looting. Two men are held by Guardsmen near Ruskin Heights Shopping Center.©Time Inc. Grey Villet

©Time Inc. Grey Villet

©Time Inc. Grey Villet

©Time Inc. Grey Villet

©Time Inc. Grey Villet

©Time Inc. Grey Villet

  • Orphan of the Road

    My cousin’s family was in this tornado. 

  • Anonymous

    Second to the last pix is Walt Bodine.  Interestingly the negative was flipped and the print is backwards….

    • I noticed the flip too, but didn’t know it was Walt. Reporting sure was different back in the day.

    • SKC Observer

      I wondered if that was Mr. Bodine!  Note the two guys sitting on the fender of the car in the upper corner of the photo.  (the flipped photo…I wonder if it was printed that way?)

  • Donna Wood

    I remember this like it was yesterday.  I attended Northgate Jr. High School at the time and took my KC Times to school with me the next day to share all the pictures.  My mother and I got under a bridge until the tornado was over, but it didn’t affect those of us north of the river anyhow.

  • I actually have the original KC star edition from the following day. I had it out, looking at it last night. The front page has a great aerial shot of the destruction centered around blue ridge and ruskin high school.

    Of course in 1957, this wasn’t part of Kansas City — the area wasn’t annexed until 1967 (I think).

  • NAB58

    My husband was a kid in Martin City and saw this tornado go through the city below them. They lived at the top of a hill. My father-in-law had just came home from work and had stopped at a convince store to pick up a loaf of bread. The tornado hit that store and killed the man that sold the bread to my father-in-law just minutes after he left.

    • Diane Euston

      What a story! I am writing a blog and an article for a local newspaper about this. Can you email me at thefamilygenies@gmail.com? The name of the storekeeper was Lowell Atkinson.

      • Nancy Osborne

        Mr Atkinson was on the phone with his wife when the tornado hit. My dad and other guys salvaged as many can goods and non perishables as possible to sell out of our garage and help the family. We remained friends with the family. His wife was still alive when my mother passed away 20 years ago

  • Eydie Sanders

    This happened 10 days before I was born. I was born in Wichita, Kansas May 30, 1957. I have lived in Springfield, Missouri since I was 10. I have never heard of this before the other day. How on earth did I never hear of this?

  • Joseph Laurence Gossey

    I was 4 when this tornado hit. I think i saw it in the sky. I was in Kansas City. the northeast part