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Herman Hilmershausen of the Town of Stettin is sharing stories found in his collection of interesting articles saved through the years by family members.  This article refers to the tornado which caused hardship to many of our immigrant Pomeranians and their neighbors.

It was May, 1898 and a neighbor told Mother this story . . .    Grandpa (Wm Hanke, Sr.) was one of the chief characters but further telling will probably help explain why he never told much about it  (Grandma was never very talkative about it either.)

Grandpa came to the log house on this May Day and gave the alarm that a tornado was coming.  They tried to get to the cellar through the trap door, but while they were going down. They heard the lumber flying overhead which they had sawed for the new home.  They later found some of it, which had flown a mile across the country and landed in the woods owned by my father’s parents.

After the storm abated somewhat, Grandpa went outside to see what damage had been done.  He could see his brother’s farm across the field.  It was the Albert Hanke farm.  The barn was down so he walked across the field to see what he could do to help.  He found his brother dead in the wreckage.

Across the field he could see his home place, the Frederick Hanke’s.  The buildings appeared to be blown down.  He set out across the field.  It was about two miles, the way a crow flies.  What thoughts he must have had after seeing one tragedy!

His father and mother, the Frederick Hanke’s, Sr. and his youngest brother, Frederick Jr. were killed.  Two other brothers, Charles and Otto, were lying among the wreckage, pierced by splinters.  They also appeared to be beyond help.  A doctor was summoned from Wausau, a distance of about twenty-five miles.  He came with his horse and buggy.  Little hope was given for the two boys.  From May ‘till September the doctor came every day and both lived to an old age. 

People may wonder why they weren’t taken to a hospital.  There were no hospitals and they were too ill to be moved in a wagon.

They had the coffins outdoors because the church was not large enough.  The neighbor said that Grandpa, walking up and down between the coffins, was one of the saddest sights she had ever seen. Grandpa was not afraid of thunderstorms, but I can still see him pace the floor when there was a high wind.

Ruth Mathwich Plautz

Noel Weber said that one of their relatives was found dead in the yard.  There was no sign of injury on him.  They figured the suction of the tornado just sucked the breath out of him!

Mother told me that her brothers took the family over, on a Sunday, to see the devastation.  What impressed her was a gable of the log house left remaining and a pair of men’s boots still hanging from a beam of the gable.

Esther Krenz Bloch

. . .taken from a news article – May 1898


Terrific Cyclone Sweeps across Wisconsin
Leaving an Awful Path of Ruin

Four Members of the Hanke Family Killed in the Town of Rib Falls
Little Son of H. Weber, Another Victim
Property Loss Cannot be Estimated

The most devastating storm ever experienced in the State visited this section Wednesday evening.  In this country the damage cannot be estimated.  Sweeping across the country from southwest to northeast everything in its path was destroyed.  Dwellings, barns and churches were blown to pieces and the wreckage strewn for miles along the path of the storm.  Livestock was killed and growing crops were ruined.  The devastation was complete.  No structure was sufficiently strong to withstand the terrific rush of wind, yet there were instances where apparent mercy was shown and by some strange freak property was left untouched while wreck and ruin was accomplished on every side.  

The storm formed near Augusta in Eau Claire County.  From there the cyclone traveled on a straight line, entering this county at Colby, passing through the towns of Hull, Frankfort, Rietbrock, Rib Falls, Stettin, Maine and Texas, then on to Antigo where thirty houses were wrecked; three people killed and many injured.  

Early in the evening, Mayor Dalley wired to this city for physicians and nurses and Mayor Manson, with Doctors Sauethering, LaCount and Spencer and trained nurses Lizzie O’Brian and Anna Laurich from Riverside Hospital, left before midnight to care for the injured.  Dr. Finney of Clintonville also responded to the mayor’s call.  C.A. Martin, a representative of the Daily Herald, W.W. Albers, Peter St. Austin, father of Mrs. Alexander McMillan, and the latter’s niece, Miss Leahy, all of this city, also went over to offer their assistance.

Another cyclone, or a branch of this storm, struck a little earlier in the evening near Harshaw; it fury resulting in great loss of life.  Camp Ruth, operated by the Alexander Stewart Lumber Co. of this city, in charge of George Morisette, was destroyed and Geo. Martelle of Tomahawk was killed.  There were 25 men in camp, all being more or less injured except Mr. Morisette.  George Christy and W.J. Empey of this city and John Dickman of Stevens Point were badly and were brought here Thursday evening by Walter Alexander and Dr. Dickens, who went up in the morning.  The first two are at Riverside Hospital.  There is very little hope for the recovery of Mr. Christy.  The injuries of Dickman and Empey are not considered necessarily fatal.  Another camp in the same region operated by the Alexander Stewart Lumber Co. was destroyed and many men injured, but none fatally.  Other logging camps up there were destroyed and it is reported that several people are killed.

At Granite Heights, where the storm crossed the Wisconsin River, David Finn’s sawmill was wrecked, the main portion being blown into the river and the roof carried away and found on the other shore.  The Lumber which was piled was scattered broadcast.  He estimates his loss at about $2000.00.

Wausau was fortunate in escaping the destructive fury of the elements.  About 6 o’clock an ominous looking cloud came up in the northwest, but backing away.  In a little while, another came from the southwest bringing a perfect deluge of water, accompanied by hail.   The latter was not of sufficient importance to cause damage, and the citizens were congratulating themselves on the breaking of the drought when the rejoicing was changed to sorrow by the receipt of news intimating what terrible destruction had come to less fortunate neighbors.

No idea of the fury and power of the storm can be gained except by a visit to the scene of wreck and ruin.  Immense trees, two feet in diameter, were twisted off and the tops often carried to a great distance.   One farmer reported that his barn has wholly vanished.  At one place a barn was torn to pieces and scattered over a half-dozen fields while a threshing machine, it has sheltered, was practically uninjured.   At another place the storm selected a binder as the object of its wrath, picking it up and dashing it into a thousand pieces, while contiguous property was but slightly damaged.  The path of the storm varied from 100 to 200 yards and inside those limits it made a clean sweep.  Farmers who were in comfortable circumstances were left practically destitute and in many cases aid to relieve present and future want will be necessary.


The first fatality in this county is reported from the home of Fred Hanke, who resided on the town line between the Towns of Rib Falls and Stettin.  Every building on this farm was destroyed.  Mr. Hanke was carried twenty rods or more and dashed to death.  Mrs. Hanke was killed about ten rods from the house, while Fred Hanke, Jr. aged 18 years, was killed amid the ruins of the home.  Otto, aged 81, another son, was so severely injured that death is expected to result.  Mr. and Mrs. Hanke were among the oldest settlers in that section.  They had a comfortable, well-appointed home and had acquired a reasonable competency.  Now all that is left is the farm and a few head of livestock which escaped.  A mile farther on lived Albert Hanke who was but recently married, another son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Hanke.  When the storm approached he was in the barn doing the evening chores.  His wife saw the danger and called for him to come to the house.  He stared but was picked up by the storm before reaching shelter and was killed.  His barn was destroyed and the upper story of the dwelling was carried away, but his wife escaped with a few slight bruises.

A little ten-year-old son of H. Weber, was also killed, being caught in the debris and the destroyed home.  All the members of this family were more or less injured.

John F. Lamont went out to the home of Fred Hanke on Thursday and followed the path of the storm five miles to the old picnic grounds on the Marathon City Road ( is this now Highland Drive in Stettin?  Was it the first Highway 29?)  His account of the situation is graphic and he estimates the loss along that route to be $50,000.00.  He made a list of those experiencing loss as follows:

At Fred Hanke’s place three barns and the dwelling destroyed; considerable livestock killed and all fences in the path of the storm were demolished.

E. Fehlbaum lost everything in the way of buildings and fences.

The residence of Ernst Durch was out of the main line of the cyclone and withstood its fury but all his sheds and barns were demolished.

Carl Radant lost all his barns and stables and his home was thrown off the foundation and wrecked.

Albert Lenz and Herman Lenz lost all their buildings except residences.

Wm. Werner lost everything except his residence.

All the houses and barns of the farm of H. Weber were destroyed and his little ten-year-old son was killed.

Herman Schluetter lost all but his house.

The Lutheran church and parochial school in the Town of Rib Falls were practically destroyed, being so badly damaged that they will have to be rebuilt.

F. Ueckert, J & F Heise, W. Luedtke, Herman Kufahl, Otto Anklam, Wm. Neuman and Frank Trantow lost all buildings except their residences.  Their barns, stables, fences and sheds are demolished and scattered over the fields.

The Curtis & Yale Co’s sawmill in the Town of Berlin was wrecked and the lumber in pile scattered to the four winds.  The loss is about $1,500.00.

Three barns on the farm of F. Roemke were destroyed.

The large double barn of Carl Trantow is a total loss.

There were two good residences on the farm of Ed. Kufahl.  One of these was destroyed, together with three barns.

On the John Goetsch farm, recently purchased by Bernhard Laabs, and which was not occupied, all the buildings were leveled, the wind making a clean sweep.

The pretty grove on the Ed Kufahl place, known as the Wausau-Merrill joint picnic ground, was completely destroyed, almost every tree being blown down.

It must be remembered that these losses were sustained along a line extending for only five miles and are mostly in the Town of Stettin.  Reliable information from the other sections affected cannot be obtained, but it is feared their report will be almost as bad, especially in the Town of Rietbrock.   In many cases, families are left destitute and relief measures must be taken at once.  Many families have lost all their houses, fences, farm machinery, livestock and provisions.  They are without necessities to relieve present wants and without implements for putting in a crop.  Neighbors are doing what they can, are dividing their little store, but much more will be needed.  It is a time when none should hesitate but respond promptly and liberally to the call which should not be delayed.