By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – It may well have been a teenage vice that saved the life of Leon Marcy and others 70 years ago.
Long before the tornado wiped out much of Tupelo, 14-year-old Marcy and his 15-year-old cousin Stanley Christian had built a “storm house.” It was not built, however, with storms in mind.
“We wanted a place to slip around and smoke,” Marcy said with a chuckle.
About 9 p.m. Sunday, April 5, 1936, the cousins’ smoke house became a safe house for about 20 people in the Auburn community.
In the hours before the tornado changed life as Tupeloans had known it, Marcy tagged along with his old brother and two older sisters to a Sunday evening gospel singing at Auburn School.
“It was thundering and lightning and very windy,” he said.
The weather got so bad that about 20 folks attending the singing left the school and headed to Marcy’s aunt’s house for more shelter.
“She had a pump organ, so we continued singing,” he said. “Now, I’d never heard of a tornado, but there was a boy visiting from Arkansas and he kept going out on the upstairs balcony and looking at the sky.
“Then he came in shouting, ‘Has anybody got a storm house?’”
Down in the ground
With at least 20 people jammed into the storm house, several men held the door shut, but the storm was so fierce, Marcy said, it pushed the two grown men back.
“The noise was so loud, it was undescribable,” he said. “A car from somewhere rolled on top of the storm house and knocked dirt in on us. The storm lasted what seemed an eternity, but, in reality, it was probably only three to five minutes.”
When the young Marcy emerged from the storm house after the tornado had passed, his life was changed forever, he said, by what he saw.
“It was real quiet and there was nothing left,” he said.
His aunt’s big, two-story house was destroyed.
“They raised chickens,” Marcy said of his aunt and her family. “The ones that were left had absolutely no feathers on them. They were running around naked.”
Soon the silence was broken by human voices.
“People were hollering for help,” Marcy said. “We had to pick our way through debris in the dark and find our way to the voices.”
In the darkness, Marcy ran into another cousin who was looking for his wife.
“This is where it gets gruesome,” Marcy said, excusing himself for a moment to regain composure stolen by a 70-year-old memory. “We got to the place where his house had been and found his father-in-law who’d been blown several hundred yards and hit his head on a stump. Part of his head was gone. He was dead. Then we found my cousin’s mother-in-law. Then his wife. They were all dead.”
The tornado had missed the school where the gospel singing had originated, but Auburn Church was destroyed.
“They found some of the tongue-and-groove floor boards over in Alabama,” Marcy said.
Marcy’s parents were safe – their home was just out of the storm area although somewhat damaged. But he lost lots of relatives and friends.
And he has not forgotten.
“When you see something like that, you never forget it,” Marcy said. “Seeing what can happen to people so quickly makes a person think about eternity. Back then, that’s when I became a Christian.”
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