At the start of my career as an attorney, my bride and I lived in Mattoon, Illinois for just under three years. Charleston was the country seat of Coles County, and I spent a lot of time over there in court. Only twelve miles separate the two towns.
Beginning on May 25, 1917 an eight day sequence of killer tornadoes struck the mid section of the country, wreaking havoc and death in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama, leaving 383 people dead.
The tornado that struck Mattoon and Charleston began in Missouri and tracked a 293 mile course across Illinois, traveling at 40 mph, with the whirling winds that made up the tornado attaining 400 mph. The skies darkened over Mattoon and Charleston around 2:00 PM with air sultry and oppressive. At 3:00 PM a black nimbus cloud appeared and produced frequent lightning. A greenish-black cumulo-nimbus cloud appeared from the West around 3: 45 pm. The tornado struck soon thereafter. A contemporary account described what happened: