Tennessee woman searching for owners of photos found following April 1974 tornado

By ELANE JONES, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 4/29/16

A Tennessee resident has been trying to return some photos that were found behind her family’s home following the April 1974 tornado outbreak that destroyed downtown Jasper.

Julie Denton Slaughter of McMinnville, Tennessee, said she believes …

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Tennessee woman searching for owners of photos found following April 1974 tornado


A Tennessee resident has been trying to return some photos that were found behind her family’s home following the April 1974 tornado outbreak that destroyed downtown Jasper.

Julie Denton Slaughter of McMinnville, Tennessee, said she believes the two photos that were found may have come from Walker County. One photo appears to be a portrait of a husband and wife, and the other could have been torn from the pages of a yearbook.

“The tornadoes came through our area around 8:15 p.m. on the night of April 3, 1974, and barely missed us,” Slaughter said. “We have kept the photos for over 42 years, and I have been trying to find who they belong to for several years.”

Slaughter said she has used various means, including Facebook, to locate the photos’ owners but has not had any luck so far.

Slaughter said her brothers found the photos on a slope behind the house while out walking the day after the storms.

“There were little pieces of paper everywhere. We even found pieces of a check stub with Alabama written on it,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter was only 11 years old at the time, but like so many others, she still remembers that night like it was yesterday.

“My family lived in a little community called Irving College, about 12 miles south of McMinnville near the Warren and Grundy county lines,” Slaughter said. “We were at home and listening to what was going on with the weather on the radio, because back then that was the only way you had to get any kind of storm warnings.”

Slaughter said although a weather alert had been issued, her family did not know how serious it was.

“My granny lived right next door to us, and she came down to our house and said she had her window up and that she kept hearing something that sounded like a train,” Slaughter said. “We listened and could hear it as well, but we still didn’t know what it was.”

Slaughter said the wind blew hard for a few minutes and then things became so calm that even the leaves on the trees were not moving. Then hail came.

“The sound just kept getting closer and we saw a green glow go by, but we didn’t know that was the tornado,” Slaughter said. “We had a storm shelter under the hill near our house, so we all headed down there, not knowing the tornado had already passed us by.”

Slaughter’s father was a patrol deputy for the local sheriff’s department. He was working the night shift on the night the storms hit, and when he learned that a tornado had come through a community near where his family lived, he immediately headed home to make sure his family was okay.

“We lived up the lane, just off the main highway, and we saw his blue lights coming up the road. When I saw him, he was sitting on the swing with my grandfather and I could see tears rolling down his cheeks,” Slaughter managed to say through her own tears. “My dad was not the kind of man who would cry, but he was so relieved to find that we were okay. He just couldn’t hold back the tears.”

Slaughter said one of her cousins, who married a man from Jasper, told Slaughter to contact the Daily Mountain Eagle regarding the photos found in her family’s backyard.

“We had tried everything we knew to do to find who the photos belonged to, so I thought I would see if your local newspaper would run the photos to see if anyone recognized them,” Slaughter said. “I know the people in these photos are someone’s grandparents, and I just want to return the photos to their family.”

The tornado that narrowly missed Slaughter and her family was part of the April 3 and 4, 1974, tornado outbreak, which ranks as the third worst in Alabama history, behind the tornado outbreaks of March 21, 1932 and April 27, 2011.

During the late afternoon and evening of April 3, 1974, at least eight tornadoes touched down in Alabama, killing 86 people and injuring 949 others, causing over $50 million in damage. Sixteen counties in northern Alabama were hit the hardest, including Walker County.

According to a report written by the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Birmingham on the outbreak, Alabama’s severe weather began around 4:30 p.m., when a brief tornado touched down in the Concord community about eight miles west of Birmingham.

Less than an hour later, a second tornado struck about eight miles west of Jacksonville.

The major tornado activity began around 6:30 p.m. when a tornado touched down in the community of Newburg in Franklin County and then plowed its way continuously northeastward for 85 miles before entering Tennessee.

At 7:35 p.m., another major tornado touched down in nearly the exact same spot, following the first one on almost the exact same path.

The path of the second tornado was 20-miles long and varied from the first one by only a block, less than two miles.

Many of the same communities were hit twice within 30 minutes, hindering rescue efforts. Over half of Alabama’s storm deaths and many of the injuries were caused by the two tornadoes, which killed 55 and injured 408.

As these storms were occurring, other tornadoes were taking place in south Alabama, including one that touched down five miles north of Aliceville in Pickens County and moved almost continously on the ground for nearly an hour before ripping through Walker County at 7:58 p.m.

Downtown Jasper was the hardest hit area, with several stores and commercial buildings destroyed and numerous damaged.

The Walker County Courthouse also received extensive damage, and the city of Jasper’s new fire station was demolished.

Along the entire path of this storm, 500 buildings were destroyed, 381 severely damaged and 56 mobile homes were destroyed, with 13 sustaining major damage.

One person was killed in Cullman County and 36 injured. Two people were killed in the Berry community in Fayette County and 102 were injured in Walker County.

The Pickens, Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Walker and Cullman tornado then moved northeastward and heavily damaged a four-block area of southeast Cullman around 8:40 p.m., before finally dissipating over northeast Cullman, leaving another three dead and 178 injured in its wake.

The final storms of the outbreak in Alabama began wreaking havoc as this storm dissipated, when a tornado touched down in the town of Guin in Marion County around 9:04 p.m., killing 23 people and injuring 250 in that area, before moving into Winston County near the Delmar community, where it left five dead.

The final tornado of that terrible night touched down in south Huntsville at 10:50 p.m., causing severe damage at Redstone Arsenal. It moved across Monte Sano, just east of Huntsville, shortly after 11 p.m., before breaking up over western Jackson County.

The final two storms killed 28 people, injured 332 others and destroyed or heavily damaged over 850 buildings, 250 mobile homes and 60 small businessess.