Newly discovered photos tell unique Udall tornado story

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UDALL, Kan. (KSNW) – KSN News is getting a look at new photos of the 1955 Udall tornado.

Greg Proctor, 69, said he was helping his friends Joyce and Bill Shook at their home this summer when the couple showed him some photos they found buried away in their belongings.

“So, I took them home and looked at them. The more I looked at them, I realized they were original pictures because they had original handwriting on the back from whoever took them,” said Proctor.

1955 Udall Tornado, Courtesy: Unknown

Proctor scanned the photos depicting the aftermath of the tornado and posted them to Facebook.

“People started piping in that they had never seen those pictures before,” Proctor explained. “Gosh, within just a few days we had over 100 hits on those pictures with people with their individual stories and personal accounts.”

Before he knew it, a group called the Kansas Historical Geeks was calling.

“It was bigger than just a pile of old pictures, so I went back and talked to Joyce and told her how special they were. Joyce said she was going to bring them over and give them to the Udall museum,” Proctor said.

A few weeks later, a group of people who survived the tornado met at the museum to view the newly discovered pictures.

“I think it’s good for generations down the road you know. Fifty years from now, there will be people asking questions about it once the rest of us are all gone,” said Gene Beard.

Beard, 88, was 23 years old when the tornado marched through his hometown.

“The tornado didn’t last but about two minutes or so, but it seemed like a lifetime,” said Beard.

Beard and his wife, who was pregnant with their first child at the time, had just turned in for the night when the storm hit.

“We crawled between the mattress and springs and bed,” he said. “Luckily, we did because there was a big oneway disk that went through one side of the house right above where if we had been standing up it would have got us.”

The pair woke to destruction. They crawled out of a window to find the place they call home in pieces.

“It was weird. I had seen a lot of devastation in the war, but this was just as bad out here it was in the war,” Beard said.

Looking back on that day, Beard said what he witnessed was unbelievable. However, with the tragedy came hope.

“It brought a lot of people closer together, a lot of people were speaking acquaintances before and they got to be good friends afterwards,” he explained.

The town eventually rebuilt. Out of the rubble, emerged a new Udall with new buidlings and a new awareness of severe weather.

“People were so scared about tornadoes after that. Amazing how many storm caves were built here in town after that tornado,” Beard said.

The Shook family donated the tornado photos to the Udall Historical Society. It’s still unclear who the photographer was.

“Some mystery man that worked possibly for the phone company,” Proctor said.

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