Campus News

New DLG Web site chronicles 1936 Gainesville tornado disaster, recovery

A new Web site, The 1936 Gainesville Tornado: Disaster and Recovery, at the Digital Library of Georgia provides a vivid portrayal of the ill-fated morning of April 6, 1936, when a series of deadly tornadoes ripped through the heart of Gainesville.

In the wake of the disaster more than 200 men, women and children were killed, an estimated 1,600 citizens were injured and hundreds of businesses and residences were destroyed. Today, the 1936 Gainesville tornadoes stand as one of the worst weather-related disasters in the history of the state and are widely regarded as the fifth deadliest tornado episode in recorded U.S. history.

The disaster’s aftermath is depicted through moving and still images using interactive maps of downtown Gainesville. The site includes a historical essay recounting the tornado outbreak and the massive recovery effort that culminated in the 1938 dedication of the new city hall and county courthouse by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The centerpiece of the site is a film taken shortly after the outbreak. The ­33-minute film was probably shot for insurance purposes, according to Toby Graham, director of the digital library, and focuses on the devastation of the commercial and governmental center of Gainesville, but also includes footage of damage to nearby residential areas.

Using an interactive navigation map, visitors to the site may view selections of the tornado film that relate to specific locations in downtown Gainesville. Examples include the area surrounding the Cooper Pants Factory, which collapsed and burned as a result of the tornadoes, killing 60  workers, who were mostly young women and girls. Project participant Ed Johnson, a former photograph interpreter for the U.S. Navy, painstakingly matched each scene of the film to its appropriate location on the maps using old photographs, insurance maps and historical accounts.

The original Gainesville tornado film has been donated to the UGA Libraries where it is being preserved as a part of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection.