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New Web site chronicles 1936 Gainesville tornado disaster and recovery

New Web site chronicles 1936 Gainesville tornado disaster and recovery

Athens, Ga. – A new Web site at the Digital Library of Georgia, The 1936 Gainesville Tornado: Disaster and Recovery, provides a vivid portrayal of the ill-fated morning of April 6, 1936, when a series of deadly tornadoes ripped through the heart of the 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 destroyed. Today, the Gainesville tornado disaster of 1936 stands as one of the worst weather-related disasters in the history of the state and is widely regarded as the 5th deadliest tornado episode in recorded United States history.

The disaster’s aftermath is depicted through moving and still images presented using interactive maps of downtown Gainesville. The site includes an 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 Roosevelt.

The centerpiece of the site is a film taken shortly after the outbreak. The 33-minute film probably was 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 tornado, killing 60 of the mostly young woman and girls who worked there. A map depicts the public square, where rescuers dynamited buildings to control the rapid spread of fire.

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.

In addition to the film, the site includes still images from the Vanishing Georgia photograph collection and the Hall County Library System Historical Photograph Collection. Upcoming enhancements will include an online exhibit to provide additional information about the tornado event itself as well as coverage of the extensive recovery effort afterwards.

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

The Gainesville tornado Web site is available at:

The 1936 Gainesville Tornado: Disaster and Recovery is a project of the Digital Library of Georgia, housed at the UGA Libraries, in association with the Hall County Library System and the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection as part of the Georgia HomePLACE initiative. The project is supported with federal LSTA funds administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Georgia Public Library Service.