Tornados are a common threat in certain parts of the country: according to statistics, the United States averages around 1,000 a year. While more common in spring, they can occur at any time. Often, they’re not serious – they do minor damage to the areas they hit. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be deadly. In fact, some of the most horrific natural disasters in US history are due to twisters.
Typically, rural areas filled with mobile homes and equally unstable structures are most at risk for destruction. But they can happen to anyone, nearly anywhere. You don’t need to be in Kansas anymore to feel their effect.
The folks of Tupelo, Mississippi found this out one awful April evening in 1936. A tornado blew through the city, three blocks wide with speeds of up to three hundred miles an hour. The twister was part of a group of tornadoes that developed over several days, hitting nearby towns.
The Tupelo tornado was retroactively given the rating of F5, the rating reserved for the worst storms. It not only destroyed unstable structures, but it swallowed mansions and well-built buildings. It killed entire families and destroyed almost everything in its path. A great deal of its destruction was the lack of warning: no one knew it was coming.
Historical documents report that the Tupelo tornado leveled 48 city blocks and somewhere between 200 and 900 homes. It also killed at least 216 people and injured 700. The numbers, however, are believed to be an underestimate. Racial discrimination prevented the deaths of many African Americans from being reported.
There were many survivors, including Elvis Presley. Long before he was nothing but a hound dog, he was a one-year-old toddler living with his mother when the devastation hit.
Just as people survived, some buildings did as well. According to records, only two large buildings remained, including the Lyric Theater. Because it was still standing, it was turned into a makeshift hospital to help the wounded.
Dozens of citizens were transported to the theater for care. Doctors used whatever they could to save their lives: popcorn poppers were used for sterilization and surgery was performed in the aisles and halls. Still, not everyone was saved, unfortunately, and the bodies of the dead were stored in the building’s crawl spaces.
The bodies are long gone, but the ghosts still linger according to legend. One ghost, in particular, is well known by theater employees. They call him Antoine and he makes his presence known by humming and stealing things such as keys.
Like many ghosts, Antoine doesn’t threaten those he’s around – he coexists beside them. He merely wonders, pacing the building and moving things from place to place. After all, eternity can make nearly anybody bored.
While Antoine’s the most famous ghost at the Lyric, it’s likely that he’s not the only one. With so many wounded dying under the same roof, there’s always a chance that others are stuck, wondering what to do with the rest of their afterlives.