8 June 1966 Topeka Tornado

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Location: Topeka, Kansas, United Statesmap
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Topeka, Kansas - Middle of the United States. Zip code: 666xx

... ... ... was involved in a disaster.
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The Myth of Burnett's Mound, Topeka

Burnett's Mound is a raised area on the southwestern side of the city, alleged to be the burial site for Pottawatomie Chief Abram Burnett (1812-1880) [1]. Burnett's Mound was also alleged to be a sacred site and one that a tornado would never be able to cross without first having its tail clipped. [2]

On June 8 1966, the superstition of Burnett's Mound was laid to rest when that evening an F-5 category tornado touched down and stomped on some houses, while skipping over others and destroying a good chunk of Washburn university. It launched cars in the air like paper planes, throwing them into trees and buildings. It destroyed over 800 houses and wiped out at least 50 businesses. Trees were snapped like toothpicks, or ripped out of the ground and launched at other nearby landmarks. Spotters on the ground were left in great risk, as they tried to assess what was happening and relay it to the weather reporters.

Storm chasers and weather alerts weren't what they are today. In fact, the weekly tornado siren drill that goes off every Monday at 12pm (unless there is inclement weather), wasn't a feature of Topeka's weather warning system, until after this terrible event. And remember, there were no cell phones in 1966. Getting the information back to the news team was a monumental effort, and one that probably paid off. While the death toll was 16, it could have been much higher.

"For God's sake! Take cover!"

The call of desperate weatherman, Bill Kurtis, on the local TV station, WIBW, unsure how to convey the urgency of the situation left him uttering words that people remember to this day. And somehow the urgency and choice of words and how he spoke gave people pause to realize this was no drill, or small twister that was going to pass by. This was on the ground, in the city...and moving. Fast. It is likely that Bill's words saved numerous lives, but it is the ground spotters and relay team that were able to get him that information. It was old fashioned team work, but it was also a shared race for survival.

The tornado which was estimated to be at times a half mile wide is said to have been on the ground for about 20 minutes, cutting a 22 mile path through town from Auburn to the central city. The tornado gradually weakened, and disappeared once it hit the Kansas river. [3]

When the wind settled down and the calm had returned, the tornado had claimed 16 people.


Burial Name Vitals
Council Grove, KS Hattie L. (Pierce) Anderson 1874 - 1966
Carbondale, KS Mary I. (Read) Beasley 1874 - 1966
Lancing, KS Craig Beymer 1961 - 1966
Topeka, KS William (Billy Bob) R. Crouch 1922 - 1966
John Delancy Culver 1906 – 1966
Topeka, KS Lisle Sigmund George Grauer 1899 - 1966
Topeka, KS Gareford Lee 1902 - 1966
Unknown Edward Johnson Lyons 1893 - 1966
Elmont, KS Oliver Milton 1895 – 1966
John E. Scheibe 1947 - 1966
Omaha, NE George Anthony Sklenicka 1904 - 1966
Topeka, KS Sterling (Chick) Price Taylor 1903 - 1966
John Wells
Bertha M. Whitney
Calvin L. Wolf 1901 – 1966
Clarice (Beseau) Wolf 1905 – 1966

The Present

Nearly 55 years later and there are still gaps in the city where the tornado wiped the land clear of the homes that stood there. In late 2018, on the 1300 block of SW Van Buren, six apartments were built on what was for years a desolate strip of land. A fully functional excavated water meter, most likely installed in the 1920s (unused since the devastation of 60 years before), is an indication there is likely more history closely tied to the Topeka Twister, that may be uncovered if other city land, still left bare by the twister, is ever redeveloped by humans. [4]

As for the myth of Burnett's Mound, while it may have been laid to rest once, there is a general sentiment among many who live in Topeka, that another Tornado of such ferocity could never happen again because the bridges are built up and the city is much more vast with less flat open areas for a tornado to form. In 2011, there was a funnel cloud which formed on the south east edge of town. The tornado sirens started wailing (they sound like air raid sirens). A tornado briefly touched down near Lake Shawnee, but it didn't go further. The storm system eventually headed north, with sporadic tornadoes appearing near towns beyond the city.


  1. Abram Burnett - Kansas Historical Society (https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/abram-burnett/11999, accessed 8 January 2020)
  2. Topeka Capital-Journal Archives. Topeka Capital Journal, 2015: Burnett's Mound Myth. (http://tornado.cjonline.com/?p=70 accessed: 7 Jan 2020).
  3. The 1966 Topeka Tornado. Weather.gov (https://www.weather.gov/top/1966TopekaTornado, accessed 7 January 2020)
  4. Raewyn Vincent 2018 First hand knowledge.
  • Menninger, Bonar. And Hell Followed With It: Life and Death In a Kansas Tornado. Austin, Tx: Emerald Book Company, 2011.

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