Epic Twister That Ripped NJ City Recalled In Museum’s New ‘Tornado’ Exhibit

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Displaced families, destroyed homes and farms and uprooted decades-old trees have been left behind after a tornado ripped through the Mullica Hill area in Gloucester County last year.

But in the aftermath of the tornado, there has also been regrowth, lessons learned and supportive communities helping to rebuild.

“Tornado,” a new exhibit at the Old Town Hall Museum in Harrison Township, attempts to capture all of the drama, heartbreak, and lasting impact of the historic tornado.

The Harrison Township Historical Society opened the exhibit last Saturday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the tornado spawned by Hurricane Ida that devastated historic Harrison Township on September 1, 2021.

The tornado, which did its most severe damage in the Mullica Hill area of ​​the township, had winds that peaked at 150 mph, making it one of only five to ever reach such intensity in the New Jersey, according to National Weather Service records from 1950.

On a television inside the “Tornado” screen, a compilation of footage from the devastation is shown as an instrumental of Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” plays in the background.

Images of the damage and the rebuilding process can be seen throughout the exhibit. Alongside some of these images are brief personal testimonies from people affected by the disaster.

“A giant member came through the door with such force that it blew glass all the way to the front door of the house. There was glass embedded in the walls,” read an account from resident Angelo Socco, who was having dinner with his daughters and wife just before the tree branch smashed through his kitchen.

Quotes were collected from interviews conducted by Melissa Ziobro, a professor specializing in public history at Monmouth University, who was appointed to do the oral history portion of the exhibit.

Ziobro, who is also chair of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, interviewed 32 residents, volunteers and first responders, ages 4 to 80.

Although the exhibit is only available until Dec. 4, the interviews will remain in the archives of the Harrison Township Historical Society, Ziobro said.

“I mean, we really captured the experiences of a wide swath of the community,” Ziobro said. “And I think that should be the goal of any oral history project, because when these historical events happen, people experience and experience them very differently.”

The exhibit also includes artifacts that provide evidence of the force of the storm, including a freeway mile marker that was torn from its post in Bridgeton, an American flag that traveled for miles before ending up in a farmhouse at Mullica Hill and a small section of a toppled cedar that has been signed by owners and volunteers.

As the signed part of the cedar illustrates, the purpose of the exhibit is not to re-traumatize people, but to commemorate the day and show how the community was able to come together to help clean up and rebuild, said Jeffery Jacques, a trustee on the historical society’s board of directors who helped with the preservation process.

Jacques described how volunteers from Pennsylvania and neighboring New Jersey counties helped clean up for weeks after the tornado hit.

“Mennonites and Amish came every day,” Jacques said. “And the amazing thing is, they drove for hours in the morning to get there, worked all day, drove for hours to get home, came back the next day. Every day for weeks.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he continued.

Local stores donated gift cards, local restaurants served food to affected volunteers and residents, and organizations including the Mullica Hill Rotary Club donated supplies and household items to people in the need, said Jacques. Exhibits include artifacts and personal testimonials from those who helped and needed help after the tornado.

Exhibits also include the most difficult parts of the disaster, including people seeking to profit from the post-storm chaos, difficulties dealing with insurance companies, and the loss of personal items and the destruction of trees. However, almost all of the interviews conducted by Ziobro include praise for the local government and the community, she said.

In a story included in the exhibit, Marianne Eachus, owner of the state’s largest dairy farm, describes the help she received after the tornado ripped through her property.

“He jumped over the first barn, then flattened the next one,” read the account of Eachus, the owner of Wellacrest Farms in Mullica Hill. “We had 600 wandering cows that night. And we had about 100 people here that night, helping us get the cows in.

Before leaving the exhibit, attendees can write down their thoughts on what they saw or share their own stories from the day of the tornado on a sticky note and post it on an interactive board.

“I often think of the survivors and am so grateful that no lives were lost,” read one note.

Admission to “Tornado” is free, and tours will continue Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 p.m. through Dec. 4 at the Harrison Township Old Town Hall Museum at 62 S. Main St.

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Nyah Marshall can be contacted at [email protected]

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