Most everyone in this region remembers that fateful night of May 4, 2007 when a tornado wider than the town itself wiped out almost all of Greensburg, Kansas. But that wasn't the first time Greensburg had a "famous" tornado.
Greensburg's history goes back to 1886 when Donald R. Green "Cannonball Green" helped establish Greensburg. Green was flamboyant and boastful as he twirled his diamond studded watch chains. He was proud of his speedy Cannonball Stageline which blazed trails later followed by railroads and highways.
Despite his flashy nature he brought prosperity and stability to Greensburg. But the coming of the railroad put his Stageline out of business. Still his name lives on in the town's name, Greensburg.
In 1888, residents dug a well 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter. The world's largest hand-dug well supplied water to Greensburg until 1932. In 1939, the town opened a museum where visitors could descend to the bottom.
A bonus feature at the Museum was the world's largest pallasite meteorite. At 1,000 pounds, it was unearthed in 1949 on the Ellis Peck farm east of Greensburg.
The 2007 tornado destroyed the Museum and adjacent water tower, but the Big Well remained and the meteorite was found among the rubble. Both can now be seen at the new Big Well Museum and Visitor Information Center.
Before 2007, Greensburg's most noted tornado was on June 22, 1928. This storm was made famous by farmer Will Keller's astonishing accounts.
Keller saw three tornados hanging from a greenish-black cloud headed for his family farm. After rushing his family to safety, he stood mesmerized by the approaching storm. The closest and largest tornado rose off the ground and, because he was near the cyclone shelter, he assumed he was safe.
As the tornado passed directly over him, the air became strangely quiet, there was a strong gassy odor and it was difficult to breathe.
In Keller's account from the Kansas Historical Society, "I looked up and to my astonishment I saw right up into the heart of the tornado. There was a circular opening in the center of the funnel, about 50 to 100 feet in diameter, and extending straight upward for a distance of at least one half mile, as best I could judge under the circumstances.
"The walls of this opening were of rotating clouds and the whole was made brilliantly visible by constant flashes of lightning which zigzagged from side to side."
"I noticed that the direction of rotation of the great whirl was anti-clockwise, but the small twisters [inside the vortex] rotated both ways—some one way and some another. The opening was completely hollow except for something which I could not exactly make out, but suppose that it was a detached wind cloud."
East of the Keller's, the Evans family was working on their farm, and did not have time to reach a shelter before the tornado struck. As they laid flat in their field clinging to the vegetation, they felt as though they were being lifted off the ground, but they escaped uninjured. The tornado destroyed the Evans' house.
Mr. Evans also caught a glimpse inside the tornado and could see debris from their home, including their kitchen stove, inside the funnel.