The Mexico Library will be CLOSED September 28-29. The staff will be working at the Vandalia location those two days.
The memory of war is upon us. April 6th, 1917 President Wilson declared war on Germany to bring the United States into the first World War. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 04-06-1917
The Audrain County Area Genealogy Society donated a Reader/Printer to the Vandalia Genealogical and Historical Society. It was delivered on PI day March 14, 2017.
Rather than meeting in the church, the group gathered in the home of Dr. Stimpson Griffin and his wife, Angeline (Liter) Griffin. Both were members of the choir.
Before beginning the singing, Mrs. Griffin had put their two children to bed, probably in a room on the second floor. Dr. Griffin was 32, his wife 10 years younger, Freddie 2½ and baby Lillian 7 months of age.
In the west, thick black clouds announced the approach of a storm. Residents of Liter and of the surrounding area were well aware of cyclones which from time to time devastated the Midwest. Upon sighting threatening clouds, locals usually took shelter in storm cellars.
J.B. Griffin saw the storm as he was closing the dry goods store owned by his mother, Sarah. Hurriedly locking the building, he fled to his mother’s house located nearby.
While hurricanes occur in the Atlantic Oceans and typhoons in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, tornadoes, often called “cyclones” or “twisters,” can be found any place on earth. Most attain speeds of 110 miles an hour; some reach 300 mph.
At 20 minutes after 8, with a deafening roar and in the form of a giant funnel moving east by north, the cyclone pounded across rich farmland and slashed through the village.
Lasting no more than 60 seconds the cyclone that struck Liter that evening proved one of the most destructive in the history of Morgan County. To some of the survivors it sounded like a thousand locomotives; to others it resembled the firing of cannon.
Its name later changed to Literberry, today it is merely a hamlet. In that spring of 1883, however, the village numbered between 500 and 600. In roughly one minute’s time the vortex of the storm moved northeastward across the business district and part of the residential area.
The cyclone leveled eight places of business, the railroad station, a repair shop and 13 dwellings. Store buildings and contents were scattered for miles. The spread of devastation resembled bombed-out villages in Europe during World War II.
Included were the Carpenter Shop of Liter and Griffin’s Dry Goods and Grocery store, the P.H. Rucker store and post office. Also destroyed were Fleming’s Drug Store, Coon’s and Leiter’s Hardware Store, Leiter and Ray’s Agricultural Depot, and Hitching’s blacksmith shop. Both the Baptist and Christian churches were leveled with only their foundations remaining,
When Dr. Griffin’s house virtually exploded, the doctor and his wife were left unconscious, both suffering head and internal injuries. John Hitchings, a blacksmith and member of the choir, sustained head injuries which proved fatal.
The baby Lillian was found dead among the wreckage. Most likely a beautiful child — the coroner’s book reports Lillian being 20 inches in height, with blue eyes and fair hair.
Fortunately, the Griffins’ 2-year-old son Freddie, covered with dust and dirt, was discovered asleep in an uprooted tree. At first people thought he was a black child. His left leg was broken, and he had other injuries. Though the little boy would recover, he had to learn to walk again.
At Sarah Griffin’s house, which was heavily damaged, her daughter Agnes was killed and her two sons were injured. J.B. Griffin had a right arm broken, plus slight head injuries; J.S. Griffin had his left leg broken.
At the time, my great-grandparents Jonas and Emeline Liter resided in Liter. Angeline, the eldest of their daughters, had married Stimpson Griffin; their second daughter, Mae, was just a baby.
Though badly bruised, neither Jonas nor Emeline was seriously injured when their house was practically torn to pieces. However, as they struggled through the ruins, they became frantic about the baby, who was missing. Amazingly enough, when they located the child under some debris, she was quite alright, was in fact giggling and laughing. Obviously she had not been disturbed by the dreadful happenings.
Jonas and Emeline also had a son named Thomas Edward Liter. At the age of 16, Thomas was reportedly in the Griffin store when the cyclone struck. Suffering serious head and other injuries, he died in the Jacksonville hospital several days later. Upon the headstone in the Literberry Cemetery one finds inscribed “Dear Eddie.”
Though the train from the north, a branch of the Wabash Railroad, normally reached Liter on Friday evening, because of the storm it actually arrived in the early morning hours of Saturday, the 19th.
Overwhelmed by the ruins of the shattered village and recognizing that many of the injured required immediate aid, Conductor Dexter took his train back north. Alerted by telegraph, three doctors from Virginia and another from Chandlerville returned to the disaster area, and soon thereafter the train transported victims of the storm to the hospital in Jacksonville.
In the aftermath of that night of terror, the remaining residents salvaged as much as possible from the ruins and attempted to get on with their lives. While his parents were being treated in the hospital in Jacksonville, Freddie Griffin was in the care of his grandparents in Liter. Unfortunately, the injuries suffered by Stimpson and Angeline proved mortal and both died only days after the cyclone roared through the small town.
Fred Griffin continued living in Liter with my grandparents, Joseph and Luella Liter, and later with an aunt and uncle in Audrain County, Missouri. My mother, Lena Liter Underbrink, always told me Fred was like a brother.
The records are not clear, but it appears Fred Griffin also resided with the R.W. Rucker family, who had moved from Liter to Nokomis, and then to the town of Mexico, in Audrain County Missouri, where he attended high school.
Fred entered Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1900. An excellent student, he qualified for scholarships and along with limited assistance from his grandparents was able to graduate four years later.
Upon graduation he married Corinne Chappel, and following additional training at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, specializing in eye, ear, nose and throat, he returned to Mexico establishing his practice in 1907. He and his wife had two children, Freddie and Anna Margaret. Unfortunately, his little boy died in infancy, 1910.
Truly dedicated to his profession, Dr. Griffin worked long hours and took few vacations. Faithfully serving Mexico, and Audrain and Montgomery counties, for more than 40 years, it is no wonder that he became a highly respected and much beloved member of the community.
Despite suffering a heart attack in 1950(?), and several months as a patient in Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Dr. Griffin continued his practice until his death at age 70 in June 1951.
Their second child, Anna Margaret, was born in 1916. Following high school, she graduated from the University of Missouri, majoring in both home economics and education. For a number of years she taught at Mexico High School and previously was a professor at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. Her mother, Corinne, passed away in 1980.
Though Anna Margaret had always given generously to local causes, in 1998, she established the Griffin Family Foundation devoted to religious, charitable and educational purposes for Audrain and Montgomery counties.
Guidance for the Griffin foundation is provided by a board of directors comprising five members. From 1998, when the trust was established, until her death in 2006, Anna Margaret was a member of the board.
Financial assistance from the foundation included: medical research for cancer, arthritis and diseases of the heart, scholarships for students graduating from Mexico High School, funding for the Advanced Technical Center in Mexico, and contributions to the Methodist Church in Mexico.
In addition to the ownership of two farms in Audrain county, the foundation invests in various financial instruments including stocks and bonds.
The Griffin Family Foundation currently has assets of between $5 million and $6 million. Since its establishment in 1998, the foundation has awarded grants and scholarships totaling in excess of $1 million dollars.
Included in the grants issued 2007-14 were $177,000 for the Mexico United Methodist Church, $190,000 for the Mexico YMCA, $70,000 for the Presser Performing Arts Center, $59,000 for the Help Center, $46,000 for the Audrain Medical Center, $16,000 for the Food Bank and $13,000 for the Big Brothers Big Sisters.
It is a miracle that Fred Griffin survived the tornado that terrible night in May 1883. Surmounting great obstacles he became a physician, returned to Mexico, Missouri, where he had been raised, and devoted his life to helping others.
Following her father’s death, daughter Anna Margaret established a family trust providing substantial and ongoing financial assistance for the city of Mexico, and for both Audrain and Montgomery counties. The Griffin Family Foundation exemplifies the phrase “The gift that keeps on giving.”
It also stands as a generous legacy that would have greatly pleased her father.
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ACAGS Web Technician
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