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With our partner, The Connecticut Historical Society, WNPR News presents unique and eclectic view of life in Connecticut throughout its history. The Connecticut Historical Society is a partner in Connecticut History Online (CHO) — a digital collection of over 18,000 digital primary sources, together with associated interpretive and educational material. The CHO partner and contributing organizations represent three major communities — libraries, museums, and historical societies — who preserve and make accessible historical collections within the state of Connecticut.

The Great Wallingford Tornado of 1878

On the afternoon of August 10, 1878, laborers heading home from work in Wallingford noticed a great dark cloud looming over Lamentation Mountain.  Within moments, a powerful tornado came roaring through town, ripping up trees and carrying away the upper stories of houses and barns.  About fifty buildings were completely destroyed.  Thirty-four people were killed and seventy were injured, some of them severely.

Rumors began reaching Hartford that evening from passengers on the railroad who had witnessed the devastation when their train stopped in Wallingford.  Much of the worst damage was immediately to the west of the railroad.  Attempts to obtain news by telegraph were unsuccessful because the telegraph lines had been destroyed in the storm, and no communication with Wallingford was possible.  It was only when a reporter finally reached the town at 10:30 that night that the full extent of the disaster became known.

In the days that followed, special trains brought thousands of sightseers to visit the scene of the tornado.  In New Britain, several factories closed so that the workers could take advantage of the special excursions to see the destruction.  Enterprising citizens offered carriage rides and sold refreshments to these visitors in order to raise money for the relief fund.

The tornado was described as “a new experience for New England.” Few people in 1878 realized that such storms could happen here, believing tornadoes only occurred in the West and South.  In fact, tornadoes have occurred occasionally throughout Connecticut’s history. In the past half century, they have become even more frequent.  Memorable storms include the tornado that struck Bradley International Airport in 1979 and the one that destroyed Cathedral Pines in Cornwall in 1989. On June 1, 2011, a tornado struck Springfield, Massachusetts, again at the end of the work day.  This time, news coverage was instantaneous, with images of the storm appearing on the internet even as it happened.

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