At about 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, 1929, northeastern Montgomery County was struck by a tornado, part of a large storm system that caused devastation from Florida to Ohio.  The weekly Montgomery County Sentinel reported on May 10th that the “wind storm of cyclonic power . . . was of limited width and serpentine on its course.  Everything in its path met with destruction.”

The damage in the county was limited to the rural Unity area, north of Brookeville. The Sentinel article detailed each affected farm in turn, noting that “thousands of persons from far and near visited the scene for several days to look upon the indescribable wreckage.”  One of those visitors was Gladys Benson (1905-2000); her father’s farm was the first one hit.  Miss Benson donated several photos taken “after the tornado of May 2, 1929,” providing us with visual evidence to accompany the newspaper’s written descriptions.

Many spectators view the wreckage at the Benson farm, May 1929

Many spectators view the wreckage at the Benson farm, May 1929

From the Sentinel: “The storm showed its first violence upon the farm of Mr. J. William Benson.  There it destroyed every building – the dwelling house, large barn, 117 feet long, including an attached shed, and all other outbuildings.”  The farm was unoccupied, but furniture belonging to “a prospective tenant” was destroyed.  Mr. Benson’s apple orchard was also significantly damaged, and the article claimed that “many [trees] were lifted into the air, carried over woods and landed several miles away.”

The next farm belonged to the Childs family; here “every building was blown down, except the barn,” and three members of the family were killed.  The fire departments of Rockville, Gaithersburg and Sandy Spring responded to the call made by farm worker James Leizear, who “extricated himself from the wreckage” and ran half a mile to a neighbor’s house to summon help. Miss Benson did not include any photos of the Childs home in her donation.

The Haight home, May 1929

The Haight home, May 1929

The tornado next struck the 200 year old Haight house.  “The force of the wind broke windows, blew down doors . . . . A large hole was made in the side of the building as if by a dynamite blast.”  Mr. and Mrs. Charles Haight were “on the first floor reading, when the storm struck,” but Mrs. Haight’s mother, Amelia Knapp, was elsewhere in the house.  Mr. Haight “rode a mile and a half through the storm” to find neighbors who could help him extricate his mother-in-law, who did not survive.

Two unidentified children pose in front of the Burroughs home, May 1929

Two unidentified children pose in front of the Burroughs home, May 1929

The “still furious” storm “swept the roof off the dwelling of Mr. George Burroughs.”  The family escaped uninjured, but “the furniture inside the house was broken into small pieces by the force of the wind, which beat it about like paddles of a churn keep in motion the cream.”

An intrepid child on top of the remains of William Royer's barn, May 1929

An intrepid person on top of the remains of William Royer’s barn, May 1929

“The last in the county to be assailed by the violence of the storm was the property of Mr. William Royer, whose barn and other outbuildings were destroyed.”  No mention of casualties at the Royer farm are found in the Sentinel or the Washington Post.

The Post reported on May 4th that 28 people in Maryland and Virginia had been killed by tornadoes during the storm; most of the casualties were in Virginia, where an elementary school was struck full-force and at least 18 children died. In Montgomery County, the local Red Cross Chapter formed a citizen committee to raise funds “for relief of the sufferers.”

And now for the Public Service Announcement portion of today’s post.  I’ve been working on updating and improving the Historical Society’s emergency response plan, but as often happens, everyday concerns can take precedence and “what if” plans get pushed a little ways down the to-do list.  It sometimes takes an example of real-life disaster to remind us that preparation should stay high on that priority list.  I chose today’s historical-storm post not to compare it to the devastation from the gigantic tornado that hit Moore, OK earlier this week, but to remind readers – and myself – that “what if” can quickly become “here and now.”  People, get ready!

There are lots of places to look for advice on creating family emergency plans – and remember, I can tell if anyone’s clicked on these links, so click away! The Red Cross, FEMA, and the CDC have advice for you, as do many state and local agencies (including the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the Montgomery County government).  Don’t forget your pets!  The Red Cross and FEMA links above include advice on pet disaster planning, as do the HSUS and the ASPCA.  And, though the living should take precedence, this curator asks you to spare a thought for important/irreplaceable documents and belongings, whether it’s a passport, baby album, great-grandmother’s wedding dress, or files of genealogical research/your novel/what have you.  The Library of Congress and the National Archives, among others, have advice on both pre-disaster planning and post-disaster recovery of papers and things.

The time between May 6 and May 12 is National Nurses Week, and that seemed like a natural for A Fine Collection. Looking through our medical collections in search of nurse-related materials, I found these two pieces from Mayna Dwyer of Unity. I’ve long meant to do more research on Mayna, and this seemed like the perfect time.  (Note to fans of the history of nursing: this is not that post.  (Feel free to lobby for a future exhibit!))

Mayna Dwyer’s diploma, dated May 27, 1911, certifying that she had “completed Three Years in The National Homeopathic Hospital Training School for Nurses, and that she is now qualified to take charge of Medical, Surgical and Obstetrical Cases as a Graduate Nurse.”

Mayna Dwyer was born in 1882, the only child of Dr. John D. Dwyer (a dentist) and his wife Sue Burton Dwyer. Both Dr. and Mrs. Dwyer were from Triadelphia; Dr. Dwyer built his home, Bleakwood, in 1877 in Unity. (For those less well versed in the tiny towns of Montgomery County, Unity is just northwest of Sunshine, on Route 108; Triadelphia is, basically, underneath the Triadelphia Reservoir.  I believe Bleakwood is still standing, on Damascus Road.) Mayna was named after local doctor and friend of the family Henry Maynard of Laytonsville. Bleakwood remained Mayna’s home, on and off, for most of her life; she died in 1981.

She is not always an easy woman to trace through history. She married three times, and sometimes reverted to her maiden, or a prior married, name; census takers didn’t always know what to do with the unusual name “Mayna,” misspelling it or writing the wrong name altogether (e.g., Marion), and she sometimes went by Maynard. The items in our collections – including the diploma and certificate shown here, other archival material, and a large collection of postcards and greeting cards received by her and her mother – help make sense of the slightly confusing records.

Mayna attended the small Unity School, the Fairview Seminary in Gaithersburg, and Western Maryland College.  She married Walter Smith Lanning in 1901; they had one daughter, Sue Madesta Lanning, born in 1903. Walter and Mayna divorced shortly thereafter.

Informational circular for the Training School for Nurses, found in Mayna Dwyer’s archival collection. The name “Maynard Dwyer” is noted on the back. Click the images to enlarge and read!

In the 1910 Federal Census, Mayna Dwyer (back to her maiden name) is counted twice: once at Bleakwood with her parents and her daughter, and once as a nurse at the National Homeopathic Hospital in DC.  (The Library of Congress has several photos of the NHH Nurses Home from this era.)  The diploma indicates that she graduated in May, 1911. In June of that year she was certified as a Registered Nurse by the Nurses Examining Board of the District of Columbia.

“Be it known that Mayna Dwyer has met all requirements prescribed by law or by the Nurses Examining Board ordinances for a registered nurse and is therefore entitled to append to her name the letters R.N. to show that she is a Registered Nurse According to act of Congress approved Feb. 9 1907. [signed] . . . eighteenth day of June 1911.”

By 1920, the census shows that while Madesta is living with her grandparents at Bleakwood, “Maynard Dwyer” is working in DC as a “trained nurse, registered, in private family” (specifically, for Edward and Gertrude Long). In 1928, Mayna married a second time, to Nathaniel Elkins; the 1930 census has the newlyweds at home at Bleakwood with the widowed Mrs. Dwyer, and oral history evidence suggests that Mayna was by then retired from her nursing career. Nathaniel Elkins died in 1943. In 1950, shortly after the death of her mother, Mayna married Charles Henry Smith; he died in 1964. Mayna Dwyer Elkins Smith (she seems to have completely dropped Mr. Lanning) spent the rest of her life at Bleakwood; her 1981 obituary points out that she was survived by one daughter, three grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

The correspondence collection, which includes cards between Mayna and her mother as well as many cards sent to the former by friends, nursing colleagues, and relatives, will help fill in some of the gaps in this census-heavy history. They have not been completely cataloged yet, but I’ve read a few when searching for Christmas cards and the like, and I think they’ll add some fantastic details about the lives and careers of both Mayna and her equally-long-lived (1852-1949) mother. What we don’t seem to have, unfortunately, is a photo of Mayna. For now, we have only this snapshot of unidentified nurses, perhaps some of her classmates at the Homeopathic Hospital; maybe Mayna is one of these young women?