National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Hot and Mostly Dry Week

A warming trend into the mid-upper 80s and even a chance at 90 degrees is expected for this week. The chances for rain will be limited to a few days with hit-or-miss showers. Temperatures will usually be much cooler at the Lake Michigan beaches, where the water is still in the 50s. Read More >

Saugatuck to Holland - Eyewitness Accounts

Account of Eugene Schoeneich

My father was the caretaker for the David Bennett estate in the spring of 1956. The estate was located near the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, on both sides of the river. On the south side of the river was flat land beach all the way south to the Oval. On the north side of the river was Bennett's residence. The residence was on a bluff about 90 feet straight up from the river. There were three buildings there; the big house which had an uninterrupted view of the lake and the oval, the three car garage with a six room apartment above, which was quite big, and the two story coach house. These three buildings were situated on the outside of a circular cement drive. The coach house was to the northwest.

Our family lived in the apartment above the garage. I was home on spring break from the University of Michigan graduate school visiting my parents. It was an unusually windy day on the third of April. Dad and I were home alone in the kitchen which looks out on the circular drive. The big house, Bennett's home, was to the southwest of the garage apartment, about 30 yards from the apartment and to the south of the driveway. Just north on the other side of the drive was a giant tree, about four feet in diameter. It was about 30 feet north of the house. All the trees going up the bluff from south of the house were trimmed so the house could have a clear view of Lake Michigan and the oval. This was 90 feet above the Kalamazoo River.

We heard some loud blowing winds getting louder and louder. My dad and I were sitting at the kitchen table talking and he got up and went to the window which was already open because the weather was warm for this time of the year. I naturally followed him to see also. We were looking up toward the sky and southwest. Up in the sky we could see whirling around all sorts of debris, just floating in the sky. I noticed that one of the pieces of debris was a screen door from somewhere. How unusual I thought to myself. Then realizing this was not natural, I grabbed my dad who was half out the window pulling him back in the kitchen because I was scared. Then we saw this giant tree rise up from the ground in slow motion, pulling its roots with it, along with big chunks of cement. It rose up about three feet in the air and slowly lay down to the north, just missing the garage. The exposed roots were about ten feet in diameter and it left a great big hole in the drive. Then the noise and blowing wind suddenly stopped, leaving nothing but this giant fallen tree. I later assumed that the tornado that hit the bluff shot up and grabbed the tree by its upper branches and pulled it from the ground. This was the only damage on the estate. Later, we heard that it was a tornado and that it had come and gone northeast through Laketown Township and Holland. It also destroyed the concession stand at the oval and the light house on beach.

From the view of Bennett's estate on the bluff, one could see the damage to the concession stand and the light house from this tornado that came through the Douglas and the Saugatuck Area on April 3rd 1956.

Account of Patti (Boyce) Nunez

We had just finished supper, time being about 5:30 pm on April 3, 1956. Dad commented on how bad the sky to the west and south looked. Mom said there were tornado warnings out for this part of the state. No one took those warnings too seriously in those days. I was taking the dirty dishes to the kitchen when I looked out the window and saw black clouds almost like smoke but they were going in circles. They were so low I could almost reach up and touch them. Dad went to the front door and looked out. The funnel was on the ground headed in a north direction in the field across the road from our house. Suddenly, it turned in an easterly direction heading straight for our house. We started running through the house to get to the back door and get into the basement of the house. We never made it.

We were in the northeast part of the house when it hit. The noise and pressure was terribly loud, like jet planes. Mother laid flat on the floor which was the best thing for her to do. She was right in line with the washer and dryer. She said afterwards she could feel both move over her hair, that by this time was standing right up straight. I felt myself literally being blown head over heels and having the sensation of I'm going to die so I might just as well relax and go with the wind.

The next thing I remember was a quietness and mom calling my name and my dad's name and asking if we were alright. We were not hurt bad. Mother had a cut finger that involved a tendon. She was hurt the most. Dad and I were mud covered. We had a few bruises. That was all. Huge 50 foot maple trees that lined the road in front of the house were twisted out of the ground, exposing the roots. There must have been at least three of them down. We found blades of grass that were driven into tree trunks. I had bought a box of stationary for a friend that had her name and address on it. A piece came down in the yard of someone that lived 60 miles away. They sent it to her with a note. A box of glassware that was packed in a box upstairs was found out in the field, nothing broken.

The basement that we were headed to was in the southwest corner of the house. It was lucky we never made it. After the storm the very southwest corner of the basement was littered with debris. I don't think we would have been safe. Mother said she felt the floor she was laying on lift and float through the air, settling down with her on it, gently on the ground in the back yard about 100 feet from the house.

Account of Ray Stitt

Our family lived on 65th Street in Laktown Township when the1956 tornado struck. We were about 1/2 mile from the nearest home that was destroyed. It came right over the dunes, near what is now the State Park, and at that time was owned by the Augustine Fathers out of the Chicago area.

It was coming directly at our house and swerved to flatten our neighbor's house. The neighbor was James Boyce, who at the time was the Allegan County treasurer and had a large safe in his house which was picked up and carried by the strength of the wind. It also uprooted large maple trees (many of the trees still remain on that road). I believe James Boyce had a 1953 GM auto which was leaning upright against one of the remaining trees.

The day was a particularly warm day for the month of April and I remember reveling in the strong, warm wind. I remember not wanting to go into the house for dinner (chili), because of the beautiful weather outdoors. That day was a good day, because my mother had baked chocolate cake for dessert. We were just finishing dessert when my uncle who lived next door telephoned and told us to look out the south window. As we looked we could see this large black swirling cloud with a lot of debris.

My mother told us all to take a chair and go into the basement, we then watched the tornado coming toward our house and swerving at the last minute to take out our neighbors house (James Boyce). We heard the loud roaring sound. A few minutes later it was all over, we ran outside and could see the tornado heading east. It now appeared as a large white rope against the black background of the clouds off to the east.

We were just out of our house when another neighbor drove up and announced the Boyce's house had been hit by the tornado. We all went over there to help. The house looked as if a giant had stepped on it. It was flattened with debris scattered all over. Fortunately, none of the Boyces were seriously hurt. It was at that time I realized the power of a tornado. For many years afterwards, I would dream of tornados, always as a nightmare.

Account of Don Oetman

On April 3, 1956, my father, George, and I were going to go to a livestock auction in Hopkins, but we decided not go because we heard on the radio that we were going to have severe weather with a chance of a tornado. Instead, we went to the barn to milk the cows and do chores. My mother and sisters stayed in the house to clean up after dinner.

Soon after we arrived in the barn we heard a tremendous roar, what we thought sounded like a freight train, but we knew the railroad tracks were over four miles away. The noise seemed to last forever. We kept trying to look out the barn windows to see what was going on but the windows were too high and we couldn't see much, only that it was very dark.

All of a sudden it became very quiet for just a minute or so and at that time, the barn started to collapse around us, the next thing I remember is my father calling for me. I believe I was knocked out by some boards and a refrigerator box that landed over me. When I answered my father he said he was stuck under some wooden barn beams and was unable to get out. I came out from underneath the refrigerator box to try to help him. I went to him and picked up the beams so he could get out, his leg was hurt, but it was not broken. It was very scary because the entire barn was all crumbled in around us.

Later my brothers, who are much older than I am, tried to pick up the same beams but were unable to. Apparently, at times like these you get extra strength when needed. I was only 11 years old when this happened.

We owned a 1.5 ton farm truck which was parked in the driveway but the tornado picked it up and moved it in front of the farm, crossways in the road. We also had several incidents where spears of straw were stuck in telephone polls and power poles along the road. Our house was saved with only minor damage

At this time of the year I find I watch the weather very closely - once you experience something like this you tend to be more watchful of weather conditions.

Account of Ken Rabbers

Our location where we observed the 1956 tornado was one mile east of the city water tower on East 48th Street. We had just come in for supper and I looked out of our west window to see if it was going to rain as it had gotten cloudy .What drew my attention was a hole in the clouds that the sun was shining through. This was unusual and upon looking closer I saw a very small tail extending all the way down. It was far to our southwest. As it continued on to the northeast it began to swell up in size for periods of time and then get smaller. Finally we realized that when it became larger it had hit something .When it traveled over the farmland southwest of Grasfschap it would puff up for only a few seconds at a time. This swelling would continue up the funnel to the clouds. My brother and sister's family lived on West 35th Street we called them and alerted them. They took a picture of it from 2 blocks away.

The last damage in Holland that I know of was to the two story cement block Modders Plumbing building on the northeast side of the 35th and Washington intersection with Mr. Modders watching through the picture window. He was very shook up to say the least. Several of my friends were dip netting from the Paw Paw Drive bridge they reported hearing a noise like some kind of a train and ran down under the west side of the bridge. They watched the funnel cloud pass overhead, to the south of them. By that time it was no longer in contact with the ground.

Several years later in about 1959 we went for a dune buggy ride near Goshorn Lake down near Saugatuck and saw where it cut a path through the woods, even the back side of some very steep wooded dunes.

Account of Roger Lepoire

At the time I lived in Zeeland, on Gordon Street, west of 88th. I watched the funnel cloud over Holland lift and dissipate as it moved over Zeeland, then saw the dark cloud base moving east. I did not see the funnel form that hit Hudsonville.

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