Sunday, October 16, 2016
Wichita Falls Wood Memorial Park Tornado Art & Cloud Gatlin Poetry
At some point in the rolling I realized I was at the south end of Sikes Lake, with a buffer of homes between Sikes Lake and the road on which I was driving.
As I neared Maplewood Street I came to a park, which I thought odd, what with this park seeming to be adjacent to the trail around Sikes Lake, which to me seems like a park, and should maybe be named Sikes Lake Park,
But, I digress.
Let's digress further and back up a few months. Well before I began my Texas exile I was aware that Wichita Falls had been hit by two notorious tornadoes, one in 1964, again in 1979. I clearly remember when the 1979 tornado was a big deal, news-wise, nationally.
A few weeks after my move to Wichita Falls I found myself curious as to where the infamous 1979 tornado hit in Wichita Falls. For some reason I thought it was in the downtown area, a thought reinforced when I explored the downtown Wichita Falls area and saw unusual numbers of vacant lots, some turned into large parking lots. As if at some point in time buildings stood on these empty spaces.
Well, imagine my surprise when I learned the infamous 1979 tornado did its damage a short distance north of my abode. After learning this I wondered if that was the reason for the large, block sized area, grassed and surrounded by fence, at the southwest corner of Taft and Midwestern Boulevards.
I wondered why there was no Texas Historical Marker in the area. I thought, maybe there was, but I just had not seen it. Texas seems to love to stick Historical Markers to mark things that often do not seem all that historic to me.
The F4 Tornado, known to locals as Terrible Tuesday, struck late in the afternoon of April 10, 1979. This was one of 30 some tornadoes which touched down in the Wichita Falls region.
42 people were killed, 1,800 were injured. 20,000 were left homeless. The tornado caused $400 million worth of damage, a record not surpassed until the equally infamous Moore-Oklahoma City tornado of May 3, 1999.
So, back to today.
What is memorialized in this park?
Well, if you guessed the 1979 Terrible Tuesday tornado, you guessed correctly.
Ever since I began walking around Sikes Lake, months ago, I have noticed the orange thing you see here. I thought it looked like some sort of playground thing, but at the time that made no sense, since I did not know there was a park there.
Today, up close, this looked like a tornado themed work of sculptural art.
In Wood Memorial Park, a short distance from Miller Street, on a grassy knoll overlooking Sikes Lake, there is a small memorial. That is what you see at the top. The memorial has plaques attached to all sides, imparting various bits of information. All of which is hard to read, because, like I said, this is one small memorial.
The side facing east has a list of all who died in the tornado.
On the side facing south there is the following poem....
WOOD MEMORIAL PARK
At Maplewood and Miller Streets
A Memorial Plot Recalls,
Forty-Five Tornado Victims
Who Died in Wichita Falls
It was Chosen for Its Setting
Where the Storm had Vent Its Rage,
And Left the City's Name Impressed
Upon the History Page.
Dedicated to a Couple
Much Acclaimed for Doing Good.
As Pioneers, Philanthropists:
The Beloved Frank and Bea Wood.
And Should One Sapling Wither
Or by Nature be Defaced,
Another One of Stronger Build
Will Quickly Takes Its Place.
So that Future Generations
Passing By May Stop and See...
Each Lovely Face Reflected
In the Beauty of a Tree
Mrs. R.E. Cloud Gatlin
I like that name, R. E. Cloud Gatlin. Was Mrs. Cloud Gatlin Native American? Or married to a Native American?
I wonder why Wood Memorial Park is not on the directional signage one finds all over Wichita Falls which helpfully directs people to that which they are looking to find? There isn't even a sign pointing to Wood Memorial Park off heavily traveled Maplewood Street.
Wood Memorial Park has multiple picnic tables, and, as is the norm for Wichita Falls, unlike the Texas town I used to live in, modern restroom facilities.