If there is a visible line drawn in the history of Oak Lawn, it is April 21, 1967, when an EF-4 tornado tore through the village and surrounding communities.
Oak Lawn Library-historian, Kevin Korst, has published a new book about the history-shaping event that forever changed how the Chicago-region, and possibly the nation, viewed extreme weather in the modern age, Oak Lawn Tornado of 1967.
Published under Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America imprint, Oak Lawn Tornado of 1967 includes rare, never-before-seen images of the deadly aftermath of the worst tornado ever to strike the Chicago area.
Many of the images and historical documents used in the book were donated by local residents to the Oak Lawn Library’s local history archives.
“We had 500 images that we were working with that we managed to narrow down to 180,” Korst said, who manages the library’s Local History Room. “We were looking not only for well-known images, but those that people have seen before. Three-quarters of the images used in the book have never been published.”
Korst said it took about a year to put the book together. The historical narrative focuses on the documents tracing the killer tornado’s 16-mile path from its birth on the outskirts of Joliet, through the southwest suburbs and over Chicago’s South Side , to its death as a waterspout in Lake Michigan.
The April 21, 1967 tornado that struck during the Friday afternoon rush hour not only devastated Oak Lawn, it impacted Palos Hills, Chicago Ridge, Hometown, Evergreen Park, Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood and parts of the South Side.
Second to Oak Lawn in property damage was Hometown, where a swath of homes were wiped out along Southwest Highway.
“While a number of communities were affected, Oak Lawn took on the most damage and the greatest loss of life,” Korst said. “It got the moniker, ‘Oak Lawn Tornado.’”
Korst also interviewed survivors, collecting 16 oral histories last year. The most fascinating recollections, however came from newspapers of the day, ordinary people who were interviewed the day of and day after the event that claimed the lives of 37 people.
“A guy was in the Dairy Basket on Cicero Avenue and standing the doorway when the tornado went by,” Korst said. “He ran inside just as the building exploded and got trapped under the walk-in freezer. He survived as well as several other people inside the building.”
Oak Lawn Tornado of 1967 goes on sale this week at the Oak Lawn Library and can be purchased for $21.99 at the reception desk on the first floor.
The library is planning a series of book signing. A program is also being planned for later in March.
Korst said that almost everyday, someone stops by the Local History Room to look at photos and newspapers. or tell their recollections.
“It is arguably the definitive event in Oak Lawn,” he said. “Many people still carry it with them.”
The Oak Lawn Library is located at 9427 S. Raymond Ave.
Read more Patch stories about the 1967 Oak Lawn Tornado:
- 'Voice of a Tornado,' featuring only audio recording of the actual 1967 tornado
- Sixth Oak Lawn Tornado Image Discovered
- New Photos of 1967 Oak Lawn Tornado Surface
- Determination through Destruction
- The Storm of the Century
- Hometown Celebrates 60 Years of 'Modern Day Suburbia'