Lacon Tornado Victim Remembers, 75 Years Later

Wilbur Pettett was 8-years-old when the EF-5 twister destroyed his family home

The severe weather season is in full swing.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most violent tornadoes on record in central Illinois. A local man who was eight years old when his family's house was destroyed is looking back on that day .

It was around 4:30 in the afternoon on March 16th, 1942.  Wilbur Pettett was 8-years-old, he's now nearly 83 years old, but he remembers every single detail from that day like it was yesterday.

"Us kids were out was out in the old barn behind the house playing" Pettett remembers.

March 16th 1942 started just like any other day for the then 8-year-old Pettett. He and 2 friends were out playing in the yard at his family's home in Lacon, dubbed "The Pettett Mansion."

"My mom or somebody else said you better get to the house." Pettett said.

Pettett's mother was hosting a ladies church group at the home, nearly 20 people were over, when the sky suddenly turned dark.

"We were down there playing in our play room down in the basement.” Pettett said.

Pettett, his friends, and the ladies took shelter in a vestibule in the basement, the only part of the house left standing, as the EF-5 tornado,  reportedly two blocks wide, ripped through.

"It took mom and dad's house just like you take a matchbox and just pushed it over and smashed it." Pettett said.

The Pettett mansion and barn were destroyed. Pettett remembers sitting out on the front steps with his dad, the only part of the house that the tornado left behind.

"The old barn out behind where we had been playing in they never found anything of it, never found a piece of it. But us kids bicycles where we had been playing that day were sitting there never bothered them just the tires were flat." Pettett recalls.

 60 other homes were destroyed.

"It just took the north side of it right out of it, right out just like a dollhouse, that was just next door." Pettett said.

3 people died that day in Lacon, 3 more were killed on a farm outside of town. The Pettett family re-built in the same spot, using the lumber from their old home , each board putting life into perspective for the young boy.

"I mean it was something you just have to put up with there's nothing else you can do with it." Pettett said.

The re-built house is still standing on Fulton Street in Lacon. That ladies group continued to meet to remember the anniversary for decades after. 

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