Palm Sunday Tornadoes
On April 11 and 12, 1965, there was an outbreak of tornadoes in the Midwest known as the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak. It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history with 137 dead and 1,200 injured. Numerous F4 tornadoes touched down in the state — Elkhart County was particularly hard hit.
Another tornado formed near the St. Joseph County–Elkhart County border. It tracked east-northeasterly, striking Wakarusa, Indiana, where it killed a child. The tornado moved toward Dunlap, and the Midway trailer park. Elkhart Truth reporter Paul Huffman captured a series of photographs as the twin-funneled, F4 tornado obliterated the trailer park, just south of Dunlap. This initial tornado killed 14 people. One half-hour later, a second F4 tornado directly struck Dunlap to the north and devastated the Sunnyside Housing addition and the unoccupied Sunnyside Mennonite Church. The death toll from the Sunnyside Housing Addition was 28 people, with another six killed at a truck stop at the intersection of Highways 15 and 20. The Palm Sunday Tornado Memorial Park now exists near this location, at the corner of County Road 45 and Cole Street in Dunlap. Most of the 36 people killed in the tornado had no warning because the high winds from the first tornado had knocked out telephone and power grids. For the first time in the U.S. Weather Bureau‘s history, all nine counties in the northern Indiana office’s jurisdiction were under a tornado warning. This is called a “blanket tornado warning.” Both tornadoes were officially rated as F4 according to the National Weather Service records. However, both the Midway and Dunlap tornadoes were previously rated F5.
Ninety miles to the south, the towns of Russiaville and Alto were destroyed. Nearby Kokomo was damaged, and the tornado continued east to Marion. One result of the outbreaks was a revision of the tornado procedures, including implementation of the “watch” (favorable conditions) and “warning” (imminent or occurring) procedures.
1965 also featured one of the more gruesome crimes in Indiana’s history — the torture of 16 year old Sylvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski and her family. Sylvia’s parents, traveling carnival workers, arranged to have Sylvia and her 15 year old sister board with the Baniszewskis for $20 per week. When that payment was late, things got ugly.
In August 1965, Baniszewski began to verbally and physically abuse Sylvia Likens, allowing her older children to beat her, and push her down stairs. Baniszewski also accused Likens of prostitution and delivered “sermons” about the filthiness of prostitutes and women in general. After the Likens sisters reportedly accused Baniszewski’s daughters Paula and Stephanie of being prostitutes, Stephanie’s boyfriend Coy Hubbard and several other classmates and local boys were brought in to assist Baniszewski in beating Sylvia. Baniszewski later forced Jenny to hit her sister.
In addition to the beatings, the abuse included being tied up, being vaginally violated by soda bottles, rubbing salt into wounds, being forced to eat her own feces, being burned with lit cigarettes, and being burned by scalding water. None of this is “normal,” but perhaps the most bizarre detail of the abuse was that Gertrude began carving “I am a prostitute and proud of it” on Sylvia’s abdomen with a heated sewing needle. Sylvia was forced to write a letter that Gertrude dictated, indicating that Sylvia had run away. Eventually, Sylvia died from the abuse. The Baniszewskis called the police and, using the letter, attempted to report that Sylvia had run away. However, while the police were at the house, Jenny Likens “approached them and said, “Get me out of here and I’ll tell you everything.”” There were a number of convictions that resulted from the subsequent trial. Gertrude was convicted of first degree murder but was paroled after serving 19 years.
Finishing up with Governor Branigin, in 1968, Branigin was a Presidential candidate in Indiana – standing in for President Johnson. When Johnson decided not to run, Branigin stayed in the race. He lost to Robert Kennedy but beat Eugene McCarthy. After his term of governor, Branigin returned to practice in Lafayette where he died in 1975. “In later years he served as president of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, the Harrison Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and a board member of Franklin College and Purdue University. During his lifetime Branigin amassed a large collection of books, which he later donated to the Franklin College library.” He also served on the board of the Indiana History Society until his death.