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Real-life "Dorothy"

Tornadoes have a habit of destroying some thing indiscrimately, while leaving other objects unmolested. There are many accounts of pieces of straw being thrown with such force by a tornado that they pierce of wood like an arrow. Northern South Dakota is the site of one such tornado oddity, a story so strange that it was printed in newspapers around the world. It is a tale reminiscent of the "Wizard of Oz," which is coincidental because it occurred not too far from Aberdeen, the hometown of Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum. It happened on July 1, 1955 in Bowdle, when a tornado swept through Walworth and Edmunds counties.

ImageNine year old Sharon Weron was riding a horse home from a neighbor's house, and her mother Marion was following by car a short distance away. Mrs. Weron describes it as a sticky day - so stuffy it was hard to breathe. The conditions were perfect for a tornado to form.

That is exactly what happened, just as Marian Weron got home. She looked back and saw a tornado come right at the horse - with her daughter still aboard. The twister picked up horse and rider, spinning them around in midair. Mrs. Weron followed them in her car, which was being battered by the force of the tornado.

Sharon Weron aboard her horse
Sharon Weron aboard the horse she rode into a tornado in 1955. Behind her is a hog house which lost its roof and side to the same tornado

"I was so afraid I would run over her," Marian Weron remembered. She told the Bowdle Pioneer, "I could see them only through lulls in the storm by watching for her blue shirt. The horse looked like a roll of wire, and seemed to be going in circles, the wind carrying them until they got to the top of a second hill..." The girl told the newspaper that she sailed over three fences, approximately 1000 feet, landing in a ditch along side the road, grown full of weeds. She protected her head with a leather jacket, but the hail pounded her body and hands, leaving them black and blue.

Marian Weron estimates the tornado carried her daughter one and one-quarter miles before setting her back down. Sharon Weron said she landed on her tummy, "just like an airplane," and held onto grass to stay on the ground. Yet except for bruises and welts from the hail, she was not hurt. Neither was the pony, which stoon nearby.

The account published in the Bowdle newspaper was picked up by the wire services, and the story spread to other countries. Servicemen overseas read about it in Stars and Stripes. The family got more than a hundred letters from as far away as England, Germany, and France, asking about the incident and requesting pictures.

Four decades after it happened, Marian Weron said she could still picture in her mind the tornado that carried her daughter away. Sharon Weron now lives with her husband near Sioux City. But she also lives with the memory of the freak horseback ride she took in the winds when she was a child.


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