• Alumni
A Blast from the Past

The 1927 tornado caused significant damage to the Backer Memorial, including the destruction of irreplaceable statuary and cut stone in the chapel.

By the SLUH Archive Committee

Shortly before 1:00 p.m. on September 29, 1927, a tornado touched down near Manchester and Kingshighway.

The storm continued along West Pine and Lindell Boulevards near the New Cathedral, destroying homes along Westminster, Sarah, Page Boulevard and other streets. It damaged the Pavilion at old Sportman’s Park at Grand and Dodier. And in just five minutes, it killed 78 people and seriously injured an additional 500 along its seven-mile path.

St. Louis University High sustained damage from the storm, less than three years after the opening of Backer Memorial, but there were no serious injuries to students. The school suffered an estimated $150,000 in damage, which was largely covered by insurance. Even though the school was without lights or telephone service for five days, most of the repairs were completed to the point where regular operation could be resumed just two weeks later – except for the chapel, which sustained extensive damage.  

In the chapel, not only was the roof severely damaged, but concrete slabs had fallen on the white marble altar, breaking many pieces of statuary and cut stone. Much of this marble had come from Europe and could not be replaced.

The seniors and select juniors taking chemistry volunteered to contribute the breakage fee of about $400, which would be returned to them at the end of the school year.

Despite major damage to classrooms, no one at SLUH was seriously hurt. Students returned to school after about a month.

Mrs. Anna Backer not only assisted in financing the repairs to the building, she donated two new white marble statues – one of St. Aloysius Gonzaga and the other of St. John Berchmans, the patron of Catholic youth. The new statues were donated in memory of the 50th anniversary of Fr. M. J. O’Connor, SJ, and were erected when the students returned to school after the Christmas break.

Last summer, SLUH installed a new rooftop on Backer Memorial and opened up the skylights in the main chapel. This allows for the originally intended natural light to fill the chapel for the first time since the 1927 tornado. The project is part of the Go Forth campaign effort to renovate and restore prominence to the spiritual center of the school. Learn more about Go Forth at sluh.org/goforth.

SLUH Archive

Do you have SLUH memorabilia, artifacts or pictures of historical significance? If so, the Archive Committee would like to hear from you. Please send a note to archive@sluh.org.

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