PROJECT TORNADO: The storm that shaped Mayo Clinic

PROJECT TORNADO: Storms that Shape Us
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 10:38 PM CDT
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – It didn’t happen this year, this decade or even this century, but it’s a storm that has stood the test of time: the cyclone of 1883.

More than 100 years ago, Rochester’s mayor sent a telegram to the governor of Minnesota reading: “Rochester in Ruins.”

“The town was just nailed,” History Center of Olmsted County Communications Director Caleb Baumgartner said. " About a third of the town of Rochester was wiped out by the tornado. Destruction on a scale people have not seen before.”

The infamous 1883 cyclone killed 40 people and left more than 200 injuries.

“You’ve got houses collapsed, people hurting, killed,” Assisi Heights Sister Ramona Miller said. “And Dr. W.W. Mayo and his two sons were both in medical school. They came out to start helping people and where are they going to bring the injured if everyone’s homes are collapsed?”

Between the wreckage and rubble, there was motivation to start something that’s never been done before.

“Mother Alfred had the academy,” Sister Miller said. “It was a building they could house the injured because there was no hospital here. That put an idea in Mother Alfred’s mind...She was really an entrepreneur. She realized the city didn’t have a hospital and this is not going to be the last time you’re going to need a hospital . She said, ‘Dr. W.W. Mayo, I want to talk to you about building a hospital.’ That’s that famous story, that she convinces him to build a hospital.”

It created, in a sense, the perfect storm.

“They discuss it, they agreed and very importantly, they shook hands,” Heritage Hall, Museum of Mayo Clinic Director Matthew Dacy said. “They never had a legal agreement they just trusted each other. And this is the heart of teamwork.”

As for that teamwork today? Everything’s different, but nothing’s changed.

“It’s remarkable when you think how different our world of today, the 21st century is from 1883,” Dacy said. “But what never changes is this values based commitment to serve patients but to serve each other and serve our community.”

Rochester, a city that may not have its reputation, without the storm that shaped it.

“Without the 1883 cyclone, you wouldn’t have Mayo,” Baumgartner said.

“I think when you get back to the origins of it, you realize these very humble beginnings have a profound outcome,” Dacy said.

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