This is a story that some folks believe is true, and others believe is made up. It concerns a nearly 100-year-old twisted schoolhouse located in The Bend. For those of you who have never heard of the Bend, it’s east of Vienna, Mo., off Highway 42 in Maries County, and consists of about a four-mile area of land located between two 90-degree turns of the Gasconade River.
According to my sources, this little old schoolhouse once faced the road—that is, before a twister turned it ‘round, a long time ago. Today the schoolhouse is a private residence and faces away from the road. The story of how it came to sit this way, true or not, makes for a good tale.
E. M. Bray, who wrote “Growing Up In The Bend,” recalls hearing the story about how the schoolhouse got turned around. He says back in the 1950s he was visiting relatives on a Sunday afternoon with his family, and the men started talking about storms. When one man mentioned a particular storm, another man said, “Was that the storm that turned the schoolhouse around?”
Bray attended the old schoolhouse, and he writes that as a child he had often wondered why the schoolhouse faced the woods, instead of the road. He also wondered why two limestone blocks sat at the back of the schoolhouse—with no purpose.
Another source, Ethelyn Ammerman, said she believes the storm must have occurred in the 1920s. As a child, she also had heard her parents talking about schoolhouse.
Bray and Ammerman agree that the tornado whipped by, raised the schoolhouse slightly off the ground, twisted it 180-degrees and set it down again on the foundation. According to Bray, there was some damage, but since there was no plumbing, electrical work, or other modern conveniences, it was minimal.
Of course, Mother Nature didn’t do a perfect job and the schoolhouse sat a bit crooked on its old foundation. Bray writes that men brought their horses and mules over to the site and pulled the schoolhouse into place. Then they moved some of the original limestone blocks from the old entryway to the new one. Since someone had brought new blocks, two blocks stayed behind, at the back of the schoolhouse.
Ammerman, a schoolteacher for more than 40 years, adds more depth to this story with her recollection of the times. According to Ammerman, the State Department Education (in its usual infinite wisdom) mandated that all schools must face the south. (She also said that about this time, the Department also decreed that natural lighting must fall over the students’ left shoulders and that interiors must be painted light blue.).
Of course, this mandate caused big problems for The Bend’s school board, since their little school faced the wrong direction. While the board contemplated a solution, the twister came in and took care of the problem. Ammerman says she remembers her uncle telling her parents that the problem was “fixed” by the twister.
The schoolhouse was used from 1907-1961. Ammerman was the last teacher to hold classes around the little old pot-bellied stove in the middle of that schoolhouse.
Whether or not ‘tis true, and I believe ‘tis, the tale conjures delightful imagery. After all, if you’ve ever seen the “Wizard of Oz”, it’s easy to imagine that little old schoolhouse rising up and turning around.
Please remember that it is on private property, but in case you’re out that way, the twisted schoolhouse may be viewed on the south side of Highway 42, west of the Union Hill Church and the Z junction.
“Growing Up In The Bend” is available on Amazon in limited quantities.
First published September 9, 2002.