Mosaic mural commemorates Oak Lawn tornado

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Fifty years after it nearly destroyed Oak Lawn High School, a mosaic mural commemorates the deadly destruction of a historic tornado outbreak. (WLS)

Fifty years ago this week an outbreak of deadly tornadoes roared through the Chicago area, devastating several communities including Belvidere and Oak Lawn.

The Oak Lawn tornado of April 21, 1967, laid waste to the south suburb, injured 500 people and killed 33. Now a mosaic filled with symbolism at Oak Lawn High School offers a unique take on the event.

"The fireman's helmet, the Spartan head, really commemorate the idea of people coming together and really working as a unified team," said Jennifer Clark, art teacher.

The tornado struck at 5:30 p.m., which is also captured in this work that links students to their history.

"It means a lot to me because it's for our school," said Eric Delgatto.

"It not only shows just the tornado and the devastation, but it shows the light and the sun rays," said Hedayue Dolvh.

But nature's punch rendered much of the school unusable for months. A current schools staffer was 14 at the time.

"Train, a loud train being next to the railroad tracks. The sky turned green before this all happened and that's when we started getting scared," said Joe Giglio, Sr., maintenance staff at Oak Lawn High School.

In an era of little to no tornado warnings, people in the towns were left vulnerable. At the intersection of 95th and Southwest Highway, 16 people died sitting in their cars at the intersection. The wind came rushing up, hitting the school's swimming pool and gymnasium, knocking down walls. No students at the school died, but they were a big part of the rebuilding process.

"They were the ones that actually went and removed rubble from people," Clark said.

Tornado warnings are now light years advanced from a half century ago. It's likely there would be few if any deaths if the same winds hit the same way today. And now, a collaborative effort symbolic of the teamwork it took to recover a half century ago adorns a hallway that once was broken.
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weatherhistorytornadoOak Lawn
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