Devastation in the Aftermath of the 1957 Fargo Tornado

In the course of putting together a few coffee table books, we’ve spent a lot of time rooting through boxes of postcards at estate sales and antique stores, hunting down old photographs, and perusing eBay for the occasional treasure. Over the years, we’ve amassed quite a collection,¬†with the intention of using them in a book about Fargo one day.

One aspect of this potential book is the resilience with which Fargo has survived numerous disasters… epic blizzards, biblical floods, the Great Fargo Fire and the F5 tornado of 1957, which just so happens to have passed two blocks south of the house I live in today.

So, late one night I was surfing eBay and I searched for something like “rare Fargo photo,” and one of the first results was for a lot of silver gelatin prints, little ones, like 2 x 3, from 1957. The photos were taken in the aftermath of the tornado by an unknown photographer. I bought the lot of photos not knowing what a fascinating stash I had found.

guy-with-a-cellphone
This was the first photo that caught my eye when I took ’em out of the package, but they were so small… my first step was to scan ’em at high resolution so I could get a good look at ’em.

guy-with-a-cellphone
As I started to examine them at higher resolution, I noticed the guy standing next to his car in a devastated North Fargo neighborhood. That’s interesting, let’s zoom in on that.

guy-with-a-cellphone-zoom
Look at that. There are a lot of photos like this floating around, showing a totally devastated cityscape, neighborhoods just scrubbed of homes. As I looked at this photo some more, I wanted to zoom-in on the gentleman next to the car some more.

guy-with-a-cellphone-tight
Hmm. Is it just me, or does he look like he’s looking at his smartphone? Is this another one of those time-traveler with a cellphone things?

All joking aside, as I continued looking at this batch of photos, I slowly began to realize that some of them were very similar angles to some of the others, and the photo of Marty McFly above, was shot number one in a sequence of three by our unknown photographer. He or she had the foresight to shoot a panorama sequence.

I wonder if they imagined that one day almost sixty years later, a guy who now lives in the same neighborhood would put those photos together into a huge panorama.

guy-with-a-cellphone-panorama

Click that to see it panorama-size. Marty McFly is over there on the left next to his time machine, and the next two shots in the sequence only amplify the disaster.

Another treat in this collection, photos of Fargo Shanley High School which took terrible damage in the tornado. One particular angle caught my eye because it showed the huge water tower on 10th St in Fargo, a convenient landmark for matching up some photo angles.

shanley-and-water-tower

This is looking northwest from the intersection of 13th Ave N and 7th St North. You can see some of the damage to Shanley in the photo from 1957. There were many more in the collection that I intend to include in the book. Of course, as the photo from 2015 shows, there is only a parking lot today where the old Shanley stood, the students having long moved on to the new Fargo Shanley in south Fargo.

These photos came from an estate sale in Washington state, and the seller tells me they came from the Klinsmann family. If you know anything about the photographer, please contact us.

See also: Is This a Time Traveler in 1957 Fargo
See also: 11 Fargo Places Ripped from Science Fiction


Troy Larson is a father, author, and photographer originally from Minot, North Dakota, now residing in Fargo.