On May 11, 1953, Waco, Texas was struck by the tenth-deadliest tornado in U. S. history. Among the 114 killed were 22 employees of R. T. Dennis Co., a furniture store in the Dennis Building, a 5-story structure that completely collapsed in the winds that reached 260 miles per hour. A federal jury later found that the building’s collapse was due to an act of God, rather than the condition of the building. Among those killed was Mabel Thaxton (daughter of Henry Waters Thaxton and Mary Hutchinson; granddaughter of Alexander Murray Thaxton and Laura Eliza Treadwell; great-granddaughter of Thomas G. Thaxton and Isabella Murray of Henry Co., Georgia; great-great-granddaughter of William Thaxton and Lucy Clay of Halifax Co., Virginia)
Mabel’s obituary from the Dallas Morning News, 15 May 1953:
And another news article, transcribed on this website of the family of another tornado victim:
15 EMPLOYES AND BOSS FOUND IN DENNIS RUBBLE
The Waco News-Tribune, Thursday, May 14, 1953, Pg 8
By Betty Dollins, News-Tribune Staff
Bulldozers cleared the way Tuesday for workers digging tornado victims from their mass grave in the rain-soaked rubble of the R. T. Dennis building.
By late Wednesday at least 15 employes and the company’s manager were removed from the heap of smashed bricks, electric stoves, shredded upholstery, and bits of office furniture. Others were being removed from the basement.
Four survivors of Monday’s tornado have estimated there were 30 or more employes buried alive.
Ed Berry of 115 Karem, general manager of the company, was found in an area which was thought to be the second floor of the building. Beside his body were his shattered glasses and a small hand stapler gadget.
Near the same spot, workers carried away a five-foot wide mahonany-framed mirror, dusty but not even chipped.
An hour or so later, workers started removing crushed bodies of men and women, two and three at a time. The blanket covered stretchers were carried through a clearing in the debris to a convoy of ambulances parked along Fifth Street only a short distance away from big crane trucks and bulldozers pushing through the wreckage.
Bob Wigley, son of Willard Wigley, the company’s president, stood in the cold rain on the sidewalk near the ambulances.
“Some of those people have been with us 30 years,” he said. “They’re just like your own family really.”
His father was at the hospital seeing about four women employes of the company who were carried earlier from the debris alive.
The growling hum of the bulldozer teams working through the debris was followed often by what seemed in comparison almost silence. The loud speaker voice ordered the machines to stop, and hundreds of men, wearing rain coats and gloves, swarmed the area to dig through rubble by hand in search of bodies.
Several times they dug and dug and passed bricks and lumber assembly-line fashion to dump trucks without uncovereing any bodies. Other times when the machinery ceased, the men with stretchers entered the clearances, and brought out bodies.
Calling cards of Miss Mabel Thaxton, advertising manager of the company, were still clutched in the hand of one body.
A bank book and three free passes to the Waco Home Show which was to have been held at the new Heart of Texas Coliseum this week, were found in the hand of another woman. She was unofficially identified as Ola Lloyd.
An elderly man in the crowd ran to the stretchers as they came out.
“Is it Earl,” he kept asking. Earl Patillo of 3210 Morrow Avenue has been missing since the storm.
Young Wigley told friends a linoleum salesman phoned him Wednesday to say he was safe. He could not remember his name. He said the man told him he had left the building about 10 minutes before to go and roll the windows of a fellow workers car.
Another man believed killed in the tornado notified Wigley that he was at home safe, and that he was not in the building. Wigley called him a “Mr. Partin,” and said he was the company’s bookkeeper.