Great Plains Museum exhibit tells history of 'Terrible Tuesday'

Great Plains Museum exhibit tells history of 'Terrible Tuesday'
The 7-minute video is projected on the wall of the storm shelter exhibit.
The 7-minute video is projected on the wall of the storm shelter exhibit.
The museum displays photos of the survivors who tell their story.
The museum displays photos of the survivors who tell their story.

LAWTON, Okla._A new tornado exhibit will be unveiled at the Great Plains Museum in Lawton next month.

The new "Terrible Tuesday Tornado Theater" is designed to tell the history of the tornado that struck Wichita Falls and Lawton, known as Terrible Tuesday, in April 1979. The museum has been closed since January as part of a renovation project to make things more hands-on and educational. This new tornado theater is one of the highlights that will be unveiled at the museum's grand re-opening on November 18.

The new exhibit is pretty powerful with the sounds and other effects, but most importantly, it tells the story of what people went through when an EF-4 tornado hit, taking 58 lives.

The exhibit is built to look as if you are in an underground storm cellar. With sounds of thunder, wind, flashes of lighting and a TV and radio showing you where the tornado is. Everything that John Hernandez, the museum's executive director, says makes it feel like you're in the storm.

"Growing up myself, I never went through a tornado. But now that I've sat through this theater, I realize the impact the wind and debris has. I have a better understanding of what it would be like, having never gone through one," Hernandez said.

One of the key components of the tornado theater is hearing the stories of the survivors in their own words, something Hernandez says will have an impact on museum guests.

"This is a story that needs to be told, we want people to know we aren't being insensitive to disasters like this. People need to understand what other people, survivors, have gone through," Hernandez said. "The emotional impact that it has, listening to it, it's high impact…but it really depicts a story. It isn't about the special effects, it's about the people who tell their story."

The concept of having a theater system is something that is brand new to the Great Plains Museum. Hernandez says he got the idea after he sat through a similar display at the Minnesota History Center four years ago.

"I think it's really going to be a draw of people that live in north Texas. We feel we're obligated to tell the story of the people in the Great Plains," Hernandez said.

While hearing the devastation that people went through in April 1979, Hernandez hopes this also opens eyes to why everyone needs to pay attention to Mother Nature.

"We really need to take the weather seriously. I grew up around bad weather and never paid attention. I never gave it the respect it deserved, and you don't until you experience it," Hernandez said.

The indoor exhibits will re-open to the public on Wednesday, November 18. They will have ribbon cutting and a formal grand re-opening ceremony on Saturday, November 21.

The survivors who told their stories for the tornado theater will be at the museum for the grand re-opening. Museum officials say they want to give them a firsthand look at the new exhibit.