According to the Hamilton Daily News, Hamilton, Ohio, September 28, 1929 edition, under the headline, “Illinois Erects Shaft to Teacher Heroine”, the article recounted the story about the horrific and powerful tornado that swept through central Illinois on April 19, 1927, “The school where Miss Keller taught was in the path of the storm, in shielding the twenty-two scholars she gave her own life. She observed the approaching storm, calculating its force and divined the danger to herself and the children.
“With … calmness … in order not to alarm her charges, she commanded them to “crawl under the desks and remain there.” Because she had been able to maintain perfect discipline and also had won the love of the boys and girls, they were quick to obey. She stood near the door while the roar of the storm grew louder and the gathering clouds more menacing, alert to see that not a single child crawled from the shelter to which they had been ordered.
“The storm passed, leaving a trail of destruction. Rescuing parties found the school building demolished, the bricks piled upon the desks, heavy timbers scattered about. In the desperate haste they cleared away the debris but found only one crushed and mangled body. It was that of the teacher. Every pupil was alive and unhurt. The teacher had been beneath a falling wall; desks had protected the children.”
To the horror of the citizens of White Hall and the parents and pupils, this diminutive teacher who had put her body between the tornado and her charges as she braced herself against the door had been lifted up as a heroine. The community came together to build a fitting and lasting commemorative to her bravery and memory.
According to the Decatur Review, Decatur, Illinois, December 29, 1927, page 4, the article noted that “the Illinois State Teachers association convention today in voting approximately $5,000 to the fund for a memorial. Pupils of the state [had] already raised $4,000 for the state. Money voted today will be available in any amount up to $5,000, which is half of the contingent fund from the teachers’ pension.”
The Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, (1908-1984) Vol. 22, No. 3 (Oct., 1929), pp. 468—476 (11 pages) Published by: University of Illinois Press Published an article about the memorial, “…the brilliant ceremony conducted in White Hall, Illinois, Sunday afternoon, August 25, 1929, when 3,000 people from Central Illinois witnessed the unveiling of the beautiful pink marble monument deigned and modeled by the famous sculptor, Lorado Taft, in Miss Keller’s honor.”
“Dramatic in the extreme were the dedicatory exercises in Whiteside Park, in the center of the city, where eloquent speakers paid tribute to the heroine and where the little school children whose lives she saved by her bravery at Centerville School, and for whom she gave up her won life during a tornado, April 19, 1927, gathered in a human chain about her monument and placed at its base a beautiful wreath of white roses….”
Annie Louise Keller is buried at the Bluffdale Cemetery between Hillview and Eldred, Illinois. The cemetery is at the base of a limestone bluff on the “dale”, hence the name. It is hidden behind a corn field on the Bluffdale Vacation Farm owned by the Hobson family. After a thorough search and several stops asking locals for directions, I made it to the solid and historic limestone home that has been in the family for over 200 years.
Fortunately, Ken Howard Hobson was in the front yard and willing to lead me to the cemetery and give me a brief history of the family starting with Gideon Spencer the patriarch of the family buried under a large cedar tree. Annie Louise Keller’s great nephew and the caretaker of the cemetery near Eldred, Illinois, told me that Annie’s sister Mary sat three times for Lorado Taft as he sculpted the memorial. Annie was engaged to Ken Hobson, Ken Howard Hobson’s grandfather, when the tornado took her life. Her sister Mary also filled in for Annie in life, Annie’s fiancée married Mary.