The baby in the cornfield: Tales of tiny tornado survivors

Why are stories of tornado 'miracle babies' so common? It happened again Friday when rescuers found a blond, blue-eyed toddler in the middle of an Indiana cornfield, 10 miles from her home.

Matt Stone/The Courier-Journal/AP
Jeanie Lewellyn and her dog Bell Bell stand outside the remains of their home, which was destroyed by a tornado that ripped through their Pekin, Ind. neighborhood on Friday, March 2, 2012.

Stories of rescuers finding small children alive after tornadoes have carted them off have become so common as to seem apocryphal.

It happened again Friday when rescuers in Indiana found a baby girl alone and injured in a cornfield 10 miles from her home in New Pekin, Ind., near where tornadoes struck Friday.

Rescuers are trying to piece together how the girl ended up in the field, but one thing is clear: The story so far matches a surprisingly prominent narrative of tornado survival – the “miracle baby.”

RECOMMENDED: Can you outsmart a tornado? Take our quiz

Of course, many children are hurt and killed by tornadoes, including several in this week's deadly outbreak across midsection of the country.

But the survival stories are poignant, in part, because babies are sacred, and their helplessness underscores the difficult task of human survival in a threatening world. Beyond the often amazing details of tot tornado survival, the stories also sum up the heartbreak, the fear and the hope that resonates after nature crashes heedlessly through American lives.

In other ways, the “miracle baby” narrative also highlights the basics of Physics and Biology 101: With their padding of fat, their malleable bones, and low weight, small humans are actually built for physical survival. Most parents, usually with a sigh of relief, have marveled at their durability.

Still, divine intervention can't be counted out as one considers how the very young can survive a direct hit from one of nature's bluntest forces.

In 2008, rescuers were looking for bodies after a tornado hit near Castalian Springs, Tenn., when one of them thought they saw a doll move. “It's not a baby doll, it's alive.”

The baby was 11-month-old Kyson, who had survived a 300-foot journey through the air as he was sucked from his crib when a tornado demolished his home and killed his mother.

In Oct. 2007, a Michigan family panicked after they couldn't find their one-year-old after a tornado tore down part of their home. The boy was found 40 feet outside the house, under the crib mattress, and uninjured.

And during a tornado outbreak that killed 21 in North Carolina last year, a three-month-old, Ayden, in Dunn, N.C., was ripped by tornado winds from his cousin's arms, and later found lodged under debris, injured, but ultimately okay.

“I thought he was lost,” the cousin, Jonathan Robinson, said later.

In one of the most well-known cases, from May 3, 1999, a young mom, Amy Crago, searched frantically for her baby, Aleah, for hours after one of a series of tornadoes to hit Oklahoma destroyed her house.

In what Ms. Crago described as a miracle, a rescue worker approached and asked, “Are you the one missing a 10-month-old baby?”

Aleah had been found largely unharmed, laying face down in a mud pool 100 feet from the home. She became known to the joyous rescuers as "the mud baby."

Now 13, Aleah recently offered a survivor's healthy assessment of the power of tornadoes and their clashes with the human spirit.

“I think tornadoes are cool,” she told Oklahoma's NewsOn6 TV station last week. “I like how they work and how they can destroy so much, but they're just wind going in a circle.”

RECOMMENDED: Can you outsmart a tornado? Take our quiz

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to