The American Gothic House still stands on the edge of the tiny town of Eldon, Iowa, just where it was in 1930 when the artist Grant Wood made it the backdrop to his famous painting, American Gothic. When the Dibble family built the little house in 1881, they put a proper cellar beneath it. That’s what you did in those days, to store preserves and to have a place to hide when a tornado hit.
I thought of the American Gothic house while reading the news from Moore, Oklahoma, where a mile-wide tornado not only flattened the town but killed 20 people there. Ten of the victims were children, including seven students at a grade school named Plaza Towers. According to news reports, only 10 percent of the homes in Moore have a cellar or even an above-ground safe room. Plaza Towers Elementary had neither.