80 miles from impact, a haunting paper trail

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By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / June 4, 2011

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Most of what goes up must come down, but usually not 80 miles away.

In addition to the deadly path that Wednesday’s tornadoes blazed across Massachusetts, the power of Mother Nature showed itself in benign but bewildering ways. A bank-deposit slip from Brimfield landed in Weymouth. A 1960 bicentennial program from Monson fell to earth in Needham. A liquor-store receipt from West Springfield plopped down on a Holliston golf course.

“It sends a chill up your spine, you know?’’ said Michael Josselyn, 23, of Franklin, who helped clear air-dropped insulation from his father’s yard in Medway. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s something that I’ll never forget.’’

The records and trappings of everyday life were borne toward the east at heights that could have approached 50,000 feet, said WBZ-TV meteorologist Todd Gutner. “When the funnel hits the ground, it starts to churn up all kinds of debris,’’ he said. “It goes very, very high into the thunderhead, essentially where the jet stream is . . . and can land as much as 100 miles away.’’

Much of the paper trail left by the tornado at first was regarded as locally generated litter. But names, dates, and businesses from another place and time helped underscore the terrifying power of the three twisters that raked Central and Western Massachusetts on Wednesday, killing at least three people and damaging hundreds of buildings.

One car-repair business, in particular, seemed to have its records strewn across Boston’s southern suburbs.

Invoices and receipts from that Brimfield business, alternately called #1 Stop Towing and Classic Heaven, reached Braintree, Weymouth, and Medway. One dated to 2000, when the company opened a locked car at Ware High School for a Springfield woman. Another was a $900 bank deposit from the company to Country Bank in Ware on Oct. 7, 2008.

The business today is a chaotic, flattened pile of splintered wood, jagged metal, and damaged cars. The owners could not be reached.

Julianne Weisse, 16, of Weymouth, spotted the deposit slip, attached to a piece of tarpaper shingle, in the family’s backyard on Wednesday afternoon.

“We immediately knew what it was and where it came from. We camp in Brimfield all the time and go to the Brimfield Fair,’’ said Cheryl Weisse, Julianne’s mother. “It must have been in his attic. All of his banking is blowing all over the place.’’

Now, windblown across much the state, this mundane piece of banking minutiae will receive an unlikely and newfound respect. “I’m going to keep it and frame it,’’ Weisse said.

A carbon copy of an invoice from the shop was found in the Medway yard of Michael Josselyn’s father, Franklin firefighter Jay Josselyn. Insulation also was discovered there, as well as a cedar shingle and an envelope with a return address for the Monson Summerfest.

Another item recovered in Weymouth, a road service logbook, also came from Brimfield. Dianne Martin said she had been walking her dog on Thursday morning when she found the piece of paper.

“Normally, I would just throw it away,’’ Martin said. “But I saw 413,’’ a Western Massachusetts area code, “and I saw Brimfield.’’ She phoned a number on the paper and learned that the car, a 1962 Plymouth, was no longer owned by the family that answered the call.

Other discoveries scattered throughout the state included a packet of checks, which Governor Deval Patrick said had been spirited from Monson to Milton. In that Boston suburb, Town Clerk James G. Mullen Jr. said the storm rekindled a connection to another memorable Massachusetts tornado — the deadly Worcester twister of 1953.

“I remember my father talking about picking up shingles in the backyard,’’ Mullen said.

The small town of Monson, which was hit particularly hard by the storm, also left a memento on the back porch of David Potterton of Needham. Potterton, 54, a vice president at IDC Financial Insights in Framingham, first saw what he believed to be trash on Wednesday night, intended to remove it Thursday, and finally picked up the pieces of paper yesterday morning.

“It’s got ‘Monson’ all over it,’’ Potterton said.

The object, to Potterton’s amazement, is part of a book or pamphlet about Monson’s bicentennial celebration in 1960. There, on crinkled paper, are listed the small-town events to mark the anniversary from Sept. 24 to Oct. 2, 1960.

At 9 a.m., Sept. 24, a children’s field day was scheduled for Veterans Field (“Girls and Boys events to be run separately’’). Then, at 2 p.m., a bicycle and doll-carriage parade would entertain townsfolk.

“I was showing it to my co-workers. Number one, we can’t believe it could survive,’’ Potterton said. “It’s in pretty good shape.’’

What will happen to most of the recovered material is not known.

After the devastating tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri in late May, sympathizers started two pages on Facebook for people to post images of personal photographs they have found so their owners can reclaim them. Now a similar effort is underway in Massachusetts, with at least two new pages on Facebook to organize collection efforts to return items to their owners, including one titled “Lost and Found Items from tornado in Monson.’’

Potterton, mindful of the heartache in Monson, wants to use the pamphlet to reach out to a suffering town 70 miles away.

“We’re going to try to find its ownership,’’ Potterton said. “Maybe we can find the rightful home for it.’’

Maybe, he continued, receiving a lost memento from that long-ago event “may be a good thing’’ for a battered town trying to re-set, recover, and rebuild.

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at