Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Butterfly Garden in Joplin Will be a Place to Heal

Butterfly Garden & Overlook (Credit: Drury Department of Architecture)

Three years ago Thursday, an EF5 tornado tore through Joplin, killing 161 people and destroying thousands of homes and businesses.

The community observed the anniversary with the dedication of a new garden at Cunningham Park, which was directly in the path of the tornado. 

 The Butterfly Garden and Overlook is a place where survivors of the tornado and those experiencing any life challenges can find solitude—it’s a place to reflect and find healing.

Drury architecture students and faculty worked with the Joplin community to create the garden.  It features a 25-foot-long water wall as well as two other water features—one broken to represent Joplin when the tornado hit and another put back together to represent Joplin today.

Drury architecture professor Tracy Sooter says story boards tell the tales of how people reacted during and immediately after the tornado.

"People felt like God just took over, and they just started moving their hands and feet, and they just started helping people and pulling them out of the rubble.  Other quotes are about how they have a new perspective on life," she said.

Others say they have a new purpose in life.  According to Sooter, the stories have a positive spin. She says people are ready to move on and to heal.

One way they can do that, she says, is by writing in waterproof journals that are provided in the garden.

There are also plants that attract butterflies, since several children have said butterflies offered protection as the storm raged around them.  Drury architecture professor Nancy Chikaraishi says one story involved a man sheltering his daughter.

"The tornado was coming. The man laid down on his daughter to protect her.  His shoes were just thown off his feet.  They were untouched by the tornado, and when they got up, he said, 'are you, ok?' and she said, 'we were OK, Daddy.  There was a butterfly holding us down,'" she said.

Another story came from a 12-year-old girl who said a butterfly wrapped its wings around her when she was torn from her home by the tornado and carried her safely to the ground.  You can read about her experience if you visit the garden.

Steel formed into what look like skeleton houses represent the homes destroyed in the tornado that once stood on the site.

Sooter says they’re celebrating a new beginning on the anniversary.

"What we're hoping to do is tie something positive to this date," she said.

The garden is funded through the TKF Foundation, which provided money to both Joplin and New York City to create open spaces for healing and recovery.  It’s part of Landscapes of Resilience, a project to study the role of open spaces in recover from both the Joplin tornado and Superstorm Sandy.

Drury students interviewed tornado survivors as they worked to find stories to share at the park.  Since they couldn’t all be used, they are all permanently housed on a website