“…co-owner of a shoe store” read a small section of the obituary, but, as many of us know, there is often much more to a story than meets the eye. Violet Merritt passed on June 30, 2015, at the age of 99. Once one hears this story, it may become obvious that she “dodged a bullet” much earlier in life. The original request to us in the Reference Department was for any information about a shoe store connected to Mrs. Merritt. What followed was a glimpse into the past of Richmond, Indiana, and one lady’s broken date with death.
Shoe-a-rama turned out to be the name of the shoe store that Violet Merritt opened sometime around 1960. The exact date cannot be confirmed, but the store made its debut in the Richmond City Directory in 1960. Her co-owner is listed as Mildred L. Bull. In the 1961 directory that name has changed to Mildred L. Roush, but by 1962 Mrs. Merritt is listed as the sole owner. The listing continues to name her as the only owner through and including the 1966 city directory.
One of our patron’s request was for a picture, but before a picture could possibly be located, an address had to be ascertained. That address proved to be 9 South 6th St., an address that carried a haunting ring. All Richmond old-timers know that in the first block of S. 6th stands Elder Beerman, and they know what occurred on that block some forty years earlier. An historic picture might be found, but no current photos of the building that stood at that address would be available since it was destroyed on April 6, 1968, the date of the Richmond downtown explosion.
Evidently the building was vacant in 1967, but the city directory of 1968 lists the name of the new business: Virginia’s Beauty Shop. A foreboding feeling prevailed. Memories of photos taken that sunny April afternoon return. Memories of women on rooftops, hair in curlers, waiting for rescue. A quick and easy reference is “Death in a Sunny Street,” a book about that tragedy compiled by Esther Kellner. A quick scan is all it takes. Confirmation of what is really already known: “One of the many sad occurrences was the death of Mrs. Fred Kirkland, owner of Virginia’s Beauty Shop, with her children. The shop, located at 9 South 6th Street, was destroyed by the blast. Mrs. Kirkland was killed and her two little girls died with her.”
When Violet Merritt passed away, she was less than two months shy of her 100th birthday. She would have been in her mid to late fifties in 1968. Her reason for closing Shoe-a-rama is unknown, but by doing so she was able to forge a life that lasted more than another fifty years. What did she think knowing what she knew? Did she share her thoughts about fate with anyone? There remains so much more to this story than an obituary that read “co-owner of a shoe store.”
— Eric Burkhardt
Images posted with the permission of the family.