Wed, 07 Apr 2004

Forty two

In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams humorously posits "42" as the answer to "life, the Universe and everything". Thirty six years ago today, 42 was quite nearly my number. But my number wasn't up.

I was 11, living in Richmond, Indiana with my Mom and my Aunt Eloise. April the sixth was a beautiful Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday.

My mom didn't drive, so we used public transportation to go everywhere. I went downtown to the Morrison-Reeves Public Library every Saturday, and this was no exception. I was returning a book about the Civil War - I can still remember the nifty paintings and drawings of battlefields in it, showing the disposition of the forces in blue and gray. Funny how stuff like that sticks with you.

Mom was working at Gordon Gray Glass and Paints, on US 40 right across the Whitewater River from downtown. Usually, when I took the bus to the library on Saturday, I'd stop off and see her, either on my way down or on my way back. Sometimes we'd have lunch. That particular day, I caught the bus, and was going to go the library first, then stop and see mom on my way back home.

For some reason, and I honestly don't know why, I changed my mind and decided to stop and see Mom on the way to the library, rather than when I was coming back.

Whan the bus reached the corner where it turned north on a dogleg to head into downtown across the Main Street bridge, I pulled the little cord that signalled the driver that I wanted off. He didn't hear it. I remember getting distinctly annoyed, and I thought about just going on downtown, but I didn't, and I pulled the cord at the next corner, as the bus was making an right turn east to go across the river. This time the driver heard me, and I got off and started walking back to Mom's workplace.

I got to the corner and was just starting to walk east to cross the street when the ground shook and I heard a tremendous roar. Over downtown I could see a mushroom shaped cloud - I grabbed onto a street sign and steadied myself. I was certain we'd been "nuked" - I can still see the cloud to this day. That's the way we thought in 1968...

Sirens began wailing, traffic stopped and people got out of their cars in the middle of the road and gawked towards downtown, across the river. I ran across the highway, and dashed into the glass company... every mirror and piece of glass in the place had been shattered by the shock wave: Mom had ducked under her desk before she got cut, but the place was a shambles. Mom was shaking and crying, and I was just petrified.

As it turns out, a gun shop downtown, Marting Arms, had a gas leak in the basement. It was touched off somehow, amidst the black powder used for reloading shells. Speculation had that Mr. Marting, who was a smoker, had carelessly left a cigarette burning. We'll never know, of course, as the only thing ever recovered of Mr. Marting was his wedding ring, found in Lynn, Indiana, seven miles to the north.

The gas had backed up the pipelines and literally ripped up the streets. Bartels Department store, right across the street from the explosion, was destroyed. We found sales slips from there in our yard the next day: we lived about 2 miles from the store. Holthhouse Furniture, next door, was levelled. All in all, some 20 downtown buildings were destroyed. Forty one people lost their lives, and hundreds more were injured.

The bus I was on was directly in front of Marting Arms when it blew up. That was where I got off to walk a block north to the library. Everyone on it was killed.

If I hadn't changed my mind and gotten off to see Mom, I would've been number 42.

The Richmond Palladium-Item has an article today. Indiana University maintains an oral history site dedicated to the event. Another survivor has a page up here.

/Home | 6 writebacks | permanent link

Rune wrote

paul wrote

Dave H wrote

A Puzzle

On 3/10/2007 11:42:05
Sue wrote

On 12/23/2013 23:53:36
Rachel Sheeley wrote


On 1/22/2014 08:26:10

Seven miles for a wedding ring to fly in an explosion!


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