At 1:47 p.m. a pair of violent explosions ripped through the heart of downtown Richmond leaving many people injured, 41 dead, and the entire county devastated.
During this time in 1968, there was widespread racial tension across America. There was an initial belief that the explosion was caused out of racial hate.
These beliefs were wrong.
The explosion started in the basement of a sporting goods store named Marting Arms when a spark (from an unknown source) ignited a natural gas leak. Ammunition and stock in Marting Arms erupted, deepening the explosion and creating fires.
Despite the nationwide tensions, the citizens of Richmond united together to diminish the fires, rescue trapped adults and children, and locate the injured/deceased for emergency personnel.
The story remained on the front page of newspapers for days to come, a constant and painful reminder.
The blast was heard more than two miles away and window glass was blown out more than three blocks. As a result of the 1968 explosion, 15 buildings were destroyed; 125 buildings were damaged; and 20 buildings were condemned. Yet the damage went beyond buildings and structures. The violent explosions took 41 lives and injured over 120 people.
Now there is an honorary monument in remembrance of those who lost their lives located at the corner of Fifth St. and Main St. Today, downtown Richmond is flourishing with many boutiques, a tea room, a candy store, a bakery, and many other locally owned businesses.
Today through Sunday, the Wayne County Historical Museum will host events to remember this sad day in Richmond’s history. You can learn more about these events here.
At 1:47 p.m. today, there will be a dedication of a new monument listing the names of those who died during the explosion at Jack Elstro Plaza.
From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, there will be dinner and a presentation honoring the 50th anniversary of the downtown explosion. The cost for this event is $75 and it will be held in the Community Room of the Wayne County Historical Museum.
Finally, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, the same presentation given on Saturday will be presented at Richmond Civic Hall free of charge but with no dinner included.