Wichita Connie Ernatt grimaced as she studied the tattered remains of the boot John Galvin was wearing when old fireworks being prepared for detonation exploded prematurely.
“They never found the other one,” Ernatt said softly as she recalled the blast that eventually proved fatal for Galvin in 2000.
Ernatt has been collecting shoes belonging to local law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty — or at least shoes similar to what they would have worn.
Molded copies of the shoes will be a featured component of the Law Enforcement Memorial of Sedgwick County, which is about to be built on the northeast corner of the City Hall grounds.
The white tennis shoes sheriff’s Detective Terry McNett was wearing when he was shot to death during a drug raid at a crack house in 1988 sit on a table in a back room of her studio on Commerce Street.
Boots belonging to Officer Paul Garofalo, who was shot to death as he sat in his patrol car on a November night in 1980, rest on the floor next to the table. But there’s a sizable gap in the footwear of the fallen, Ernatt and Wichita Police Capt. Randy Landen said.
It’s the shoes worn by officers in the 1920s, when 10 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty.
The shoes were a hybrid between a dress shoe and a boot, Landen said, with the tops rising above the ankles. “It was just the style at the time,” he said.
Although they do not expect to uncover shoes worn by the officers who died on duty in the ’20s, Ernatt said, they’re hoping to find the same types of shoes.
Ernatt has been using molds to make copies of the badges and boots used at the time the officers died.
“The waxes look identical to the real boot,” she said. “People think they’re the actual shoes.”
The badges and boots add a sobering reality to what otherwise might seem like an impersonal memorial, Landen and Ernatt said.
“You will be able to go back in time,” Ernatt said. “We wanted people to see what the shoes looked like and what the badges look like, so we want to keep it as true as possible.”
When Ernatt first suggested using shoes as a focal point of the memorial, “I was not particularly enthralled with it,” Landen admitted.
“But when you see how it fits in the overall design, it’s pretty powerful,” he said. “It does individualize the loss.”
Even if officers were wearing the same type of shoe, Ernatt said, no two pairs are the same.
They’re unique, she said, almost like fingerprints.
The shoes and badges will be featured in the reflection area, which will be set apart from other areas of the badge-shaped memorial.
The memorial will feature the names of the 28 law enforcement officers in Wichita and Sedgwick County who have died in the line of duty.