Fifteen or 20 years ago, I had an elderly neighbor who chain smoked, panicked during thunderstorms, and called 911 every few months out of sheer loneliness. One day when I stopped by to chat, she asked me to wait a moment—there was something she wanted to show me. She disappeared down the hall and returned with a framed 8 x 10 photograph of a stunning young woman in a 1930s dance costume. She had smoldering eyes, dark finger waves, and legs as long as a chorus line. It was her—Charlotte Roach. She’d been a dancer (not that kind) before she married in 1941. Charlotte Vierheller—the name I knew her by—worked as a local model for more than a decade after her marriage. The girl in the picture radiated hope, optimism, and youthful promise, but time and disillusionment had extinguished every flicker. I knew only the frail, nervous widow who stood before me, showing me a faded photo as if to prove that she’d once been someone.
Research suggests that a woman’s obit is more likely than a man’s to be accompanied by a decades-old photo. Some observers believe that this tendency to depict women in their youth is sexist and/or ageist. Maybe. But when Charlotte died a few years later, how wonderful if the limelight had shone on that vibrant young dancer for one final, glorious curtain call.
In 1955, Charlotte Vierheller (third from left) was hired to serve cake at the 65th anniversary of Germania Savings & Loan, 617 N. Broadway, Alton, Illinois (now Germania Brew Haus). It was probably one of her last modeling jobs. Note that both women are wearing aprons.
I found this 1939 newspaper clipping (above) showing Charlotte auditioning for a Muny Opera production in St. Louis. She’s the third young lady from the left in the group photo. And guess what? She made the cut.
I don’t have a copy of the studio photo Charlotte shared with me that day, but if I did? That’s the one I’d choose for her obituary. Call me sexist.
So here’s to you, Charlotte. Take a bow.