Citation
Making place out of space

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Title:
Making place out of space memorializing amd mourning unexpected roadside deaths
Creator:
Villareal, Sandra D
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
117 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Sepulchral monuments -- Social aspects ( lcsh )
Memorial rites and ceremonies ( lcsh )
Traffic accident victims ( lcsh )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 111-117).
Thesis:
Anthropology
General Note:
Department of Anthropology
Statement of Responsibility:
by Sandra D. Villareal.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
51806384 ( OCLC )
ocm51806384
Classification:
LD1190.L43 2002m .V54 ( lcc )

Full Text
MAKING PLACE OUT OF SPACE
MEMORIALIZING AND MOURNING UNEXPECTED ROADSIDE DEATHS
by
Sandra D. Villarreal
B. A., University of Kansas, 1960
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Anthropology
2002
A t


2002 by Sandra D. Villarreal
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Sandra D. Villarreal
has been approved
by
Susan Blum
---------------------------------------1--------------
Date


Villarreal, Sandra D. (M.A., Anthropology)
Making Place Out of Space: Memorializing and Mourning Unexpected Roadside
Deaths
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Kitty Corbett
ABSTRACT
In recent years roadside memorials have appeared on the sides of roads in the state
of Colorado. In this study I argue that people who have lost loved ones in
automobile accidents need a place to mourn and memorialize the deceased. This
place may be the site of the automobile accident, the gravesite, or some other place.
I explore the meaning of the places that people create to mourn and memorialize the
deceased in terms of (1) location, the physical site, (2) locale, the social interactions
which occur at the site and (3) sense of place, the feelings evoked by the site. I also
argue that visits to these sites can be considered pilgrimages in that the mourners
leave their daily routines to go to the site; they perform activities at the site such as
placing flowers or carrying out maintenance, observing moments of silence, or
praying; and that Christian beliefs, as well as the story of the lives of the deceased,
are the narratives that inform their activities. I also argue that roadside memorials
can be viewed as a narrative to passersby on the proper way to live their lives; i.e.
they convey the dangers of careless or drunken driving.
For this study I interviewed seven people who had placed roadside memorials at the
site where their loved one died. I also interviewed a person from Mothers Against
Drunk Driving who was instrumental in working with the Colorado State
Department of Transportation to develop an official sign program to memorialize
those killed by drunk drivers, and I interviewed an opponent of roadside memorials.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
Kitty Corbett
IV


DEDICATION
To my professors at the University of Colorado at Denver who showed me the
way;
To my husband, Ramon, who accompanied me on the way.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I wish to thank my informants who so willingly shared their stories with me.
Without them, this thesis would not have been possible.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. A QUEST FORUNDERSTANDING..........................1
2. DEATH AND THE BODY........................................3
Origin of Death Myths..................................3
Parts of the Body......................................4
Good Deaths/Bad Deaths.............................5
Death Rites............................................6
Grave Markers..........................................8
Conclusion.............................................9
3. THE SCANT LITERATURE ON ROADSIDE MEMORIALS..............10
Roadside Memorials in the New World...................10
Review of Literature on Roadside Memorials............14
Review of Scholarly Literature..................14
Articles in the Popular Press...................18
The Meaning of Roadside Memorials as Delineated in the
Scholarly Literature and in the Popular Press........19
A Response to an Unanticipated, Violent Death...19
Marking the Site Where the Deceased Made the
Transition from One State to Another............20
vii


An Attempt to Reconnect with a Loved One........22
Taking Back Ownership of Death.................22
A Focal Point for Grieving in the Community.....23
Promoting Social Change........................25
Summary..............................................26
4. PLACE ATTACHMENT IN ANTHROPOLOGY........................27
Place Attachment in the Social Sciences..............28
Typology of Place zAttachment..................28
The Meaning of Things................................31
Summary..............................................33
5. FROM PHOTOGRAPHING TO INTERVIEWING......................34
6. THE MEMORIALS AND THEIR STORIES.........................38
An Interview with a Victim Assistance Coordinator at the
Denver Metro Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.38
The Roadside Memorial for Barbara Loftin.............40
Description of the Roadside Memorial...........44
Description of the Gravesite...................44
The Roadside Memorial for Mary Snyder................45
Description of the Roadside Memorial...........47
Description of the Gravesite...................47
viii


The Roadside Memorial for Mark Wilson...................... .47
Description of the Roadside Memorial................51
Description of the Gravesite........................52
Description of Other Memorials......................52
The Roadside Memorial for Don Virgil Burton................53
Description of the Roadside Memorial................56
Description of the Gravesite........................57
The Roadside Memorial for Bob Williams.....................57
Description of the Roadside Memorial............... 60
Description of the Gravesite........................60
The Roadside Memorial for Kirby Cannon.....................61
Description of the Roadside Memorial..<.............65
Description of the Gravesite........................66
The Roadside Memorial for Catherine Johnson................66
Description of the Roadside Memorial................68
Description of the Gravesite........................69
7. PLACE, PROCESS, AND THE MEANING OF
ROADSIDE MEMORIALS............................................70
Location...................................................70
Location Roadside Memorials.......................71
IX


Location Gravesites.............................75
Location Other..................................77
Locale..................................................77
Locale Roadside Memorials...................... 78
Locale Gravesites...............................82
Locale Other....................................84
Sense of Place......................................... 85
Sense of Place Roadside Memorials...............85
Sense of Place Gravesites.......................88
Sense of Place Other............................90
Memorials as Processes..................................90
Memorials as Processes Roadside Memorials.......90
Memorials as Processes Gravesites...............92
Memorials as Processes Other....................92
The Meaning of Things.................................. 93
The Meaning of Things Roadside Memorials........93
The Meaning of Things Gravesites................96
The Meaning of Things Other.....................97
Conclusion..............................................97
8. CONTROVERSY................................................99
x


The Colorado Program............................100
The Montana Program.,...........................105
Conclusion......................................106
Suggestions for Future Study................... 107
APPENDIX
A. ITEMS AT THE ROADSIDE MEMORIALS..................... 109
BIBLIOGRAPHY................................................Ill
xi


CHAPTER 1
A QUEST FOR UNDERSTANDING
There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and
The bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.
Thomton Wilder (1927.148)
The last thing people do when they die is to change all
the people who loved them.
Jonathan Hull (2000:259)
They stand so mutely by the side of the road, often going unnoticed
unless someone is specifically looking for them. Roadside memorials testify to
the loss of a life or livesto what Arellano (1986:42) refers to as lives
interrupted. Usually crosses, but not necessarily so, they are put at the side of
the road by those who mourn for the life or lives lost at that spot. Seven years
ago I knew of only one roadside memorial in Colorado. Suddenly I began to see
them on many of the highways and byways of Colorado. My curiosity, which
had been piqued when I first saw roadside memorials during family trips to
Mexico when I was a child, now was even greater. I knew that each roadside
memorial had a story to tell, if only 1 could make them speak. I set out on a
quest to make them speak, to make them tell me the stories of those who had
died and those whom they had left behind.
1


This thesis details my quest to make known the stories the roadside
memorials represent. Of the more than fifty that I have catalogued, I now know
the stories of seven. It is a beginning. I was surprised by their stories. I now
realize that the survivors of those who have died unexpectedly need a place to
mourn and to memorialize their lost one. Such a site may be at the location of
the death, the burial, or someplace else. Which one does not appear to be
important; what does appear to be important is that there is a specific place to
mourn and to memorialize. This thesis presents my understanding of the
meaning of place in mourning and memorializing interrupted lives. It
contributes to both the growing literature on the meaning of place and the
changes in how death is handled in America.
In chapter 2 I present a brief introduction to Christian belief regarding
death and the body. In chapter 3 I review the history of roadside memorials and
review the literature on roadside memorials. (I do not review literature on
cemeteries since it is extensive and well known.) Chapter 4 contains a review of
the literature on place attachment. In chapter 5 I present my methodology. In
chapter 6 I let my informants tell their stories of the roadside memorials,
gravesites, and other memorials which they have created for their loved ones. In
chapter 71 discuss the meaning of place in roadside memorials, gravesites and
other memorials. In chapter 81 discuss the controversy regarding roadside
memorials, and suggest topics for future study.
i


CHAPTER 2
DEATH AND THE BODY
Origin of Death Myths
Death is a universal experience but how people respond to death is
culturally determined. In order to illustrate the range of human experience, I
will discuss how death is handled among Christian Americans, the Lugbara, a
group of people who live in northwestern Uganda and southeastern Zaire, and
the Hindus, who live mostly in India and Nepal but are also found in such
countries as South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bali.
Many cultures have myths that explain how death became part of the
human experience (DeSpelder and Strickland 1983). The origin myth of death
for Christians is recounted in Genesis, the first book in the Bible. The first
woman, Eve, ate fruit from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. As a
result, Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden and death was
introduced into the world. God told them, ... for dust thou art, and unto dust
shalt thou return (Genesis 3:19).
The Lugbara believe that men once lived with the Divinity in the sky.
There they could converse with the Divinity and share in divine knowledge.
They could descend to earth through the use of a rope or a tree. A woman who
3


was hoeing at the time that the people were on earth cut the rope or tree. Thus,
they could no longer return to converse with the Divinity. As a result, death was
introduced into the world (Middleton 1982).
Parry (1982) notes that in Hinduism, life and death are complementary
parts of a continuing process. They are not seen as being opposites but rather as
aspects of a continuing process. Everything in this life decays and dies but the
end of one cycle heralds the start of another. Thus death regenerates life and the
regeneration of life causes death.
Parts of the Body
Christians believe that the body is composed of the physical body and a
spirit or soul, which can survive the death of the body. At death the body may
be buried or cremated with the soul going to either heaven or hell, depending on
the life that the person has lived. (Catholics believe that the soul goes initially to
purgatory, an intermediate place between heaven and hell. Prayers of family
and friends are needed by the soul to assist it in moving from purgatory into
heaven. Protestant denominations do not share this belief in purgatory. The
souls movement to heaven or hell occurs immediately after death.)
The Lugbara, in contrast, believe that the body is composed of several
different elements, some material and some immaterial. All of these elements
must be dealt with upon the death of the body. For example, the body,
4


composed of organs, limbs, etc., is either placed in a grave or thrown into the
bushland to rot away. The soul becomes a ghost. The personality joins a
collective of lineage personalities while the breath and the shadow simply
disappear (Middleton 1982).
Hindus believe that people have two bodies, the gross body and the
subtle body. The gross body is the physical body; the subtle body consists of the
mind, the intellect, the sense organs, the motor organs and vital energy. The
gross body is left behind when a person dies; the subtle body goes to a different
plane of existence, a loka. There are many different lokas arrayed in a hierarchy.
(The earthly plane is one of the lower lokas.) There is more enjoyment or
spiritual bliss in the higher lokas than in the lower lokas. The higher the purity
of the subtle body, the higher the loka will go to after death. Through
reincarnation a person has the opportunity to evolve spiritually until he or she
eventually reaches the height of spiritual progress and is able to transcend the
chain of repeated births and deaths (Bhaskarananda 1994).
Good Deaths/Bad Deaths
All three cultures have beliefs concerning what constitutes a good
death and what constitutes a bad death. For Americans a good death is one
in which the deceased dies of old age. A bad death is one in which a life is cut
short, such as a young person being killed in an automobile accident.
5


For the Lugbara a good death is one in which the person dies in his or
her own hut, lying on his or her own bed. The bad deaths are those that are
unexpected and occur away from the hut (Middleton 1982).
Among Hindus, a good death is one that occurs in the city of Benares,
since all who die there automatically attain liberation or salvation. As a result
many terminally ill people move to Benares each year to die. A bad death is
one in which the corpse is not burned but rather immersed in the Ganges. In
order to overcome the bad death, the deceaseds body can be re-created in the
form of an effigy into which his or her soul is invoked. This rite can occur
several months after the death (Parry 1982).
Death Rites
Mandelbaum (1965) has noted that there are three things that must be
done after death: the corpse must be disposed of, the bereaved must be assisted
in reorienting themselves and the group must readjust to the loss of one of its
members. Differences in how these three tasks are performed can be seen
among American Christians, the Lugbara and Hindus. In the United States these
three tasks are addressed in the funeral or memorial service. Huntington and
Metcalfe (1979) have commented on the remarkable uniformity of the American
funeral. Although there is considerable cultural heterogeneity in American
society, the general features of the American funeral are very similar across the
6


country. These features include the rapid removal of the body to a funeral
home, embalming, viewing of the body by relative and friends of the deceased
and burial. This process normally takes place in a three-day period. Through
participation in the rituals of the funeral, the corpse is disposed of, the bereaved
are consoled and the community begins to readjust to its loss.
Although the rites of mourning are different for the Lugbara than for
Americans, the same three tasks are performed. The rites of mourning, which
include burial, death dances, expressions of symbolic chaos, transition from a
living to a dead person, purification and control of fertility and speech, take up
to a year to a complete. Through these rites, the continuity of the lineage that
has been disrupted is restored (Middleton 1982).
The Hindu dispose of the corpse by burning on the funeral pyre.
Different types of caste specialists are involved in the disposal of the corpse,
ensuring the proper fate of the soul and purifying the mourners. Since contact
with a corpse is considered to be polluting, the task of purifying the mourners is
a very important part of the ritual. Parry' (1982) posits that the last rites are
symbolic of the destruction and rejuvenation of the universe as the body is
understood to be the equivalent of the cosmos.
7


Grave Markers
In America burials occur in cemeteries, locations specifically set aside
for the burial of the dead. Families often purchase several plots next to each
other in the cemetery so that all the members of the family can be buried near
each other. Gravestones are placed on the graves to inform the public of who is
buried at the site. The gravestones quite frequently use religious imagery such
as crosses, angels, seraphims, etc. to express the beliefs concerning death and
the possibility of eternal life. The gravesites may be outlined in rocks to
separate one familys plots from another familys plots. Flowers may be planted
at the site or fresh flowers brought to the site. The graves are often decorated at
holidays. For example, in the fall pumpkins may be left at the gravesite. At
Christmas small Christmas trees or wreathes may adorn the sites. Through these
items the living can symbolically maintain and express their intimate relations
with the dead (Warner 1961:168).
The Lugbara bury their dead near their compounds. It is the
responsibility of the sisters sons to dig the grave as well as to bury the corpse.
Objects denoting the sex of the deceased are placed with the body in the grave.
The grave is marked with stones, however, it is soon hoed over and forgotten.
The exception is the grave of an elder. In this case a fig tree, which will stand
for many years, is planted at the gravesite. However, not all corpses are buried--
8


-those of infants, lepers, and people killed by lightning are thrown into the
bushland (Middleton 1982).
As Hindus cremate the corpses on the funeral pyre, there are no
gravesites.
Conclusion
My informants are American Christians, and the belief system regarding
death and the body described above for Americans forms the background to
their cultural beliefs about death and the afterlife. Although they may not
actively articulate these beliefs, they are a part of the cultural milieu in which
they grew up. In this thesis I will show how the placement of roadside
memorials fits within this belief system
9


CHAPTER 3
THE SCANT LITERATURE ON ROADSIDE MEMORIALS
Roadside Memorials in the New World
Roadside memorials have been recorded in the southwestern part of the
United States and in northern Mexico since the 18th century. Griffith (1992)
references a recently translated 1783 letter concerning roadside memorials. The
letter was sent by Felipe de Neve, commandant-general of the Interior Provinces
of New Spain, to Pedro Corbalan, intendant-govemor of Sonora. In his letter, de
Neve reports on a meeting with Fray Antonio de los Reyes, the first Bishop of
Sonora. The Bishop was concerned with the custom of putting up crosses at the
sites where travelers had been killed by Apaches, stating that he felt it
cheapened the symbol of the cross and also exposed it to irreverence. He was
afraid that the crosses would frighten passersby to the extent that they would be
unable to defend themselves in case of an attack. Additionally, the Bishop felt
that the custom would only increase the boldness of the Apache. The letter goes
on to order Corbalan to ensure that the existing crosses were taken down and
that no new crosses were erected.
Barrera (1991) reports on another early mention of memorials in the
Southwest. In 1828 Jean Luis Berlandier, a botanist and a member of the U.S.-
10


Mexican Boundary Commission, was gi ven the task of recording the flora and
fauna of the area being explored. During his trip, he kept a diary of his
observations. He recorded the following entry in his diary on August 17, 1829
during a trip from Laredo to Matamoros
Along the whole road [between Mier and Camargo, a distance of
about 30 miles,] we counted more than thirty crosses. At first we
attributed those funereal markers to murders committed by
bandits, but later we learned that several crosses were very old
and indicated places where the Comanches had massacred
travelers or herdsmen. Lastly, we learned that the rancheros
sometimes bury their relatives in these places, or else put a cross
at the spot where they rest with a corpse which they are takingfor
burial to the cemetery of a neighboring town (As quoted by
Barrera 1991:278-79).
Vidaurri (1991) quotes Lott and Martinez, who recount in 1953 the
origins of this tradition in the Zapata area in Texas:
Many tales of tragic deaths have been told by the old-timers who
then (as is done at the present time), marked the spots where the
men died of violence, by erecting crosses of wood in the early
days and of concrete in later years. The following special feature
story was written by one of the authors for a newspaper over
thirty years ago, and it tells the story of the shrines by the
roadside on this old road.. We quote:
Long before the inquisitive gringo dared into this land of
tranquility along the Rio Grande which skirts the counties of
Webb, Zapata and Starr, there was an ancient roadway from
Laredo on the west, to Brownsville on the east over which the
traffic of the frontier wound its difficult way in the days when
this was indeed the last frontier. The old road, according to
authentic records, was laid out by early Spanish colonists as a
communicating link between the settlements founded by them.
The Spaniards set their stakes deep into the soil of the counties
named and their descendents still live here. Like their forebears,
they are almost without exception, Roman Catholic, firm
11


adherents to the traditions of their ancient church and naturally
deeply devoted to their dead.
And this will explain why, along the old road, travelers
saw many crosses of wood and concrete which marked spots
where unfortunates met death either by accident or at the hands
of irate enemies. In the old days down here laws were lax, blood
was hot and feuds were common. Two men, mortal enemies,
meeting on the Camino Real, fought with dagger or pistol until
one or both of them fell dead. The relatives, true to the traditions
of their religion, erected crosses where these fell, such spots
becoming consecrated ground and to them, on each November
first, living relatives repair with flowers and wreaths with which
they decorate the recuerdos or shrines in loving memory of the
dear departed, everyone of whom, regardless of the manner of his
death or the cause which led up to it, becomes a saint.
This custom is as old as the church itself and nowhere is it
more devotedly observed than among the Latin-Americans of the
Texas-Mexican border. It is their memorial daythe day of the
dead.
The day has just been observed down here in the several
counties along the lower river country and folks from all over
Southwest Texas have been here to watch this most sacred of
ceremonies and to look at the colorfully decorated cemeteries
which have been literally smothered in floral beauty (As quoted
inViduarri 1991:210-211).
And finally, Dobie (1935) writes of seeing crosses in the Sierra Madre
mountains in Mexico.
12


As... we turned out from a canon we had followed for an hour to
ascend a mesa that would give view to Las Cinco Llagas, the trail
passed by two crosses 1 had seen several times before but not
until now noted with any particular interest. I had been told that
they marked the spot where an outlaw once held up and killed a
traveler and also where rurales after capturing the murderer
brought him to be executed. The rurales were always fond of
poetic justice. There was a cross for the guilty and the innocent
alike....
A book could be made out of the stories told by the
Crosses of the trail. None has roused my imagination more than
one I saw while riding across the Sierra Madre from Durango to
the Gulf of California. It was back in a dilapidated grotto of
masonry, and before it were a tin can in which a candle had
burned out, a withered handful of wild flowers, and two copper
two-cent pieces. The story was that here a good man had been
murdered by a drunken devil. That was in the last century; yet an
occasional traveler with a good heart and a little money leaves a
pittance by the cross to buy candles to bum for the dead. Then
once in a while a pasajero who expects to return collects the
coins, buys candles, and on his way back leaves them, lighting
one and depositing the others. They will all be used for the
purpose for which they were donated (1935:159-161).
These writers link the custom of placing roadside memorials where
someone has died to the Roman Catholic traditions that the Spaniards brought
with them to the New World. These traditions have been passed down from
generation to generation by Hispamcs in the Southwest and in the last few years
has been adopted by non-Hispanics in the United States. Roadside memorials
are now frequently seen at the sides of many of the roads and highways in
Colorado, placed there by Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike. Additionally,
there is now an official roadside memorial program in the state of Colorado, a
program developed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving in conjunction with the
13


Colorado Department of Transportation. In this thesis I will explore the
meaning of roadside memorials in the state of Colorado.
Review of Literature on Roadside Memorials
In spite of the growing popularity of roadside memorials in the United
States, few scholarly studies have been carried out. In my research I was only
able to locate six. However, roadside memorials have attracted the attention of
the popular press and a number of articles have appeared in magazines and
newspapers. In this section I will review the scholarly literature and will briefly
mention some of the articles from the popular press.
Review of Scholarly Literature
I was able to locate the following scholarly studies: Nutinis 1988 study
of the cult of the dead in rural Tlaxcala, Mexico, Kozaks and Lopez 1991
study of the Tohono Oodham shrine complex in Arizona, the 1993 study of
roadside memorials in New Mexico led by Kathleen McRee (nothing has been
published from this study), the 1995 unpublished Masters thesis of Zimmerman
on roadside memorials in five counties of south central Kentucky, a 1997 article
by Haney et al. on spontaneous memorials as an emerging mourning ritual, and
the 1998 unpublished Masters thesis of Everett on roadside memorials in
Austin, Texas.
14


Nutini (1988) studied the celebration of All Saints Day-All Souls Day in
rural Tlaxcala, an area located in the Central Highlands of Mexico. All Saints
Day-All Souls Day is a five-day celebration for the cult of the dead that occurs
at the end of October and the beginning of November each year. Nutini believes
that except for Christmas and Holy Week, the week preceding Easter, this is the
most important celebration of the yearly Christian cycle in Mesoamerica. One
of the days of the five-day cycle of the cult of the dead is dedicated to honoring
those who have died in accidents, including automobile, truck and bus accidents,
falls down steep ravines, lightning strikes, and drowning. Nutini outlines rituals
covering four years in the case of highway accidents and two years for other
types of accidents.
Kozak and Lopez (1991) studied the shrine complex of the Tohono
Oodham (Papago) Indians of Southern Arizona. They note that the Tohono
Oodham cult of the dead has three components: the shrine complex, the funeral
complex, and the cukud himdaq, owl way. They address the shrine complex
in their study. They found that the Tohono Oodhom have been memorializing
the locations of sudden death with shrines since approximately 1870 by placing
rock-piles at the sites where people have died. Since 1958 the Oodham have
been using the Christian cross and other Christian objects to mark the locations
of violent deaths. They detail the composition of Oodhom shrines, describe the
15


architecture of the different shrine types and discuss the significance of each
component.
In 1993 Kathleen McRee, a photographer, Samuel Larcomb, a historical
researcher, and Troy Fernandez, an oral historian, received a grant from the New
Mexico Endowment for the Arts to study roadside memorials in northern New
Mexico. A followup study, which covered the southern section of the state, was
supported by a second grant from the New Mexico Endowment for the Arts.
The studies, carried out between 1994 and 1996, were conducted along five lines
of investigation: (1) to determine why the crosses exist, including their
psychological, social, cultural and religious meaning; (2) to determine the range
of variation in design motifs, materials and associated artifacts; (3) to determine
the extent and range of scholarly thought on the subject; (4) to determine what
can be known of the historical record, focusing especially on how the tradition
can be traced and explained; and (5) to determine how these crosses should be
regarded and respected by scholars, public officials and the general public.
The outcome of the grant was a series of presentations on roadside
memorials given in various cities and towns in New Mexico. Tapes of the
twenty-one oral histories from the first project and copies of the documentation
form used for each roadside memorial were given to the Oral History program at
the University of New Mexico and are catalogued in the archives of the Center
for Southwest Research at the Zimmerman Library. Tapes of the interviews
16


from the second project, as well as the photographs from both projects, remain
with McRee. To date, nothing has been published regarding this study.
In 1995 Thomas Anthony Zimmerman wrote a Masters thesis entitled
Roadside Memorials in Five South Central Kentucky Counties. His study was
based upon interviews and conversations with the people who had made and
constructed five of the thirty-one memorials he located in five counties (Allen,
Barren, Butler, Edmonson and Warren). The purpose of his study was to
determine the meanings the roadside memorials had for those who constructed
and maintained them and to explore how these memorials fit within the larger
context of other death memorials, such as personal memorials, cemetery
decoration, public memorials and newspaper memorials.
Haney et al. (1997) posit that shrines, which they refer to as spontaneous
memorials, are placed at the sites of violent deaths, deaths which occur outside
of the contemporary norm of private death and grieving. They note that in the
United States in the last fifty years, we have worked to control death. Through
medical technology, many previously fatal diseases have been eradicated. Infant
mortality has been lowered and adult life expectancy has been raised. Safety
procedures, such as automobile air bags and emergency response systems, have
been developed to save lives. As a result, people are now expected to die only
of old age. Those who die violent deaths cause personal insecurity and cultural
uncertainty (1997:160).
17


Additionally, they note that many people in the United States believe that
in a rational, highly technological, secular society, rituals are no longer
meaningful. Thus, many of the religious rituals that were formerly used to assist
in grieving have become obsolete. Thus, Haney et al. posit that spontaneous
memorialization is an emerging American custom, one that is filling the void
caused by the loss of meaning of our current grieving rituals. After events such
as the shootings at Columbine High School, the death of Princess Diana and the
events of September 11, 2001, we have seen huge spontaneous memorials
created as people bring flowers, crosses, written messages, stuffed animals, and
other items to leave at the site of the death(s).
Everett (1998) studied the roadside memorials in Austin, Texas from a
folklorist viewpoint. She analyzed the meaning of the memorials from the
perspective of those who placed them as well as from the perspective of the
audience; i.e. those who see the memorials as they drive around Austin.
Articles in the Popular Press
In addition to these scholarly studies, a number of articles regarding
roadside memorials have appeared in magazines and newspaper. Most of these
articles are very brief Among the longer, better researched articles are one by
Fletcher (1999), which appeared in a local Denver newspaper, and an article
which Leimer (2001) posted on the Internet. Additionally, one book has been
18


published on roadside memorials. Rudolfo Anaya, a popular Hispanic author,
Juan Estevan Arellano, a photographer, and Denise Chavez, a poet, collaborated
on a book entitled Descansos: An Interrupted Journey (Anaya et al. 1995). It
features poems, personal remembrances and Arellanoss photographs.
The Meaning of Roadside Memorials as Delineated in the
Scholarly Literature and in the Popular Press
In the scholarly literature a number of reasons have been given for
placing roadside memorials. These include: (1) a response to an unanticipated,
violent death; (2) marking the site where the deceased made the transition from
one state to another; (3) an attempt to reconnect with the loved one; (4) taking
back ownership of death; (5) serving as a focal point of mourning for the
community; and (6) promoting social change.
A Response to an Unanticipated, Violent Death
As Haney et al. (1997) note, deaths in the United States are expected to
occur only among the aged. We expect these deaths to occur privately and be
confined within the walls of hospitals or old folks homes. The unexpected
deaths of those who are engaging in routine activities in which there is little
expectation of danger are unanticipated deaths and do not fit into the category of
those we expect to die. Often these are deaths of young people. These
unexpected deaths force us to realize that death can occur arbitrarily and unfairly
19


and that not all of us will die of old age. Arellano (1986) writes that these types
of death represent an interrupted journey in the road of life. The memorial is
placed as a reminder of the journey never completed (1986:42).
In a 1994 interview with a reporter from The New Mexican, a Santa
Fe, New Mexico newspaper, McRee stated that unlike deaths that occur at home
or in a hospital, friends and family were not present at the death. She refers to
these types of deaths as unattended deaths (As quoted by Conwell 1994:3B).
Marking the Site Where the Deceased Made the Transition
from One State to Another
The memorials are placed at the site where the deceased made the
transition from a living person to a deceased person. McRee in a 1999 interview
with Fletcher, a Westword reporter, stated that it is important to survivors to
find the exact site where the death occurred, placing the memorial where the
deceased took his/her last breath. In doing so they turn the site into a sacred site
(Fletcher 1999:32). Leimer (2001) believes that marking the exact site helps to
retain the reality of the death. She also notes that this is the site where the soul
left the body. In a 1997 interview on the radio program, All Things
Considered, regarding the spontaneous memorial at the site where the designer
Gianni Versace was gunned down, Dr. Stephen Happel, Chair of the Religion
Department at Catholic University, stated that people created the shrine as a way
to deal with the tragedy, noting Its not just a place to be taken for granted like
20


the ordinary sidewalks of day-to-day life. And so, because its now a new kind
of space, they feel the need to memorialize it, to, in effect, make it holy or
sacred, perhaps, and to ritualize it, so that it becomes a liminal space (As
quoted in All Things Considered 1997:2). It is thus a doorway between life and
death, and the cross placed at the site may be considered as a doorway into
eternity (Anaya et al. 1995:60).
Kozak and Lopez (1991) note that among the Oodham, sudden deaths
are perceived as a social disruption and a source of extremely dangerous souls
that can and do cause sickness. The souls of victims of violent deaths are not
viewed as malevolent, however. They are souls that miss their loved ones and
are angry over the sudden death. The Oodham believe it is their duty to assist
these souls beyond the eastern horizon (1991:18). The memorials become the
new homes of the deceased and are the focal point for invocations to the
supematurals (aboriginal, Christian deities, and other Oodham ancestors) who
are believed to assist the dead to their proper resting places. Kozak and Lopez
posit that the memorial sites may be more important to the mourners than the
burial plots since they help to protect the community against the potentially
dangerous souls of those who have suffered violent deaths.
21


An Attempt to Reconnect with a Loved One
Leimer (2001) believes that the memorials represent an attempt by the
survivors to reconnect with the deceased. One of Barreras (1991) informants
told him that families who place crosses have strong ties with the deceased and
that the placing of a memorial is symbolic of not wanting to let go of him or her.
The memorial thus allows the grieving family to express their love for a family
member who is gone but not forgotten. Anaya et al.(1995) note that at the site of
the memorial, ...love and death are entwined (1995:74).
Charles Collins, a geography professor at the University of Northern
Colorado, believes that the items left at the memorial seem to indicate that the
survivors want to think of the victims as continuing to exist, i.e. continuing to do
the things that they enjoyed before their death (As reported by Fletcher
1999:32). Haney et al. note that the memorials.are composed of a combination
of both religious and secular objects: ...crosses and teddy bears, bibles and
beer cans (1997:3).
Taking Back Ownership of Death
Haney et al. (1997) believe that the traditional funerary rites no longer
meet the needs of the people. They note that our rituals originated in response to
a slower, more homogeneous world and have now become obsolete in a time of
new technology and rapid change. They believe that the placing of spontaneous
memorials is an attempt to fulfill the need for grieving rituals that is currently
22


not being met by our traditional funerary rites. These memorials are informally
organized, are placed at a site that is connected with the deceased rather than at a
prescribed place of mourning such as a church, funeral home or cemetery, and
may contain mementos which are meaningful to the mourners or the deceased,
rather than objects with specific religious connotations. These objects may also
reflect emotions, such as anger or vulnerability, which are typically not
displayed in the American funeral. Additionally, the memorials are not subject
to the norms which prescribe when the ritual action is to occur nor the
appropriate amount of time for the grieving process. They point out, however,
that spontaneous memorials are an adjunct to traditional funerary rites, not a
replacement for them.
Leimer (2001) notes that the memorials allow the mourners to react
quickly to a situation outside of their control. Barrera (1991) notes that most
memorials are erected within a week of the death. A temporary wooden cross
may be placed at the site until the survivors have time to prepare a permanent
memorial.
A Focal Point for Grieving in the Community
Haney et al. (1997) posit that although spontaneous memorials represent
a private act of mourning, by virtue of the fact that they are placed in a public
area, they invite members of the public to participate in the mourning. As
Barrera (1991) notes, those who place a memorial want the community to join
23


them in remembering the deceased. Leimer (2001) believes that the memorials
serve as a focal point for mourning the deceased, especially for teenagers.
Additionally, Haney et al. (1997) believe that those who participate in
the ritual of placing spontaneous memorials are often not included in the
culturally prescribed group of mourners. Individuals who participate in the
ritual may not even have known the deceased but they define themselves as
mourners through placing mementos at the memorial.
In the case of mass deaths, such as those which occurred in the bombing
of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Haney et al. (1997) believe that
placing items at a spontaneous memorial allow people to reaffirm that the values
which promote safety and justice are still shared by the majority of the
community.
Griffith (1992) believes that the crosses signal to passersby that a soul
has suddenly left its body without receiving the last rites of the Catholic Church
at that site. The appropriate response on the part of the passersby is to pause to
say a prayer for the person who died there.
The Rev. Thomas Steele, a Jesuit priest and Hispanic art scholar, who
was an advisor to the New Mexico project states: The descanso [roadside
memorial] restores order and intelligibility where there is chaos and absurdity.
The crosses, ritually placed in faith, in hope and in love, help make again a
24


world where human beings can once more live, however saddened they will
forever be (As quoted by Romancito: May 19,1994).
Promoting Social Change
Leimer (2001) notes that memorials promote social change. They
remind us of the dangers of drinking and driving. In Texas one judge has
required people who have killed someone while driving drunk to place an
official Mothers Against Drunk Driving memorial at the site of the accident.
Haney el al. (1997) note that in the Crown-Heights section of Brooklyn, as well
as in other high crime neighborhoods in New York, mourners paint the names of
those who die from violence along w ith the names of the perpetrators on
building walls and leave mementos at the site. This commingling of the names
of victims and perpetrators indicates a belief that both the victims and the
perpetrators are victims of poverty. Vidaurri (1991) mentions a memorial that
was erected at the site where several illegal aliens were killed in a car accident
as they were fleeing Immigration and Naturalization Service officers. Although
family members of the victims erected the memorials, they are now maintained
by townspeople who never knew them but who maintain the memorials as a
symbol of the ill treatment often meted out by the law to Mexicans and
Mexican-Americans.
25


McRee notes that The crosses give us all a chance to reflect on our
mortality. We dont have a long time to live on this earth and the crosses
remind us that we need to make the best of it (As quoted by Conwell 1994:3B).
Summary
My informants reported many of the same reasons for placing roadside
memorials. However, in their interviews they told me that they had other places
for the memorialization of their loved ones and that sometimes these other
places were more important than the roadside memorial. The role of place
attachment in the memorialization of unexpected deaths thus emerged as an
important issue.
26


CHAPTER 4
PLACE ATTACHMENT IN ANTHROPOLOGY
Since one of the strongest themes that emerged from my data was the
importance of place in the mourning and memorialization process, in this
chapter I will briefly review the literature on place attachment, including the
works of Low (1992), Agnew (1987), Massey (1994), Basso (1990), Belk
(1992), and Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981).
Low (1992) defines place attachment as a transformation of the
experience of a space or a piece of land into a culturally meaningful and shared
symbol, that is, place (1992:166). Low and Altman (1992) note that place
attachment has been studied under many different names: place identity,
insidedness, genres of place, sense of place, environmental embeddedness,
community sentiment and identity. They note that it is a relatively recent field
for anthropologists, dating from the late 1970s. They posit that the interest in
the 1970s resulted from anthropologists shifting their emphasis from rather
ahistorical, synchronic processes focusing on cross-cultural comparison to
diachronic processes focusing on changes and development within cultures.
Geertz (1996) underlines the importance of the study of place, For it is still the
case that no one lives in the world in general (1996:262).
27


Place Attachment in the Social Sciences
Agnew (1987) investigated how the concept of place has been explored
in social sciences. He reports that there are three major elements: (1) locale,
which he defines as the settings in which social relations occur; (2) location,
which is the geographical setting in which the social interactions take place; and
(3) sense of place, which is how individuals feel about the place. Massey (1994)
stresses that places are not isolated but rather they should always be considered
in relation to the outside world. What makes a place special, then, is the
particularity of linkage to that outside which is therefore itself part of what
constitutes the place (1994:155). As a result, places are not static but rather
continually produced and reproduced.
Typology of Place Attachment
Low (1992) has proposed a typology of cultural place attachment which
consists of six kinds of symbolic attachment of people and land. These types are
(1) genealogical linkage to the land through history or family lineage; (2)
linkage through the loss of land or destruction of community; (3) economic
linkage to land through ownership, inheritance, and politics; (4) cosmological
linkage through religious, spiritual, or mythological relationship; (5) linkage
through both religious and secular pilgrimage and celebratory, cultural events;
28


and (6) narrative linkage through storytelling and place naming (1992:166).
Her first three types of place attachment refer to the familial, social, economic
and political linkages that people have to the land. The second three types of
place attachment refer to the ideological dimensions of people to place; i.e.
religious, moral, and mythological. She notes, however, that these are general
categories and there may be subsets of attachment or the categories may overlap
in content.
Genealogical place attachment refers to the linkage of people and land
due to the historical identification of place with family or community. Low
(1992) notes that this type of place attachment often occurs in traditional peasant
communities in which the relationship of the inhabitants and their village has
been established over a long period of time. Genealogical place attachment is
maintained by living in a place, by being bom or marrying into a household, or
by staying in a location for a long period of time. This type of place attachment,
then, is the result of the experience of living in a particular location.
Loss or destruction of places that people are attached to can occur in
many ways, such as exile, resettlement, disaster or urban renewal. The loss of
ones place is often experienced as bereavement by the people involved.
According to Low (1992), studies of exiled people show that the loss or
destmction of place is as powerful an attachment as its presence (1992:169).
Brown and Perkins (1992) posit a three phase response to the loss of a place to
29


which a person is attached. In the first phase the loss of attachment results in a
stressful period of disruption. In the second phase the person has to cope with
the loss of place, and finally in the third phase new attachments are formed.
Economic place attachment refers to that type of attachment produced by
ownership of the land or by working in a particular place. Low (1992) notes that
citizenship and voting rights are often related to land ownership, citing such
examples as the struggle for land reform in Latin America, China and Africa.
Low (1992) states that cosmological place attachment refers to the
manner in which a culture conceptualizes the world and how these
conceptualizations correspond to their idea of the landscape. Place attachment,
then, is the lived experience of the physical presence of cosmological beliefs.
Land or sacred space may represent either the cosmos or be considered as the
physical setting in which creation occurred as well as the home of the gods or
ancestors. She notes that the best examples of cosmological place attachment
are to be found among the Native American groups of the Southwestern United
States.
Pilgrimage to a place is a special kind of place attachment. Although it
is a transient experience, it is normally very intense. Often a pilgrimage to a
sacred place is the goal of a persons lifetime, one that he or she plans for over a
period of years. A persons identity or level of spiritual development may be
30


changed during the course of the pilgrimage. At the very least it is a change
from the rhythm of ones daily life (Low 1992).
Linguistic usages can reflect and foster place attachment in that peoples
linkage to the land is created through storytelling, place naming and language.
Narratives can consist of origin myths and family histories as well as political
accounts. Basso (1990) defines four types of narratives: myths, historical tales,
sagas, and gossip. He believes that historical tales, intimately tied to the places
where the events took place, are used by the western Apaches to thrust socially
delinquent people into periods of intense critical self-examination from which
(ideally, at least) they emerge chastened, repentant, and determined to live
right (1990:126). Knowledge of places is therefore linked to knowledge of
self.
The Meaning of Things
Belk (1992) believes that attachment to possessions is another type of
place attachment. He believes that our possessions ... give us a sense of who
we are, where we have come from, and where we are going (1992:37). He
notes that possessions are not just the things that we own legally. Rather a
possession is anything that we consider to be ours, regardless of whether we
own it legally, only temporarily control it or simply identify with it. Possessions
include tangibles as well as intangibles such as experiences, knowledge, assets
and perhaps even people.
31


Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) interviewed over 300
people in a major metropolitan area in an attempt to determine the meaning of
things in peoples homes. They discovered that there is enormous variation in
the meanings people can attach to objects, that almost anything can generate a
set of meanings. Thus, it is neither the physical characteristics nor symbolic
conventions that determine the meaning of an object, but rather the lived
experiences of the individuals life. For example, informants ascribed memories
to such diverse objects as furniture, visual art, sculpture, musical instruments,
photos, televisions, stereos, books and plants. They also ascribed associations,
experiences and personal values to the same objects.
Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981) also noted the importance
of kinship in ascribing meanings to items. Eighty-two percent of the people
valued at least one object because it reminded them of a close relative. They
concluded that, Things tend to acquire meaning because they are signposts of
family history, which help family members re-experience crucial events and
relationships that they share. In doing this the artifacts also preserve, vitalize,
and transmit to those who will come after, the goal of family and ethnic
continuity that is an essential aspect of the identities of these people (1981:222-
223).
32


Summary
Place attachment then serv es a number of functions for individuals,
groups, and cultures. Low and Altman (1992) note that place attachment
provides a sense of security and stimulation. When places and objects are
predictable, people can be creative and feel in control of their lives.
Additionally, place attachment may link people with friends, children and kin.
It also may link people symbolically through providing reminders of their
childhood or earlier lives, parents, friends, ancestors, etc. Place attachment may
underscore cultural values and moral lessons encoded in place-based stories and
symbols. And finally place attachment may link people to religion, nation or
culture through abstract symbols associated with places. Place is a repository of
life experiences, while being central and inseparable from them.
33


CHAPTER 5
FROM PHOTOGRAPHING TO INTERVIEWING
This thesis reflects my long-standing interest in roadside memorials.
Preliminary work began in 1995 when I began documenting roadside memorials
in the state of Colorado. As my husband and I went about our daily lives in
Colorado, we watched for roadside memorials. Whenever we found one, we
documented it by photographing and describing it. We then made periodic visits
to determine if the memorial was still there. Between 1995 and 2001 we
documented fifty-three memorials, making a number of return visits to each
memorial. All memorials were revisited in the fall of 2001 to document their
status as of that date.
Once we found a roadside memorial, I attempted to find more
information about it. This was easier for some memorials than for others. Some
memorials had no identifying information whatsoever; some had only a name or
only a date. Only one had all the information needed to contact the placer of the
memorial. Lisa Burton (pseudonym) put her name and address on the memorial
for her brother in the hope that the Colorado Department of Transportation
would contact her if they decided to remove it. I was able to identify the person
or persons (or animals) who died at the site for forty-four of the fifty-three
34


memorials. (One of the roadside memorials that I documented was for three
horses.)
Once I had determined who died at the site, I attempted to contact the
relatives of the deceased for an interview. For this thesis 1 conducted seven
interviews with placers of roadside memorials. Of these, I made contact directly
with three of the informants. Three were contacted through the organization,
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and one was contacted through a friend whose
cousin was memorialized with a roadside memorial. Only two persons whom I
contacted directly did not wish to be interviewed. Additionally, I interviewed a
person from Mothers Against Drunk Driving regarding the official memorial
program that they developed in conjunction with the Colorado Department of
Transportation and one person who had expressed opposition to roadside
memorials in one of the Denver newspapers. In order to protect the anonymity
of my informants, all names have been changed.
1 asked my informants the following questions:
1. Tell me about (name of the person who died).
2. When did the accident occur?
3. Who placed the roadside memorial?
4. How soon after the accident was the roadside memorial placed?
5. WTiy was the roadside memorial placed?
6. How was the form of the memorial determined?
7. What does the cross mean to you? (if the memorial is in the form of
a cross)
8. Do you visit the roadside memorial? If so, how often do you visit it?
35


9. Do you maintain the roadside memorial? If so, how often do you
maintain it?
How long do you plan to maintain it?
10. Where do you feel the closest to (name of the person who died)at
the roadside memorial, at the gravesite, where the ashes are scattered
or somewhere else?
11. Are there other memorials for (name of the person who died)?
12. Do you feel that an official sign, such as those provided by MADD,
is as meaningful as a roadside memorial created spontaneously?
13. (If there is an official sign at the site) Do you feel the official sign is
as meaningful as the cross? Why or why not?
14. Do you put flowers or decorate the official sign in any way?
15. If roadside memorials are outlawed in the State of Colorado, how-
will you memorialize your loved one?
Most of my informants invited me into their homes for their interviews.
However, a couple of them preferred to be interviewed in a public space, such as
a restaurant or park. Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, none of my
informants were interviewed until at least a year had passed since the death of
their loved ones. Nevertheless, all of the interviews were very emotional. I
taped all interviews and at the beginning of the interviews, I offered to turn off
the tape recorder and/or terminate the interview at any time. Although one or
two requested that I turn off the tape recorder to give themselves an opportunity
to regain their composure at a particularly emotional part of the interview', all of
them wanted to continue.
Since I was asking my informants to discuss very sensitive issues, I felt
that it was important to allow them to express themselves freely, even though
some of the things they wanted to talk about were not directly related to my
36


interview questions. I felt that by allowing them more freedom to talk, I gained
additional insight into their personal mourning and memorialization process.
However, this did result in some long interviews. The longest was over two
hours. The shortest interview was forty-five minutes. My informants were very
interested in my thesis, and several of them call me from time to time to inquire
as to my progress.
I transcribed and coded all interviews. I have had followup
conversations with a number of my informants to clarify their comments or to
ask additional questions.
37


CHAPTER 6
THE MEMORIALS AND THEIR STORIES
The stories shared by my informants eloquently convey the importance
of roadside memorials to them and others related to the person who has died.
They also reflect many of the themes discussed in the literature.
An Interview with a Victim Assistance Coordinator at the
Denver Metro Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a non-profit, grassroots
organization founded by a group of mothers in 1980. The mission of MADD is
to stop drunk driving and to provide assistance to victims of drunk drivers. The
Denver Metro Chapter was founded in 1983. 1 interviewed June Owens, a
victim assistance coordinator with the Denver Chapter, regarding MADDs
work with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to establish an
official memorial sign program for those killed by drunk drivers.
According to June Owens, the official memorial sign program was
started by a sheriffs deputy in Boulder County. The first sign was placed for a
University of Colorado student. It was a white, diamond-shaped sign with a red
ribbon and black lettering which said Dont Drink and Drive. An oblong sign
below had In Memory of and the name of the deceased. June noted that
initially there was concern that people would vandalize the signs. Initially the
38


concern was that people would vandalize the sign, but the sign has been up for
about a year and a half now and that hasnt happened. (In October 2001 the
diamond sign was gone; however, the oblong sign remained.) June Owens
noted that the white sign was not approved for state highways. The reason this
was not approved for state roads is because a diamond means caution, and a
white sign is not appropriate for an informational sign... .The diamond says
things like deer crossing. The diamond usually is yellow. This is white, so they
just simply said No. You cant do that. Instead of the white diamond, the
state approved a blue oblong sign since that is the shape of informational signs
on state highways. The official memorial signs then are blue oblongs with white
lettering that says Dont Drink and Drive. The bottom sign has the red ribbon
and says In Memory of and the name of the person or persons who was killed.
June Owens is pleased that the colors of the signs are red, white, and blue,
patriotic colors.
June noted that CDOT has put restrictions on the number of signs that
can be put up. Their restrictions are that theres only going to be 200 because
they dont want to overpopulate the roads, and their fear is that we could have
500 signs. And they dont want to overdo it because apparently programs such
as this in other states... have failed because they overdid it.
39


June noted that signs are only put up by request. People have to request
it; it has to be a family member that requests the sign because we have people
that are saying, Well, my friend was killed five years ago. If that friend's
family doesnt want the sign, we cant do it, so it has to be immediate family.
To request a sign, the family has to submit an application form to CDOT. There
is a $ 100 charge. The signs will stay up for two years. .. theyre only going to
remain at the location for two years... But after the two years is up, the family
can have [the bottom] portion.
She noted that MADD is also working with cities and counties on a
memorial sign program. Cities and counties can make their own rules for the
sign program as long as they are not on state roads ... They can set their own
regulations... CDOT has no control over them.
The Roadside Memorial for Barbara Loftin
The gravesite has always been the focal point of Laura Hutchins
memorialization of her sister, Barbara Loftin. However, while traveling in
Florida, she saw roadside memorials for the first time and decided to place a
roadside memorial at the site where her sister had been killed in an automobile
accident nine years previously.
40


I knocked nervously that July day on the door of Laura Hutchins home.
This would be my first interview of a placer of a roadside memorial, and I had
no idea what to expect. I need not have been nervous. Laura was friendly,
gracious, and eager to talk about her sister, Barbara, and the roadside memorial
she had placed for her. Laura is the mother of seven children, and we were
interrupted frequently during the interview by one or another of the children,
including one with a bloody hand. She handled the interview and all the
interruptions, including the bloody hand, with equanimity.
Barbara died on November 13, 1982, when the car driven by her
boyfriend hit black ice. They were returning from Denver, where they had gone
to celebrate her boyfriends birthday. She was eighteen years old and had just
started classes at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, where she was
planning to major in special education. She and her boyfriend had recently
become engaged.
Barbara was the youngest of seven children, and Laura, who was the
third oldest, had helped to raise Barbara: Im one of the older sisters that had
the little kids on your hip. You know, grab a kid, throw them on your hip, do
whatever, and ... we were responsible for... the three little kids. The family
lived on a working guest ranch where their dad was the foreman. Barbara raised
rabbits and sheep and had a pet calf. She liked to write poems and to sing. She
also played the saxophone.
41


Barbara was buried in her hometown cemetery. One of her brothers
carved a wood marker for the gravesite and built a fence around the grave to
protect it from deer and elk. Laura stated that she feels closer to Barbara at the
cemetery than at the roadside memorial, its really weird, but 1 feel closer to
her up at the cemetery. Thats the last place that I saw her body even though I
know shes not there... .1 go up there sometimes... no special days.... Of course, I
will do her birthday, February 5, and the day she was supposed to get married
was May 21, the car accident day, Christmas, Easter... .But in between Ill just
go, like her name was Barbara Jo, and so I call her BJ, and Ill say, Im having
a BJ day and I have to go up there and just sit ... .1 dont really cry very much
over it. Once in a veTy great while, ... T just have really high emotion and Ill
just feel like crying for missing her, but... I just guess that up there, its very
peaceful and very quiet... .1 close my eyes. I pretend I go up there and ask her
for advice. So what am I supposed to do now? And, its really w'eird... .She
wasnt alive when 1 had these last three kids, and 1 would take the babies up
there and sit there and say, See what I did. Youve got another niece or
nephew. It was so dumb [and]... I know better but its just something I did.
When I asked why she had put up the roadside memorial, Laura
explained that she had first seen roadside memorials in Florida. We drive to
Florida once in a while, and I say, Look, there are three crosses by that farmers
fence. I wonder what happened. Probably some kids got... killed... in a car
42


accident.... As a result of having seen the markers in Florida, she decided to
put up a roadside memorial for Barbara. ... And I thought, Im going to get a
little marker, a little cross or something to put there and just have it be there....
It... marks the spot, its just a memorial thing.
She purchased a cross with purple flowers from Walmart, the type of
cross that is typically sold for Memorial Day. She wrote the name of her sister
and the date of the death on the cross. I wanted people to know how old she
was, and what happened, and that she was very loved. And that she was
Christian, a good girl.... When the first cross fell apart, probably due to the
weather and the snow piled on it by snowplows, she replaced it with a second
cross from Walmart.
Although the gravesite is the place where Laura feels the closest to her
sister, she does stop at the roadside memorial on occasions. We do stop once
in a while. We do stop once in a while and just kind of stand there... Its just
kind of stop and silence ...
Laura expressed concerns that the highway department might remove her
memorial. If they make me take it down, Ill just keep putting something there.
I dont care if its a pile of rocks. Well paint some rocks or something....
When we stopped at the roadside memorial in the summer of 1999, we
noticed that it had been replaced with a new cross. And behind this cross, lying
on the ground, was still another cross. In the summer of 2001 both of these
43


crosses were still there. Twenty years after her death, the place where Barbara
Loftin died is still a powerful site for her sister.
Description of the Roadside Memorial
The second memorial (I did not see the first one) consisted of a white
cross approximately two and one-half feet tall. On the top of the upright was
written, Our sister, very beloved. On the left arm was written Barbara Loftin
- 18 years old, killed in a car accident on Nov. 13, 1982. On the right arm was
written In Memory. In the center of the cross there was a spray of yellow
flowers. Currently, the fourth memorial, made out of hewn logs, stands at the
site.
Description of the Gravesite
The cemetery plot is surrounded by a hewn rail fence. The grave is
outlined with rocks. The marker was carved by one of Barbaras brothers. A
cross is carved at the top of the marker. Below the cross her name has been
carved into the marker. Below her name are her birth and death dates. Below
the dates is written:
She was an angel on earth -
Her love of God and her sunshine
smile brought joy to all
who knew her -
Now shes an angel in Heaven -
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A small concrete slab with an iron railing is in front of the grave marker.
A jar with a flower and a bunny statue are in front of the concrete slab.
The Roadside Memorial for Mary Snvder
One of Marys daughters placed a roadside memorial after her mother
was killed in an automobile accident. I interviewed Jane Gordon, a friend of
Marys.
Mary had sold her ranch in Texas and had moved to Colorado to start a
horseback riding program for handicapped children approximately three years
before her death. She was a recovering alcoholic who frequently attended
Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. She was working on mending her relationship
with her daughters that had been ruined by her alcoholism. She was very
athletic and loved both downhill and cross-country skiing. She was an avid
churchgoer. According to Jane Gordon, She was so interested in her spiritual
and emotional growth that she was looking everywhere, from every point,
looking for means of growth.
On the night that she was killed, she was returning home from an A. A.
meeting during a late spring snowstorm. The car in front of her started to slide.
Trying to avoid hitting it, she went off the road and was thrown from the car
when it hit a fence. One of her daughters put up the roadside memorial three or
four months after the accident at the exact site of the accident. Jane Gordon
45


believes that Marys daughter, Sarah, placed the roadside memorial As a
tribute. There were many, many people who expressed a love for her mother.
Sarah really cared and respected her mother. I think it was just a tribute and
because there was so much love in the community for her mother... .But Sarah,
with the help of some of the church members, put it up. Jane Gordon also
noted that Sarah had returned to the roadside memorial to replace the flowers on
it.
Jane Gordon does not stop at the roadside memorial. I was told that the
tire tracks were very evident, deeply rutted in there and I never wanted to stop.
Ive never passed it that I havent said a prayer. Jane Gordon believes that
roadside memorials are beautiful remembrances. The roadside cross is a
beautiful remembrance. It really, really is. Its a visible chance to send a prayer
her way anytime we pass it. We forget often times to do that for people that we
have loved. Thats a beautiful way of reminding us. It isnt just me. There are
many, many people who still comment on the cross every time we pass it and
how well they remember Mary.
Jane Gordon does not know where Mary is buried. In fact, she didnt
even ask. I know it sounds funny, but there were so many things that I didnt
even want to know. I just let her go. I figured that it was her choice, whether
we like to believe that or not.
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Description of the Roadside Memorial
I first photographed this cross in July, 1996. At that time the memorial
consisted of a 57 white cross made of 4 x 4s. Artificial red roses and
columbines were attached to the cross with a purple bow with wire. In June,
1997 there were only columbines on the cross. In the summer of 2001 the cross
was still there but the flowers were very faded.
Description of the Gravesite
Jane Gordon believes that Mary was cremated.
The Roadside Memorial for Mark Wilson
The day after Mark Wilson was killed, his friends put a memorial at the
site of the accident. An official Colorado Department of
Transportation/Mothers Against Drunk Driving sign was placed at the site
approximately a year after the accident. However, for the Wilsons, the main
focal point of their mourning is Mark's bedroom.
Howard and Jodie Wilson were quite willing to be interviewed, stating
that we do not want Mark forgotten. On the night that Mark was killed, he
and a friend were on the way to a party when Marks car broke down. They
parked the car at the side of the street and called a friend to pick them up to take
them to the party. Later that evening, the mother of Marks friend picked the
boys up at the part}'. They pulled into the shopette near where Mark had parked
47


his car so that Mark could get his backpack out of the car. He was hit by a
drunk driver while leaning into the car to get his backpack. He was sixteen
years old when he died and a junior in high school.
The Wilsons describe Mark as a normal, average teenager. He never
gave us any problems. He had really good grades in school, and you just
couldnt ask for a better kid. Mark was the youngest child in the family. His
two sisters were sixteen and fourteen when he was bom. Mark was very
interested in computers. ... he loved computers. He was a whiz on them. He
had applied to two computer schools before his death. He was accepted by both,
and shortly after his death, he received a scholarship offer from one of the
schools. He was working part-time at Safeway He enjoyed outdoor sports,
three-wheeling, tag football and spending time with his friends.
The day after his death four or five of his friends made a cross and
placed it at the site. According to Jodie, his friends wanted to do something
something to say Here is where my buddy was killed. They wrote Love
Always on the back of the cross and signed their names. Mark was cremated
and the ashes were placed in an ura that the Wilsons keep at home. They say
they visited the site at least once a week, taking fresh flowers. They placed a
pinwheel, a favorite of Marks, at the site and they placed American flags at the
site on the 4th of July. Marks friends also continued to visit the site. Howard
recounted one visit of Marks friends. Shortly after it happened,... there was a
48


concert here that Mark would have loved to have gone to and so his friends went
to the concert, and after it was over, they came back to the cross and they put all
the ticket stubs in this little plastic bag and stapled it to the cross and all lit their
lighters and just stood there for a quiet moment. Howard also noted, You
know there was a lot of his friends and stuff that went out there when we
werent there, and it was kind of a private thing, and they didnt tell us and we
didnt ask.
A little over a year after his death, an official Colorado Department of
Transportation/Mothers Against Drunk Driving memorial was placed at the site.
At that time the Wilsons removed the cross and took it home. It was their
understanding that they were to remove the cross when the official memorial
was put up. The cross represents Christ, and theres nothing wrong with that,
but people think its religious and that it shouldnt be, and we told MADD then
that as soon as the sign was put up, we would take down the cross. After the
official sign was put up, the Wilsons continued to visit the site, placing flowers
on the sign.
They planned to create a memorial for Mark in the backyard by placing
the cross there. We plan on doing [a memorial] when we can dig down a little
ways. And then get a nice tin boxweve got Marks clothes that he was
wearing that night and were going to put them in that can and bury them. And
the cross will go there. And then we will put flowers. However, a few months
49


later, they took the cross back to the site of his death because they found that
putting flowers on a sign did not have the same meaning as putting flowers on
the cross. They were grateful that the owner of the shopping center had given
them permission to put the cross on his property, telling them that, You can
keep it [there] as long as you want. They were pleased that the official sign
was there because they felt that if helped to save lives, but they wished that they
had never removed the cross.
Shortly before Marks death, the Wilsons had moved into a house which
Howard and Mark had designed together. There were numerous memorials to
Mark throughout the house. His bedroom had been left exactly the way he left it.
Jodie stated that she felt closest to Mark in his bedroom. I really feel close to
him when I go into his bedroom and sit there. A number of items, including
Marks picture, were displayed on a table memorial in the living room. In the
basement a full wall was covered with pictures of Mark. They also purchased
the pool table that they had been planning to get Mark for Christmas of the year
that he died and put a plaque in his memory on it. Mark had been planning on
having a Christmas party that year. His parents had the party in his memory,
inviting t of his friends to come.
In 2001 the Wilsons moved out of state, hoping that a change of scenery
would help them adjust to Marks death. In the spring of that year one of
Marks sisters removed the cross from the site as there had been considerable
50


negative publicity regarding roadside memorials in the media. She was afraid
that someone might destroy the memorial. Today only the official sign remains
at the site.
Description of the Roadside Memorial
The memorial consists of an unpainted wooden cross, approximately
three feet tall, set in a concrete block, surrounded by small stones. There are
two small American flags stuck in the ground, one at the back on the left and the
other at the right of the cross. A pmwheel on a blue stand is on the left at the
front. A pot of gold flowers is at the front on the right. Directly in front of the
cross is a vase containing a bouquet of yellow, purple and gold flowers. Mark
Wilson is written on the arm of the cross. A wide red plastic ribbon is stapled
to the upright. An artificial red rose is attached to each arm with a black tie.
Green, gold and silver ribbons are tied around the upright. A red piece of plastic
ribbon is tied onto the right arm of the cross. Flowers extend down to the
concrete block. Two pinecones are at the base.
Love Always is written on the back of the upright. Numerous people
have signed their names on the back of the cross. A necklace hangs on the back
of the cross. Below the necklace is a plastic bag containing ticket stubs to a
Metalica concert.
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An official Colorado Department of Transportation/Mothers Against
Drunk Driving sign is also at the site.
A new cross was placed at the site several months after the official sign
was put up. This cross was removed in the spring of 2001 and is now at his
sisters house.
Description of the Gravesite
Mark was cremated, and his ashes are in an urn at his parents home.
The urn has an eagle design on it, which the Wilsons believe is a symbol of
Mark.
Description of Other Memorials
A small table standing against the wall contains a picture of Mark. A
candle stands in front of the picture and a religious votive candle stands on each
side of the picture. Various other mementos are also on the table. Above the
table is a picture of an eagle. Two eagle statuettes are underneath the table.
A wall in the basement recreation room is covered with pictures of Mark
from the various stages of his life. The last picture the Wilsons took of Mark is a
picture of Mark and a friend with their faces painted in their school's colors. A
pool table identified as a memorial to Mark by a small plaque stands in front of
the wall.
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The Roadside Memorial for Don Virgil Burton
On a trip to Montana Lisa Burton, Dons sister, saw the white crosses
that the American Legion has been putting at the sites of highway deaths since
1952. Upon returning from the trip, she called the Highway Department in
Montana, and eventually was put in touch with someone from the American
Legion, who made a cross for her to put up at the site. She placed it on the tenth
anniversary of her brothers death. Although the roadside memorial is important
to Lisa Burton, the White River Forest, where she scattered Dons ashes,
remains the focal point of her mourning and memorialization for her brother.
Lisa was quite willing to talk about her brother, whom she described as
her best friend. After serving a tour of duty in the United States Marine Corps,
Don went to work for the Public Service Company. He had been married only
seven months at the time of his death. He and his wife were building a house
near a lake and were planning on completing the sale on their current home the
following week. Don enjoyed athletics, and the night he was killed, he, his wife
and her five-year-old daughter were returning home from a baseball game in
which he had played. His wife was driving while he slept in the front seat. His
wifes daughter was in the back seat. She lost control of the car and it rolled
over three times. Don died at the scene. His wife and her daughter suffered
only bruises.
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After having seen the white crosses in Montana, Lisa Burton decided to
put up a cross for her brother. I... made four or five phone calls when I got
back to Denver... .1 started calling... the [Montana] Highway Department, two or
three other public numbers, and then through one of them, they put me in touch
with a gentleman... .He was part of the American Legion, and we spent three or
four phone calls, three or four letters, and he welded the crosses together and put
them in a packing crate, and I sent him the money,...and then he told me to paint
this so many times white and the post red... .He told me to plant it in a coffee
can with cement. Well, I just dug a hole and put it there so it could be removed.
But he gave me instructions on how to set up, and how to do it. He was quite
surprised I was interested, but I said I really admired it because the whole state
was universal. They had the same metal cross, and it really looked nice. And
looked like... it would be easy to maintain where some of the wooden ones dont
maintain very long... .so he was surprised but he was very cooperative.
Since Don was killed on a major interstate highway at a place where it
was not possible to pull off the highway safely, Burton was unable to place the
cross as the exact site of the death. Before Lisa placed the cross, she talked to
someone at the Colorado Department of Transportation. .. I talked to one of
the heads higher up in the Highway Department, asking them permission, and
she said to put it behind the guardrail.... Therefore, she placed the cross
behind the guardrail at the closest spot to the site of the accident where she
54


could safely get off the highway. Lisa had concerns that the highway might be
widened, displacing the cross. And if they widen the road, Ill probably have
to go remove it until they decide what theyre going to do... She wonders if
she could put it on private property across from the site. Its almost like you
could go across and put it on that other mountain but thats private property and
I have not gone in to ask permission.... When asked why she put the cross at
the site, she replied, ... It was put there to just kind of remind us that... our joy
was taken there. It's a pleasant reminder. You know, some people say, Why do
you do this? Its a tragedy. I say, Yeah, its a tragedy but for me its a peace
of mind to know that its there. She puts flowers on the cross twice a year, on
Christmas and on Memorial Day.
Lisa says that she feels closer to her brother in the White River Forest
where the family scattered Dons ashes. And his ashes we took up to an area
out of the White River that he used to fish, so I, up until about three or four
years ago, 1 went up there and walked back in there with my dad. After her
dads death from cancer, Lisa continued to go there on her own. I have gone
on my own for ten years.
She also placed a memorial for Don at the cemetery where her
grandparents are buried. Its a tradition in our family to put flowers out on the
grandparents graves so its their headstone, and writing faces west, and on the
back of the grandparents I put a memorial up for him... When I do genealogy,
55


its nice to have tombstone markers... .With ashes theres nothing to note that
you ever existed so for me its something to... to have that engraved for.
In the summer of 2001 we noticed that the memorial was gone. I
contacted Lisa Burton, who has since moved out of Denver, by email. In
response to my question as to what happened to the memorial, she wrote, I was
very upset this spring when I went to replace flowers and ID tag on the marker
for my brother. The marker and a newer one next to it have been removed. I
had just repainted it the first of the year and mid May tried to replace flowers.
As best as I can understand the County Road Crews have removed all the
markers. I was disappointed that I was not contacted since I had my name and
address on the marker.... The disappointment comes from the loss of my brother
and the memory of him being removed without my knowledge....
Description of the Roadside Memorial
The memorial consisted of back-to-back white metal crosses,
approximately two and one-half feet tall, attached to a metal post. A spray of
pink and white flowers was attached to the cross. A piece of paper containing
Dons name, his date of birth and date of death and Lisa Burtons name and
address was taped to the metal post.
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Description of the Gravesite
Don was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the White River
Forest. Lisa Burton placed a memorial for Don on the backside of her
grandparents gravesite.
The Roadside Memorial for Bob Williams
The day after Bob Williams was killed, two roadside memorials were
placed at the site of his accident: one made by his grandparents and one by his
friends. An official county memorial sign was placed at the site sometime later.
Although Bobs parents periodically visit the site of the accident, they more
frequently visit his grave where they have constructed an elaborate memorial to
Bob. I interviewed Bobs parents.
Dave and Kira Williams describe Bob as having been a wild kid: He
was a wild child.... We had just bought him a placethe rent is so expensive
anymore for kids... .So we had bought him a mobile home and put it in a trailer
park... .He was very into horses, very into girls,... but it was kind of amazing to
me at his funeral to see the cross-section of people that he had made friends
with... .He was driving tractors and stuff [for the county]... .He was not a good
student, didnt finish high school, was just in the process of sort of realizing that
he had screwed up. He was working hard just trying to figure out a place where
he could go get his GED and wanted to go to school at that point... .1 guess that
57


he was a pretty wild kid. He had lots of fun. Even the sheriff told us stories
about him. He wanted to have a ranch someday and raise cows.
On the evening of his death, Bob and his roommate had hosted a party at
their mobile home. There was a lot of drinking at the party, and a girl who
attended the party later told the Williams that when she left around 11:30 p.m.,
Bob was passed out on the floor. The Williams do not understand how only
fifteen minutes later he was killed four miles north of his mobile home. So if I
could find out one thing about all this, I wish that it would be What made you
get up? What made you wake up, what made you get up, whatever? We dont
know.
The day after Bobs death, the Williams took a cross that Bobs
grandparents had made and placed it at the site of the accident. The brother of
the driver of the car placed a second cross at the site. The Williams worked with
the county to place an official sign at the site. The sign is similar to the
Colorado Department of Transportation/Mother Against Drunk Driving signs.
We met with the county commissioners and because it was a county road,...the
county can say yes or no. And they were great with us. Actually, the state
law is a lot different than what I got from the county. The state law says you
have to wait until someones convicted DUI, which to me makes no sense at all.
If someone died at that scene, and there was alcohol involved, it should just go
up automatically ... And the other thing is the state law is two years and I got
58


them to let us do it for five years... .1 think theyre kind of cool because I think
they remind you of the victim, number one. Number two, they make people
think about it a little bit... .What my argument was is that if there were fifty
signs there for the fifty people that died there, maybe more people would pay
attention to the fact.
The crosses are no longer at the site. During the second trial for the
driver of the car, (There was a hung jury in the first trial.), the judge ordered that
the two crosses as well as the official sign be taken down prior to the jury
visiting the site. The Williams have not put the crosses back up, although they
still have them at home. The county put the official sign back up.
The Williams went to the site quite a bit in the beginning. They put vases
in the ground for flowers and had Bobs picture on one of the crosses.
However, a psychic told Kira that Bob didnt want her to go there any more.
Therefore, they stopped going to the site of the accident and began going to the
cemetery instead. We go to the cemetery and see Bob a lot.
Although the cemetery is the primary site for their memorialization of
Bob, they would like to have a roadside memorial at the site again in the future.
However, they want to wait until the county completes their planned roadwork.
His friends go out there a lot. Its kind of weird how places... become
enshrined,... and especially when you look at a place like that... .Its so
desolate... Theres one little farmhouse, thats it. And its kind of weird when
59


you look at it that people will drive all the way out there just to place flowers, or
whatever. The boys go out there all the timehis friends, so I would like to at
some point do a really nice cross.
Bob is buried in a small town cemetery. '[It] is a really neat cemetery.
You can do whatever you want to essentially. When you buy the ground, its
yours. And so theres a big granite bench that my parents bought thats next to
his grave and then on the other side is the bench that the kids made... .Its a
double-sized headstone and his picture is on the front, just a small picture; he
was a roper... .And then on the back, theres a big 8 x 10 picture of him roping
and a poem from my daughternot a poem, sorry, but a goodbye kind of thing
from both of us on the back... .We keep a Ziploc baggie on top of his headstone,
and kids put cards in there and stuff... .But theres always... after a Broncos
superbowl win or something, therell be a little champion hat stuck out there
or... that kind of stuff all the time. Dave and Kira say they sit out there a lot on
the benches and talk, and Kira occasionally takes her lunch there to eat.
Description of the Roadside Memorial
The roadside memorial consists of only the official county sign.
Description of the Gravesite
The marker has a picture of Bob in the upper left-hand comer. His name
is engraved against a background of mountains. Below the name there is an
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engraving of two cows and his birth and death dates. Underneath is engraved
Love and miss you always. Below.are the names of his family. Evergreen
trees have been engraved on the lower right-hand side. A rider on horseback is
engraved on the lower left-hand side. On the back of the marker there is a
picture of Bob roping and a farewell message from his mother and sister.
On top of the marker there is a rock holding down a Ziploc bag. On the
day that I visited the grave, there was a note from a friend underneath the Ziploc
bag.
. The grave is outlined in rock. On one side of the grave there is a granite
bench that his grandparents had made for the site. On top of the bench is a
dedication to Bob from his grandparents and on the side is a dedication from his
uncle. A wooden bench is on the other side of the grave. The gravestone is
flanked by marble vases that contain fresh flowers. A small Mickey Mouse and
an angel are on the marker ledge. An American flag is in front of the marker on
one side; a ceramic bunny on the other. Flowers have been planted on the grave
itself.
The Roadside Memorial for Kirby Cannon
The day after Kirby and his best friend, Robert, were killed in an
automobile crash on a winding, mountain road, friends placed a cross at the site.
The families of the boys have since created an entire memorial plaza. 1 first
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interviewed Kirbys mother, Valerie Cannon, by telephone. Later, I
reinterviewed her and accompanied her to the memorial site. This was the first
time I had seen the memorial. The roadside memorial is the focal point for
Valeries mourning and memorialization of Kirby.
Kirby graduated from high school in 1997 and was an apprentice for a
remodeling company. He was the youngest of three children. He was a talented
pianist. ...He started out playing Scott Joplin, the entertainer, when he was
very, very young and really excelled in that. And then he studied ... classical
music, and he was amazing in that when he would play a classical piece, by
about the third time he played it, he would have a portion of it memorized. His
older brother had two children who were five and six at the time of his death.
... He was absolutely the best uncle in all the world because he loved to play
with them... .It was like one force ganging up on Uncle Kirby and just having
more fun because he would pick them both up, have one on each hip and they
would be laughing and just having the best time. Kirby and his older sister
were just absolutely best buddies.
On the night that Kirby and Robert were killed, they had attended a party
in the mountains. Kirby played the piano at the party because the CD player
was broken. On the way home the driver, under the influence of alcohol, was
driving on the wrong side of the road with his headlights off. He apparently
made no attempt to turn the wheel when he came to a curve and went off the
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road, hitting trees and rocks as it went down into a ravine. The driver, who
suffered only minor injuries, crawled out of the ravine and went for help. Kirby
was killed instantly; Robert was taken to a hospital where he died after a brief
period on a life support system.
The day after the accident friends of Kirby and Robert put up a cross for
the two boys. Friends had made it and they signed it and ... it was really very,
very special. It was about. 36 inches high and was white and wooden and then
they had marked on it with different kinds of markers,... had written personal
messages to both Kirby and Robert. A few months later the cross was
destroyed. .. Someone tore it down and broke it into pieces and threw it down
into the ravine... T went down into the ravine, got all the pieces together and
brought it home and glued it all back together, and my husband put it up again
and bolted it to a stake that was there... .The next time it was vandalized, the
crossbar, the horizontal piece on the cross was broken off... .And we figured that
persons... were really determined to take it down. And so we decided that we
wanted to put up something harder to destroy, so we have [a cross thats] five
foot something. And its steel and has a leaded plate so that if it does get
vandalized, we can get the paint, or whatever they use, off and the finish on it
wont be harmed. So it took about... five months from the time that we really
started designing it... until it was done.
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The cross stands at the side of the road behind the guardrail. The
guardrail became incorporated into the memorial when friends of Kirby and
Robert painted a message on it: We love you, Kirby and Robert. Rest in
Peace. The memorial site has been extended down into the ravine. On the
hillside across the ravine the families of the two boys spelled out the boys
names, using rocks. We spelled their names out in rock on the opposite hillside
so when youre standing up on the road, you can look down and see their
names. Kirbys employer made a granite marker for him, which is also down
in the ravine. The original cross lies in pieces on the ground behind the granite
marker beneath some rocks An official county memorial sign has been placed
at the side of the road near the cross.
Kirby was buried in a cemetery that requires a four-hour trip to visit.
Therefore, Valerie visits the roadside memorial since it is closer. She notes that
... Its a horrible place for me... but it was the last place that he was alive. She
also notes that Robert was buried in a cemetery that is much closer. Therefore,
Roberts mother prefers to visit the cemetery. Plus one of the differences is
that Kirby died at the scene and Robert was transported to a hospital ... so she
actually saw him in the hospital... .It is the site but its not a place that she feels
close to him.
Valerie has mixed emotions about the site. Its a difficult place to go.
Its a very beautiful place. Theres a stream and there are trees and there are
64


deer there quite often. Sometimes there are cows. But it's a horrible place too.
Its very strange. It fits all of those descriptions. It's beautiful, peaceful, and
horrible.
She also notes that friends of the boys go there. There are quite a few
of the boys friends who stop by and say, When I was last up at the crash site'
or When I was up there last week.
Valerie believes that the roadside memorial serves as a warning to
drivers. ... We dont see it as just a memorial. We see it as a warning to
drivers, a cautionary warning.... She noted that the official memorial sign has
a two-year limit since county officials dont want to see the roads filled with the
signs. And we were... thinking... if there were more signs visible, maybe
people would really slow down and think this is a bad spot. This is where we
need to be more careful because look at all of them, the people, all of the
fatalities here. She also believes that they are reminders that those killed there
and their families need the prayers of the passersby.
Description of the Roadside Memorial
The cross is made of metal and is approximately five feet high. Kirbys
picture is on one side of the crossbar; Roberts picture is on the other. A number
of items have been placed at the foot of the cross. Valerie takes heart-shaped
rocks and leaves them at the foot of the cross. She knows the source of many of
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the heart-shaped rocks. Some of them have been found in the area near the
cross; others have been found on trips. There are also star shaped rocks at the
site. Stars became a symbol for Kirby when his sister wrote a poem for his
funeral service in which she referred to a smile in the stars.
An Irish flag is on Roberts side of the cross. A friend brought it back
from Ireland after making alone the trip that he and Robert had planned to take
together.
The granite memorial, the names of the boys outlined in rocks, and two
pictures that previously had been placed on the guardrail are in the ravine.
The official sign is near the cross.
Description of the Gravesite
As Kirby was buried in a cemetery that is three or four hours from
Denver, I was unable to visit the site.
The Roadside Memorial for Catherine Johnson
Catherine Johnson and her boyfriend were killed in an automobile
accident in 1986. Immediately after their deaths, Catherines grandfather placed
two crosses at the site of the accident. Over the years the crosses have been
maintained and were still at the site in November 2001. However, for Jean
Johnson, Catherines grandmother, the gravesite is the focal point for her
mourning and memorialization of Catherine.
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Catherine was about to graduate from high school when she was killed in
the accident. Catherine, her boyfriend, and another couple were returning from
a kegger around 11:00 at night when they were hit head on by a car traveling at
a high rate of speed. Catherine was dead on arrival at the hospital; her boyfriend
died a short time later. The other couple received only minor injuries.
As a child, Catherine spent a lot of time with Jean and her husband.
According to Jean, Catherine was interested in flowers and in raising animals for
4-H. In high school she was active in the art and Spanish clubs. She was also
active in her church youth group. She enjoyed horseback riding, and, in fact, one
of the memorials for Catherine is an annual dressage award given at a local
horseshow. She was planning on going to California to study art after her
graduation from high school. Jean says that Catherine was a beautiful girl, with
a beautiful personality.
The day after the accident Catherines grandfather placed two crosses at
the site of the accident. Johnson said she never went to see the crosses. 1 never
made any trip up that way. I was just told about it. She doesnt know if her
husband visited the crosses after he put them up. I suppose he did. He and I
were together so much of the time that whatever we did, we did together. Carl,
Catherines father, didnt particularly care to go that way. There was another
route you could take...However, Jean was aware that Chris, Catherines
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cousin, maintains the crosses. Chris was one of them that painted the
crosses... .He would go and clean the weeds.
Jean noted that she had seen roadside memorials in the area as a child.
She believes that people place roadside memorials both as a remembrance and
as a warning. ... I guess when a person has a feeling, they mark it either to
notify the next person that thats a dangerous spot or else its just out of their
memory of them.
Catherine was buried in the town cemetery, next to a five year-old cousin
who had been killed in an automobile accident six months earlier. Jean feels
closer to her granddaughter at the cemetery. In fact, she says she likes to visit
the cemetery. Im there quite frequent now since my husbands there... .1 just
say, Hi, guys, howre you doing?
Description of the Roadside Memorial
There are two small white crosses at the site. A large spray of flowers
has been affixed to each cross. One spray has yellow flowers; the other has pink
flowers. Several large stones are piled at the foot of each cross. In between the
two crosses is a flowerpot; however, it was empty at the time of our visit. The
roadside memorial appeared to have been just recently maintained. The crosses
looked freshly painted and the flowers did not appear to be weathered.
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Description of the Gravesite
The grave marker had a horse and rider engraved on it, along with
Catherines name and her birth and death dates. At the foot of the grave
someone had left a pumpkin and several squash.
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CHAPTER 7
PLACE, PROCESS, AND THE MEANING OF ROADSIDE
MEMORIALS
Agnew (1987) and Low (1992) have proposed two different ways of
analyzing place attachment. Agnew suggests a tripartite analysis of the meaning
of place (location, locale, and sense of place). Low suggests a typology that
includes six types of place attachment (genealogy, loss or destruction, economic,
cosmological, pilgrimage, and narrative). I have found both of these proposed
analyses of place attachment to be useful in making sense of my data. I believe
that Lows three categories of genealogy, loss or destruction and economic
correspond to Agnews use of location. Lows categories of cosmological,
pilgrimage and narrative correspond to Agnews use of locale and sense of
place. I will also refer to Bassos study of the use of place names which evoke
historical narratives to provide moral instruction and to affirm cultural values
among Western Apache.
Location
Agnew (1987) defines location as the geographical setting. Low (1992)
defines genealogical place attachment as the historical ties between people and
places which are encoded in language and cultural practice. Loss or destruction
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refers to the breakdown of ties to place. Eeonomics/ownership refers to the
relationship between people and the land through ownership or by working in a
particular place (Low 1992).
Location ^ Roadside Memorials
Roadside memorials mark a physical locationthe spot at the side of a
road or highway where a loved one died in a traffic accident. McRee notes that
the majority of the roadside memorials in her study of roadside memorials in
New Mexico were ... placed as near as possible to the exact place of death
(As quoted by Fletcher 1999:32). L found this to be true with my informants
also. They all.referred to the fact that the roadside memorials were placed as
close to the exact site of the accident as possible. By placing their memorials at
the exact site of the accident, they turn undifferentiated space into place, a place
that now has special meaning for them. As Tuan (1977) notes, Space is
transformed into place as it acquires definition and meaning (1977:136). Jane
Gordon stated that she never stopped at the site of the memorial for Mary
Snyder because she understood that the ruts made by the car as it left the road
were clearly visible at the site and she couldnt bear to see such a vivid reminder
of the accident that killed her friend. Valerie Cannon mentioned that she still
found pieces of the wrecked automobile, such as pieces of glass, at the site of
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her roadside memorial. Thus these memorials were placed at the exact site of the
accident.
If it is not possible to place the memorial at the exact site, it is placed as
close as possible to the exact site. Lisa Burton mentioned that as her brother was
killed at the side of a busy interstate highway, she was unable to place the
memorial at the exact site. Instead she selected the closest place to the site of
the accident where she could safely get on and off the highway.
Placing the memorials at the exact site of the accident, or as close thereto
as possible, means that often these memorials are placed on land which belongs
to the community, i.e public right-of-ways. Government entities are responsible
for maintaining these right-of-ways. They promulgate rules regarding what can
or cannot be placed on these areas. In general, right-of-ways are reserved for
signage relating to the use of the streets, roads and highways, such as stop signs,
caution signs, informational signs, etc. By placing the roadside memorial on the
right-of-way, the placer is appropriating public land for private use. Smart
(2002) uses the term 'unruly places to refer to squatter settlements in Hong
Kong in which the residents appropriate public land illegally for private use
(2002:30). This term can also be applied to roadside memorials. They are
unruly places in that they appropriate public land to private use. The use of
public land for a private memorial has generated considerable controversy. I
will discuss this issue in Chapter 8.
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My informants are very much aware that they are appropriating public
land for private use and worry that their roadside memorials might be removed.
Lisa Burton attached her name, address and telephone number to the memorial
she placed for her brother, hoping that if the state highway department decided
to remove it, they would notify her. She also mentioned that if the memorial
were removed because of its location on public land, she could approach the
owner of the private property adjacent to the highway to request permission to
place a roadside memorial.
Laura Hutchins worries that the state highway department might remove
the memorial that she placed for her sister. However, she vows that there will
always be something to mark the site, even if it is only a pile of rocks.
The Wilsons were pleased that their memorial was on private property
and that the owner of the land had told them that they could leave the memorial
there for as long as they wanted. As a result, they did not have to worry about
the city removing the memorial because it was on public right-of-way. A little
over a year after the accident the Colorado Department of Transportation placed
an official memorial sign at the site. The official sign, since it has been
approved by the Colorado Department of Transportation, is legal on the public
right-of-way.
Although all of these memorials have been placed at the side of the road
or the highway, the geographical settings can be quite different due to the
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different location of the accidents. The Wilsons roadside memorial was placed
at the side of a busy urban street. The Williams memorials were placed at the
side of a winding, dirt road in a rural area. The Cannons memorial was placed
at the side of a county road in a mountainous area. The Johnsonsmemorial was
placed at the side of a road in a small town. The Burton and the Loftin
memorials are both at the side of busy highways. Thus, the ambiance is quite
different at each of the memorials.
Loss or destruction has occurred in relation to roadside memorials.
Some roadside memorials that I have tracked have disappeared due to road
construction. These include several memorials along the 1-25 corridor. Lisa
Burtons roadside memorial disappeared from the side of the interstate highway.
She believes that it was removed by a state highway crew. However, since she
wasnt notified before it was removed, she is not certain what really happened.
Some roadside memorials have been vandalized. The first cross placed for Kirby
Cannon was vandalized twice. When it was vandalized the first time, Valerie
Cannon put it back together and replaced it at the site. When it was vandalized
the second time, she buried it behind the granite marker at the site. She and her
husband then designed a more vandal-proof metal cross to place at the site.
Fletcher (1999) interviewed a man whose memorial for his brother was
vandalized one Halloween night. Additionally, roadside memorials have been
removed by private individuals. In August, 2000 a man from Byers, Colorado
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was arrested for removing roadside memorials. At the time of his arrest, he had
several roadside memorials in the back of his truck (Robinson 2000).
Location Gravesites
As previously mentioned, the finding that emerged most strongly from
my data was the need to have a place to mourn. Although all my informants had
placed or knew who had placed roadside memorials for their loved ones, the
roadside memorial was not necessarily the focal point of mourning. A number
of them mentioned the gravesite as the most important place for them.
Cemeteries are culturally accepted places for memorialization and mourning.
Cemeteries are understood as being consecrated cities of the dead. As Warner
(1961) notes, rituals of consecration transform a small part of the towns land
into a sacred place, dedicating this land of the dead to God. He goes on to note
that the sacred purpose of the cemetery is to provide symbols to express mans
hope of immortality through Christian beliefs. The gravesite is a place where
the living can maintain and express symbolically their continued relations with
the dead. People purchase plots in the cemetery to bury their dead. Thus, the
plots are private places. In purchasing a cemetery plot, however, the purchaser
must agree to adhere to the rules of the cemetery. Cemetery rules may be quite
extensive. For example, the rules for one major cemetery in Denver are outlined
in a thirty-seven-page booklet. According to the booklet, the purpose of the
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regulations is to ensure the rights of all concerned and to allow for maintenance
to be implemented. These rules cover such things as the height of the
gravestone, what can be planted on are near the grave, and the types of items
that can be left at the grave (Fairmount 2000).
The gravesite is the most important site of memorialization for the
Williams. They are grateful that the cemetery in which they buried their son
does not have any rules regarding what can be placed at the gravesites and that
the purchasers can do basically whatever they want to on their plots. The rural
cemetery in which Loftin is buried is also lenient as to what can be done at each
gravesite. Because of the wildlife in the area, fences are frequently put around
the graves to protect the items left at the gravesites. Although Lisa Burtons
brother was cremated and his ashes scattered in the White River Forest where he
liked to fish, she put a memorial for him at the back of her grandparents
headstone. She felt it important to do so to make explicit the familys
genealogy.
Gravesites also experience loss or destruction. There are from time to
time articles in the newspapers regarding cemetery vandalism. Laura Hutchins
was very upset when she went to Barbaras gravesite to discover that a small
ceramic rabbit that she had left there was missing.
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Location Other
Although the Wilsons had a roadside memorial marking the exact site of
Marks death, there were other locations that were equally important in the
memorialization of their son. Their whole house was, in a sense, a memorial to
Mark. The Wilsons had only recently moved into their new house when Mark
was killed. Mark and his dad had designed the house together so the house itself
was symbolic of the relationship between father and son. A table between the
living room and kitchen was filled with memorabilia from Marks life. An
entire basement wall was covered with pictures of Mark at all stages of his life.
A billiards table with a memorial plaque was also in the basement. Marks
bedroom was also a shrine to him, having been left in the same condition as it
was the last time he used it, down to the tennis shoes lying on the floor. Thus,
the Wilson house, located in a specific geographical setting, was a memorial to
Mark.
The Wilsons, having difficulty in coming to terms with their sons death,
sold the house that Mark had designed with his father and moved out of state.
Thus, the house, which symbolized the relationship between father and son, was
lost.
Locale
Agnew (1987) defines locale as the setting for social interaction. Lows
(1992) three categories that are partially subsumed in Agnews category of
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locale are cosmology, pilgrimage and narrative. Cosmology refers to a cultures
religious conceptions of the world and the correspondence of these ideas with
the landscape. Pilgrimage refers to the desire to visit a place and to participate
in special events at the place. Narrative refers to the telling of stories. They may
be origin myths, family histories or political accounts that link the people to the
land. I will include cosmology and pilgrimage in this section on locale. I will
discuss narrative in the section on sense of place.
Locale Roadside Memorials
Although pilgrimage is generally used to describe a visit to a religious
site, such as a pilgrimage to Mecca or to Lourdes, in recent years the concept of
pilgrimage has been expanded to include such secular events as visits to Disney
World (Moore 1980), to Elvis Presleys home, Graceland (Mason 2002), or to
the homosexual haunts in San Francisco (Howe 2001). Wheeler (2002) notes
that pilgrimages in several religions are built around the cult of the dead. From
deepest antiquity people have been drawnif only as far as the burial site of
revered ancestorsto worship and to remember their dead (2002 p. 8). Based
on this literature, 1 believe that the concept of pilgrimage can be extended to
apply to visits to the sites of roadside memorials. Although these are not actual
burial sites as referenced by Wheeler, they are memorials related to the death of
a loved one. Additionally, I believe that visits to these sites share the same
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characteristics as described by Moore (1980) in his study on Walt Disney World
as a pilgrimage center. He defines a pilgrimage center in traditional society as
a bounded place apart from ordinary settlement (1980:208). He notes that
there must be a place of congregation, some symbols that all pilgrims readily
understand, common activities for the pilgrims to participate in and myth which
the other three elements (site, symbols, and activities) make explicit. Moore also
believes that the pilgrimage is a rite of passage, one that incorporates Genneps
(1960) three phases of separation, transition and reincorporation.
Roadside memorials are sites that are separated from ordinary settlement.
The roadside where the memorial has been placed is a bounded space,
specifically the place where the accident occurred. Until the accident occurred,
the site was undifferentiated space. It acquired meaning only when the accident
occurred. By the placing of the roadside memorial at the site, it becomes a
bounded space and people recognize the type of behavior that is appropriate at
the site.
Christian beliefs can be viewed as the myth that the three facets of
pilgrimage (site, symbols and activities) make explicit. It is through the myths
of Christianity, (the death of Christ on the cross and his subsequent resurrection
to eternal life which gives all Christians hope of eternal life in heaven) that these
roadside memorials take on meaning.
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Genneps three stages of rites of passage can be seen in the visit of
friends and relatives of the deceased to the roadside memorial, the gravesite or
other memorials. Friends and relatives leave their daily routines to make a
pilgrimage to the site. At the site they go through a transition in which they visit
with the dead or say prayers for the dead. They then leave to be reincorporated
into their daily routines.
The roadside memorial contains items that are symbolically charged and
meaningful to the pilgrims. In the majority of cases the roadside memorial has a
cross as its focal point. The cross in Christianity represents the death of Jesus
and the possibility of eternal life. It thus expresses the hope for eternal life for
those who died at the site. By placing the cross, the site is made sacred. The
pilgrims to the site understand the symbolism of the cross and recognize the site
as being sacred. The pilgrims perform various activities at the site. These may
include leaving items at the site, cleaning up the site, saying prayers,
reminiscing about the deceased or just sitting or standing quietly.
My informants described the social interactions that take place at the
memorials for their loved ones. Often the placing of the roadside memorial was
the result of a social interaction; i.e. several friends or relatives of the deceased
constructed the memorial together to take to the site. For example, several
friends of Mark Wilson made a cross and placed it at the site the day after he
was killed. Two crosses were placed at the site the day after Bob Williams was
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killed, one made by the brother of the driver of the car and the other one made
by Bobs grandparents and placed at the site by Bobs parents. Mary Snyders
daughter, assisted by members of her church, made the cross that was placed at
the site of Marys death. Friends of Kirby Cannon placed the first cross at the
site of his death. Kirbys employer placed a granite marker at the site.
Friends and relatives visit the sites of the roadside memorials and leave
personal messages for the deceased. Friends and relatives of Mark Wilson
signed their names to the back of his cross. Valerie Cannon stopped at the site
of Kirbys roadside memorial one time to find the following message painted on
the guardrail in front of the cross: We love you Kirby and Robert. Rest in
Peace.
Friends and relatives also bring items to leave at the site. Friends of
Mark Wilson attended a Metallica concert that they knew Mark would have
loved to attend. After the concert they brought their ticket stubs to the site and
left them there in a plastic bag. Valerie Cannon reports that after the events of
September 11, 2001, someone left an American flag at the site of Kirbys
roadside memorial. Kira Williams mentioned that a friend of hers who lives
near the site where Bob was killed often reports that fresh flowers have been left
there.
Family members often visit the sites to perform maintenance and to
leave items. Laura Hutchins has replaced the cross at the roadside memorial for
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her sister several times. The current cross at the site is the fourth cross that she
has placed there. Lisa Burton visits the site of her brothers memorial twice a
year, on Christmas and on Memorial Day, bringing fresh flowers. Valerie
Cannon and her husband built a new cross for her son when the first cross was
vandalized for the second time. She visits her sons memorial regularly, leaving
star-shaped or heart-shaped rocks that she has found elsewhere, such as on a
family vacation. The day we visited the memorial with her, she gave my
husband and me each a heart-shaped rock to leave at the memorial. The Wilsons
visited their sons memorial frequently, bringing fresh flowers. A cousin of
Catherine Johnson has maintained the roadside memorial for Catherine and her
boyfriend for sixteen years.
Locale Gravesites
Visits to the cemetery can also be viewed as a pilgrimage. The cemetery
is separate from ordinary settlement. Cemetery plots are not sacred places until
someone is buried there. At the time of burial the site becomes a sacred place
through the intercessions of a religious professional. The cemetery symbols are
recognized as sacred imagery. Because of their association with the dead,
cemeteries are considered to be scary places by many. On Halloween cemetery
imagery is invoked to scare little children. People tend to avoid cemeteries as
much as possible; and generally they do not visit a cemetery until they have a
loved one buried there. However, when they have buried a loved one in a
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cemetery, they make small pilgrimages to the graves of their loved ones to place
items on the grave, to clean and maintain the grave, to say a prayer for the
deceased or simply to visit the deceased. Once again Christian beliefs form the
narrative through which the other three facets of pilgrimage are played out.
Additionally, Genneps (1960) rites of passage (separation, transition and
reincorporation) are played out in cemetery visits as people leave their daily
routines to visit the cemetery, experience a transition as they visit with the
deceased, and are reincorporated into society when they return to their daily
routines after the cemetery visit.
My informants reported on a number of activities that took part during
their pilgrimages to the cemetery. Laura Hutchins noted that one of her brothers
carved a wooden marker for Barbaras grave. He also built a hewn log fence to
enclose the gravesite. Social interaction was also mentioned in connection with
Bob Williams grave. The Williams noted that there are two benches at the
grave, one that Bobs grandparents purchased and one that was made by a
friend. Friends and family often visit the grave. Kira Williams mentioned that
she likes to take her lunch to eat while sitting on one of the benches at the
gravesite. Dave Williams stated that he and his wife '"visit with Bob at the
gravesite. They have noticed that other people also come and sit by the grave.
The Williams leave a Ziploc bag on the grave and, from time to time, find a
message from one of Bobs friends in the bag. They periodically take these
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messages home. (On the day I visited the grave, a message had been left on top
of the marker.) The Williams also mentioned that they frequently find that
someone has left an object at the gravesite. For example, after the Broncos won
the Superbowl, a championship hat was placed at the grave. Laura Hutchins
mentioned that she likes to go and sit by the grave of her sister, Barbara.
Locale Other
Visits to the other types of memorials mentioned by my informants can
also be viewed as pilgrimages. For example, Mark Wilsons bedroom, visited
by his mother, is a bounded site. Before Marks death it was a room considered
to be Marks personal space. After his death the room was endowed with new
meaning; i.e. it became a shrine to Mark inasmuch as it was left exactly as it was
the last time Mark used the room. Marks mother endowed the bedroom with
new meaning and visited it in order to feel closer to Mark.
Other social interactions were also reported in connection with other
memorialization in the home. For example, Safeway agreed to make a new
nameplate for Mark when the Wilsons told them that his old name plate had
been lost. The Wilsons consider the eagle to be a symbol for Mark. Friends of
the family have given them eagles to use in their memorials for Mark in the
house.
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Lisa Burton considers the place in the White River Forest where Dons
ashes were scattered to be the primary memorial for Don. She and her father
took the ashes to the White River Forest to scatter. Thus, the act of scattering
the ashes was a social act, and when Lisa goes back to the White River Forest to
visit her brother, as she has been doing for ten years, her trip can be considered a
pilgrimage.
Sense of Place
Agnew defines sense of place as the local structure of feeling
(1987:28). Low (1992) defines narrative as the telling of stories. They may be
origin myths, family histories or political accounts that link the people to the
land. Basso (1990) discusses the use of historical narratives by Western
Apaches to impart moral lessons.
Sense of Place Roadside Memorials
Roadside memorials arouse intense emotions in their placers and visitors.
Valerie Cannon notes the beauty of the site of Kirbys and Roberts roadside
memorial. The memorial is at the side of a winding mountain road. It extends
from the side of the road, down into a ravine and across the ravine to the other
side. She notes that she often sees deer at the site and also mentioned seeing
crows and other birds there. She says it is a beautiful place, as well as a horrible
place.
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The roadside memorial for Mark Wilson invokes intense feelings for the
Wilsons. The cross with the personal messages and meaningful items attached
to it or left near it represents eternal life for their son. They took down the cross
when the official memorial was put up, but a few months later, they replaced the
cross, stating that the site was not as meaningful to them without the cross.
In discussing the roadside memorial that she placed for her brother, Lisa
Burton stated, ... Its a peace of mind to know that its there.
Roadside memorials make explicit the narrative of a life. The act of
placing a cross at the site informs the viewing public that a person died at the
site. Items and messages left at the site tell the story of the persons life. For
example, Laura Hutchins wanted the roadside memorial for her sister to inform
the viewing public as to how old she was, what happened there, that she was
very loved and that she was a Christian. She conveyed this message by placing
the following message on the cross, Barbara Loftin 18 years old, killed in a
car accident on [date], In Memory.
Pictures of Kirby and Robert have been placed on the arms of the cross
at their roadside memorial. Thus, people can see what the boys who lost their
lives at the site looked like when they were still alive. The dates of birth and
death were placed on Lisa Bradfords cross so that people could understand the
length of her brothers life.
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Items at Mark Wilsons cross indicate the interests he had when he was
alive. For example, the Metallica tickets indicate the type of music that
interested him. The messages on the back of the cross are indicative of the
many friends that he had.
In his study of the Western Apache Basso notes how historical
narratives, evoked through the nam ing of the places where they occurred, are
used to provide moral instruction. Roadside memorials, by being placed at the
site where a person or persons was killed, similarly provide moral instruction to
the viewers. Because roadside memorials are placed on public land, they are
seen daily by people who do not know the deceased and who were not involved
in the placing of the memorial. However, the roadside memorials encourage
them to reflect on cultural valueson the importance of safe driving, of not
driving drunkjust as the historical narratives of the western Apache encourage
them to reflect on how to live right. As Kira Williams said, I think theyre
kind of cool because 1 think they remind you of the victim, number one.
Number two, they make people think about it a little bit. My informants
believe that many observers are encouraged to think about the dangers of
drinking and driving, especially if there is a MADD sign. As Valeria Cannon
notes, ... we dont see it as just a memorial. We see it as a warning to drivers, a
cautionary warning... Leimer (2001) writes that roadside memorials promote
social change by sending a warning to the viewing public that the site is a
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particularly dangerous area of the road. The Cannons, Williams and Wilsons all
believe that the official memorial signs should be left up as long as the families
would like because they think that the more signs there are marking the sites of
fatal accidents, the more likely people are going to realize the dangers of
drinking and driving. The Wilsons stated that through the roadside memorial and
the official sign, Marks work is going to still go on and peoples lives will be
saved.
Sense of Place Gravesites
The Williams believe that the gravesite for Bob is a neat place. They
like the fact that the cemetery does not have rules that constrain what they can
put at the grave. Thus, they have been able to create a very personal gravesite as
a memorial for Bob, with pictures of him on the headstone, a farewell
remembrance from his sister and his mother carved on the back of the
headstone, and other personal items. The Williams like to sit on the benches and
talk. They feel that the gravesite is the place where they feel closest to Bob. As
Dave Williams said, Its like we go to see him there. They commented on the
fact that they often see foxes at the cemetery where Bob is buried.
Jean Johnson says she likes to go to the cemetery to visit Catherine as
well as the other deceased members of her family. She doesnt usually stay
long, just long enough to say, Hi.
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Laura Hutchins says she feels closest to Barbara at the cemetery as it was
the last time Barbaras body was present even though she knows that Barbara
wasnt there. She usually goes on Barbaras birthday, on the day she had
planned to get married, on the date of the accident, on Christmas, and on Easter.
Laura says its very peaceful and quiet at the cemetery. She sits at the side of
the grave, closes her eyes and pretends to talk to Barbara. She doesnt really
understand why doing that gives her comfort, but it does.
Lisa Burton notes that her mother laments that Don was cremated, rather
than buried in a cemetery. Lisa explains, She would like to have a place to
grieve for him.
Gravesites also make explicit the narrative of a persons life. This
narrative has an endingthe entire life story of the deceased is now known. The
gravesite marks the final resting place of the deceased. The design of the
marker and the items placed at the grave make explicit the life story of the
deceased. For example, the horses on Catherine Johnsons marker indicate her
interest in horseback riding. Bob Williams picture is on his headstone. The
cows on his headstone indicate his desire to someday own a cattle ranch.
Additionally, items left at the grave make explicit the relationship between the
living and the dead. The granite bench purchased by Bobs grandparents has
information engraved on it indicating their relationship to Bob. His uncle had
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