Roadside Shrines to Accident Victims

I live in a semi-rural area, where most of the main roads are 2 lane state highways. It is common for the site of a fatal car accident to be marked with white crosses festooned with plastic flowers. Is this a widespread practice?

It always looks kind of pathetic, and somewhat tacky; especially the one I saw today, with a sign that said “Honk for Robert & Warren”. Now, I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the hereafter, but I’m pretty sure no heavenly brownie points are awarded to who gets honked at the most.

I suppose it must be of some value to the bereaved, but it seems so creepy to me. One assumes there is a formal memorial stone on the grave; that makes some sense, as it is the last resting place of a loved one. Then there’s this little shrine that has a hastily constructed, temporary appearance. And they are not temporary; I’ve seen at least one that has been there for years.

It’s not like the departed are hanging around where they died (are they?!?!?); they just passed through that place. If it is just the significance of “this is where they died”, why don’t we commemorate odd places where people are born? I can imagine little shrines in the back seats of cabs or on subway cars (“Honk for Baby LeRoy”). I guess I just don’t get it.

Do they do this where you live? Why?

It is VERY common in Hawaii as a sign or respect and rememberance for the dearly departed. We use fresh flowers. There are no plastic flowers or signs. You don’t honk. It is not tacky the way it is done here.

I haven’t noticed any road-side shrines out here, but every time soneone is shot and killed or run over by the MetroLink (we don’t have much experience with train transit in L.A., so people must assume they’ll stop?) little shrines pop up. Especially in Hispanic neighbourhoods. All of the shrines I’ve seen have been Catholic-themed.

Back in the late 40s there were many such shrines along the roads in southern Arizona,New Mexico and in southwest Texas.

They were,indeed, religious in nature, but they were more than that.

They served,also, as reminders to the travelers in those parts that that particular stretch of road was hazardous, either for grades,curves,or a straight flatness which encouraged the foolish to excessive speeds.

This was,then, a localized tradition.

Remember,this was before interstate highways and before interstate travel became a national pastime.

The first one I saw was about 20 miles south of Amarillo on a frosty slippery morning in about 1948.

That particular point in the road was a matter of my awareness during 100,or so, cross country trips.

The practice is acceptable in this area, too. I see these roadside markers in good repair for long periods of tlme and then they disappear. DOT is really nasty about pulling up roadside signs (for local activities) but seem to leave these alone. My concern is the locations aren’t the greatest (no big surprise) and I wonder how safe it is replenishing these little shrines.

You see plenty of them in Michigan. Typically, it’s a little statue or cross stuck in the ground where the accident occured. You definitely watch the road a little more carefully when you see one.

Here in Atlanta it isn’t unusual to see the markers, though I don’t think of them as tacky, though I wouldn’t have honked for ‘Robert’ either. Most get taken down, there are a few though, in really dangerous spots, that I continue to look for, and think just how deadly that particular spot was for someone.

I suppose whether one thinks them ‘tacky’ or not, just depends upon your viewpoint. Yes, there are cemeteries, but the grieving person isn’t there everyday, and the newly departed certainly * isn’t there at all. * However, I can see that you might continue to have a draw to where your husband, sister, brother drew his/her last breath.

They showed one of these on the televised news program once. The sign had the name of the dead person, followed by:

I can see Him up there saying to Himself, “Gee, what would she look like dead?”

There were two fatal accidents under the same underpass a couple of weeks ago, about a day apart (less than a mile from my house… it was quite weird). Anyway, the bridge now has all kinds of flowers, spraypaint, and all that in memory of the dead. Oddly, it made the place more dangerous… it would be easy for a driver to lose concentration and cause another accident.

Similar to what Nilvedman said, in this area several of the larger memorials had to be taken down because they were causing accidents! They were placed at intersections and they prevented drivers from being able to see oncoming traffic.

I live in Sacramento, California. You see some shrines around here, too. A close aquaintance of mine (an eight year old girl) was killed at an intersection near my house a few years ago. The accident shook up the whole neighborhood and was increadably painful for the girl’s family. As a result, that intersection seems sinister and bad for everyone. After the accident people put out flowers at the site. They did that every year for several years afterwards. I think it really helped the grieving process. It also helped the neighborhood. We all have to live with that intersection and cross it almost every day. The flowers kind of helped us come to terms with what happened there and re-accept that place into out everyday life.

The first thing I do when I see a roadside shrine is to be a little extra cautious. Someone has died at that marker and it may be a bad road.

They are very common in Florida, and on some stretches of road, you come across clusters of these markers. It’s a sure sign that the road may be treacherous.

IIRC a majority of these markers are for people killed by drunk drivers. Drunk drivers tend to survive, so that’s another reason to be cautious, the drunk may live in the area

This is done in Australia too. Usually flowers tied to a tree/telephone pole near where the accident occured. There are a couple sites around where I live that’ve been there for years, and I’m always surprised by how often the flowers are replaced…I wonder if it’s only the victim’s family and freinds who are adding flowers, or if the memorials have become such local landmarks that complete strangers feel the need to add things?

Kinda related, I saw some flowers leaning against a tree next to a road in front of a school a few years ago, and commented to my friend that a kid must’ve been hit by a car. He said no, he’d read about it in the paper, what had happened was that a kid was waiting under the tree to get picked up after school, and he was struck and killed by lightning. Yikes.

Also, graffiti memorials along the train lines are fairly common, because there’ll always be a small number of people who don’t realise that climbing out the window of a moving train onto the roof to “train surf” is an amazingly effective way to get yourself killed in a number of ways.

I thought this had been determined to be not true. The laws of physics don’t change with drunkness. It could be true that the hitter has a better chance of living than the person hit. Although I’ve usually heard it said that the drunk person lived because they were relaxed!

FWIW we have crosses and displays at car accidents and murder sites. Some are tacky and some aren’t.

Correct me if I’m wrong…and I’m sure you will, but in Texas and possibly the rest of the nation, these memorials are restricted to drunk driving accident victims. It’s a MADD thing. There was recent talk on local DFW area radio about legeslation changing this to let non-acohol related shrines join in this phonmeon. I guess DAMM (Drunks Against Mad Mothers) had to get their 2 cents in. Someone planted 3 large bur oak trees along south bound I-45, complete with little fencing and plastic flowers. They’ve been there about 6 months. Occassionly, I see a couple, w/ huge water barrels in a truck parked along the highway, watering. I’d be interested knowing some facts about the people and the accidents to these memorials. If they are going to peak my curiosity, they should have to provide some facts.

I travel quite a bit from Massachusetts to New York, and there don’t seem to be many on I-95. Once you get off the interstate and into the neighborhoods, they pop up all over.
There is one spot on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn that has had flowers taped to a streetlight for at least a year now. I always feel bad for someone’s loss when I see one.

In Louisiana, we were a little behind in raising the legal drinking at to 21. Not surprisingly, lots of 18-20 yr olds from other states crossed over to drink over here. Along interstates like I-10 which connect cities like Lake Charles, La to Houston, Tx, there were many accidents and many crosses.

I don’t view it as tacky either. I remember seeing on the shores of the Lac des Quatre-Cantons in Switzerland a little stone marker at the spot where Queen Astrid of Belgium died in a car accident. I though it was touching and of historical interest. And not only because she was a queen.

Funeral rites are not for the benefit of the dead, but for the living.

Raising a monument helps in the grieving process; lets you feel like you’re “doing something” in a situation in which you are utterly powerless; helps further the memory of someone who was important to you (but not important enough to get a marble statue on horseback…)

A friend of mine died in a motorcycle accident a few years back. No alcohol was involved. A few of his buddies erected a roadside shrine. Some thought they were “ghoulish,” or “not able to let go.” I didn’t really think about it one way or the other.

Here is one which deals with the often religious nature of the memorials on public land:

And this one is about the safety issue and has some information about differing laws: