Roadside Memorials

Roadside Memorials

Roadside memorials are different from grave markers, they denote the last place the person was alive, not where they ended up dead. “A grave site is where a body is laid to rest,” said Tim Himes, who erected a cross for a relative in a Rutter’s parking lot two years ago, “but this is where your soul is taken.” There are photographers who have documented these sites and others who have interviewed survivors to try to understand more about the purpose of these shrines. Lloyd Wolf, a Seattle photographer, has been documenting homemade shrines to victims of murder and violence in and around Washington. He writes, “I am compelled by their heartfelt vibrancy, their sadness and their all-too-common presence on the city’s streets. To me, the shrines — cascades of plush toys, balloons, handwritten prayers and reminiscences, flowers, T-shirts, liquor bottles, photographs, candles — manifest the secret, yet highly visible, wounded heart of a community.” Note that these are murder victims, not traffic deaths that he is documenting. Others have photographed roadside shrines presumably due to car accidents. I first saw these shrines in the mid 1990s driving in Mexico and then noted that they were becoming progressively more commonplace in the US. I did not realize that they would be so controversial a topic, but apparently they are. There was a “Room for Debate” article in the New York Times in 2009 that argued both pro and con this topic. I found the memorial in this photo in South Carolina one day across from a roadside vegetable sign where I had stopped for some tomatoes and peaches. I thought that the image contained a lot of obvious irony telling us how fatal indecision might be. While I am not a collector of such images, I am not above stopping for a picture now and then.

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