Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics…They are, I believe, the voice of the people." –Jack Santino

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Fire that sparked a movement: Uniting in memoriam of the workers of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

Sunday, March 25, 2012 marks the 101st anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, one of the worst industrial tragedies in history.

A fire possibly ignited by a discarded match or cigarette on the 8th floor of the factory caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, mostly young women and girls.  After the fire bell rang, many workers were unable to get out of the building due to locked exit doors, narrow hallways, overcrowding, and collapsed fire escapes.  As a result, over 40 of them jumped from 8th, 9th, and 10th story windows while many more remained trapped inside.

The incident galvanized support for labor movements and unions as people united to fight for a worker’s right to safe working conditions.

Yesterday, a crowd gathered at Gould Plaza in Lower Manhattan to take part in the annual Procession of 146 Shirtwaists to honor those who lost their lives 101 years ago:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

The procession went from the plaza to NYU’s Brown building, formerly the Asch building, on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street which historically housed the Triangle Waist Factory.  There were performers:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

…and people carrying shirtwaists with sashes bearing the names of the deceased:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Some of the people in the procession were carrying photos of the workers who died in the fire:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

A few of these photo-bearers are related to the workers whose images they carry.  Davin Fortuna is the great-great-grand nephew of Daisy Lopez Fitze, who was 26 when she perished in the fire.  He is pictured here with his wife, Carolyn Asselta-Fortuna and their photo of Daisy:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

When the procession reached its destination, it was met by a crowd comprising labor organizers, members of Workers United, the AFL-CIO, and many more including the Jewish Labor Committee:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

…and the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

There were speakers from these various organizations, along with one woman who spoke about the unsafe and unethical working conditions in the Queens, NY laundry where she is employed.  She spoke only in Spanish, with a translator by her side, and called for everyone in the audience to hear her cry for help and stand with the laundry workers to demand better treatment.

Although this is not a spontaneous shrine, it is perhaps the perfect example of memorialization for social justice.  I believe it is important to look at memorialization practices outside of the realm of spontaneous shrines to better understand the shrines and this culture of memorialization from which they stem.

People gather here, on this “sacred ground,” to mourn the deaths of others and demand change for the future.  The sacred space is carved out of normal space, hallowed by the blood spilled on the ground and the ghosts in the walls–and the ritual is performed by the participants.  It begins with the ritual raising of the fire ladder:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

The names of the dead are read one by one, in an organized fashion.  One flower is placed by the building for each name:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

A bell is sounded for each name; the sound rings clear through the air, jarring each person to attention, carving out the aural space, and carrying the name with it to the dead:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

The memorial is personal–for each of the people it is commemorating:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Like many of these community memorializations–and the majority of spontaneous shrines, I believe–while the people to whom the memorials are dedicated may have been of a particular religion, within the space of the ‘memorial ritual’ there are no specific religious practices required and diverse religious and cultural practices are welcomed and accepted, so long as they are done with respect:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

The shrines and rituals stand somewhat outside of religion, although they are tied inextricably to it at the same time.  The important idea behind these memorials is to not forget, so although different people will remember and honor in different ways, so long as the tragedy does not fade into history and its lessons are not forgotten, everyone is invited to mourn the past and work together for a better future.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

For those of you in the New York City area, tomorrow (March 25th–the actual 101st anniversary) the names of the workers will be chalked outside of their historic homes which are located throughout the 5 boroughs and New Jersey.  For more information about the chalking project, click here.  Additionally, everyone is invited to ring a bell at 4:45 pm (16:45) EST, to commemorate the sounding of the first fire bell.

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Skittles, iced tea, and 1,000,000 hoodies for Trayvon Martin

On March 21, 2012,  I went  to Union Square in New York City where thousands of protesters had gathered for the Million Hoodie March in honor of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed by a Neighborhood Watch member in Sanford, Florida on February 26.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

The majority of protesters were wearing “hoodies” or sweatshirts with hoods which they had pulled up over their heads:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Many of the protesters were carrying bags of Skittles:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

…while others carried bottles of Arizona iced tea:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

It was reported that Martin was wearing a hoodie and walking home from a convenience store where he had bought Skittles and iced tea when he was shot.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

This particular incident has sparked outrage across the country due to the possible racial profiling involved in the lack of action taken by local police to prosecute Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman.  It does not surprise me that such a large protest would take place on the streets of New York.  This city is often at the forefront of social movements and with a substantial #Occupy contingent supporting the march, the large turnout was to be expected.

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

However, as someone fascinated by spontaneous memorialization practices, I was drawn to this march in particular because of how it was dressed.

If I were at a spontaneous shrine for Trayvon Martin, I would expect to find the usual teddy bears, flowers, and candles alongside certain objects specifically for Martin and his particular death.  There might be sweatshirts but I am almost certain there would be Skittles and iced tea.  Like the shrine for Amy Winehouse where there were bottles of alcohol and cigarettes, the shrine for Martin would have objects people associate with him.

As this was a memorial march [not just a political one], I believe the protesters’ decision to wear and carry these Martin-specific items makes this a mobile shrine of sorts.  Like an internet memorial that can be accessed by anyone–even someone far away from a death site–a memorial march/protest creates a memorial space [and place to grieve] that is accessible to these memorializers.  It serves the same purpose as any other spontaneous shrine; it calls attention to the circumstances that led to this person’s death and force onlookers to bear witness to the consequences.

As memento mori, these hooded people walking the streets of New York at night ask us all to consider the question:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

To see more of my photos from the Million Hoodie March, click here,  here or here.  To sign the petition written by Martin’s family calling for the prosecution of his shooter, George Zimmerman, click here.

Highway 178, Kern County, California

As I’m looking through my photo album, I’m coming across a number of pictures I haven’t thought about in a long time.  I’ve decided to share them on the blog because I think it’s important to document the various types of shrines that can be found.

The photos below are ones I took along Highway 178 in Kern County, California.  The Kern River runs an interesting course–dividing California’s long, flat, agricultural Central Valley from the hilly countryside to the east that becomes Sequoia National Forest.

The road follows the Kern River which winds its way through the hills.  The road has many sharp turns; in several places one side of the pavement runs straight up to a rock face while the other borders a steep drop to the river.  I took these photos while driving the road in Spring 2008:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Phoenix Park Falls, Creede, Colorado

I found some beautiful photographs of a very interesting shrine at Phoenix Park Falls in Creede, Colorado.  My friend, Weylin, took them several years ago while hiking in the area.  He knew I was interested in memorials, so he photographed this wooden cross for Jamie Matush that he found at the top of the falls.  I have never seen a memorial quite like this one before, so I’d like to share the photos here:

Photo by Weylin Ryan

Phoenix Park Falls from a distance

Photo by Weylin Ryan

Inscription reads: “JAMIE MATUSH (James III) 12/5/84 – 8/29/00”

Photo by Weylin Ryan

Inscription reads: “He slipped.  We wept.  He rose, ’cause he chose.”

Photo by Weylin Ryan

The shrine was constructed in a precarious spot at the top of the falls.  Apparently, there is a hill of slippery rocks just beneath it.

The ghost bike for Liz Byrne

For the next few days, I’ll be posting photographs from the 7th Annual Ghost Bikes Memorial Walk and Ride.  I participated in the walk, so the photos will be primarily of that portion of the event.  This first set is of the ghost bike for Liz Byrne.  It is located on the corner of McGuinness Boulevard and Kent Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn:

Liz Byrne, age 44, was killed while bicycling on the busy street on Friday, September 23, 2005.  Her sister, Annie Byrne, requested that a ghost bike be installed in her honor.  You can read more about this particular memorial on the ghost bikes website.

Here are pictures of Liz Byrne’s ghost bike taken on Sunday, March 18, 2012:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

NYC Ghost Bikes – 7th Annual Memorial Ride and Walk on 3/18

For people living in the New York City area who are interested in spontaneous shrines or ghost bikes, here is the latest information about the New York City ghost bike memorial ride and walk happening this Sunday, March 18th.  See you there!  The itinerary below is from the ghost bikes website:

The NYC Street Memorial Project will hold the 7th Annual Memorial Ride and Walk on Sunday, March 18, 2012. Together we will ride to the locations where cyclists have lost their lives in the past year. Bring flowers and other items to honor those we have lost.

We invite other locations to ride with us by scheduling their own memorial rides and events on that day. Please contact us to let us know about your ride or to help out on ours.

The Ride/Walk schedule is subject to change – for updates on the day of the ride follow us at www.twitter.com/nycstreetmem or #memride2012.

 

If you plan to take the subway to meet up with the ride, we suggest you check the MTA Planned Service Changes for 3/18.

Please RSVP to our Facebook event.

Staten Island Ride

12:00 Meet-up: Everything Goes Book Cafe, 208 Bay St (between Victory and Hannah)
12:30 Sutter Oval (Howard Ave end), Wagner College, across from Main Hall

12:45 RJ Tillman, Howard Ave between Highland and Grand
2:00 SI Ferry, St. George Terminal, Staten Island

2:30 SI Ferry, South Ferry Terminal, Manhattan

3:10 Jeffrey Axelrod, Chrystie & Delancey [Convergence with Bronx-Manhattan ride]


Bronx-Manhattan Ride

11:30 Meet-up: La Finca Del Sur Community Garden, E138th & Grand Concourse (4 or 5 to E138th St, Bronx)

11:50 Unnamed memorial, E141st St. & Bruckner Expwy
12:30 Unnamed memorial, W125th St. & 5th Ave
1:00 Qi Yu Weng, E96th St. & 2nd Ave
1:40 Meet-up: Central Park South & 7th Ave.
2:00 Marilyn Dershowitz, W29th & 9th Ave
2:45 Ray Deter, Canal & West Broadway
3:10 Jeffrey Axelrod, Christie & Delancey
3:45 Nicolas Djandji, Borinquen Pl & Rodney St. [Convergence with Brooklyn  Ride]

Queens-Brooklyn Ride

11:30 Meet-up: Cross Bay Pkwy & Beach Channel Dr. (A to Beach 90 or Beach 98)
11:45 Andrzei Wiesniuk, Cross Bay Pkwy & Beach Channel Dr.
1:45 James Pierre, E53rd St & Linden Boulevard

2:45 Chris Doyle, Metropolitan Ave. & Gardner Ave. [Convergence with Brooklyn ride]


Brooklyn Ride

12:30 Meet-up: Avenue T & West 9th St. – map (D to 25th Ave. or N to Avenue U)
1:00 Joseph Granati, Avenue T & West 9th St.
1:20 Aileen Chen, 62nd St. & 21st Ave.
1:40 Luis Torres, Fort Hamilton Pkwy & 59th St.
2:45 Chris Doyle, Metropolitan Ave. & Gardner Ave. [Convergence with Queens ride]

3:00 Mathieu LeFevre, Morgan Ave. & Meserole Ave.
3:20 Erica Abbott, Bushwick Ave. & Powers St.
3:45 Nicolas Djandji, Borinquen Pl. & Rodney St. [Convergence with Manhattan ride]

4:00 Unnamed memorial, Union Ave. & S5th St. [Convergence with Memorial Walk]

Memorial Walk

1:45-2pm: Gather @ Manhattan Ave & Green St (G Train to Greenpoint Ave)

2:05 Unnamed Memorial, Green St & McGuinness Blvd
2:15 Liz Byrne, Kent St & McGuinness Blvd
2:25 Unnamed Memorial, Greenpoint Ave & McGuinness Blvd
2:35 Neil Chamberlain & Unnamed Memorial, Calyer & McGuinness Blvd
2;45 Unnamed Memorial, Norman & McGuinness Blvd
2:55 Unnamed Memorial, Nassau & McGuinness Blvd
3:40 Leopoldo Hernandez, Borinquen Pl & S2nd
4:00 Unnamed Memorial, Union Ave & S5th [Convergence with Memorial Ride]

Rain date: Sunday, March 25

“Little angels,” cybershrines, and memento mori

Shaniya Darby-Sims, age 4, died yesterday in her apartment outside of Pittsburgh, PA when the 30-inch TV she was trying to rotate fell on top of her.  Neighbors set up a makeshift memorial outside of her apartment.

I read about her death on the website of WPXI, a news source from the Pittsburgh area.  The news article covers the death of the child, but the accompanying video focuses on the makeshift memorial for her.

The memorial is fairly standard for a child; it has plush toys, balloons, a doll, and votive candles.  It is the video itself that I find especially fascinating.  Perhaps unwittingly, WPXI constructed a video that perfectly exemplifies (stereo)typical contemporary memorialization of a child.

Vince Sims, the reporter, describes his encounter with Shaniya’s mother:

“I can’t even begin to describe the emotional pain that this mother is feeling.  She was too weak and upset to actually go on camera with me but through her tears and through a very weak voice she did tell me what happened inside and shared those pictures of her little angel with me.”

He does not spare listeners any details about the mother–she is weak and crying and we know it many times over.  He then refers to Shaniya as a “little angel.”  Although these may have been the mother’s words, his choice to use them in his own description is important.  Regardless of religion (oddly enough), referring to dead children as “little angels” is a fairly common trend, especially on websites for memorializing stillborn babies and infants who have died–a topic I will return to in a future post.  It seems to me that this term is useful in a number of ways.  Not only is it a less grim way of saying “dead child,” it implies that the child has gone on to a better place–that we should be sad about the child’s leaving, but not worry about its welfare.  It implies that the child is now safe from any harm.

Vince Sims then goes on to say:

“When we went back to Northview Heights today, we saw the neighbors building a memorial…After watching them carefully place the items, I asked them to show me the display and tell me why they wanted to do this.”

The video shows a woman arranging votive candles in a straight line on the steps leading up to the apartment.  Sims makes a point of emphasizing the careful placement of the objects at the shrine, which illustrates the shift from normal space to ritual / sacred space.  The objects are not thrown together on the steps; they are placed neatly and purposefully.  The neighbors respond to Sims by telling him they want to pay their respects to Shaniya’s family and show them that they care about the tragedy and will remember it.  The shrine is for the living and to the dead.

Finally, I’d like to point out the contemporary memorialization practices shown in the video.  After concluding his interview with the neighbors and telling listeners that the mother is safe and staying with friends, Sims signs out and the video cuts to the anchor who says:

“We’re passing along the messages you’re leaving on our Facebook page.”

It shows a graphic of a Facebook post from Kristin Bergman, a WPXI viewer.  She writes:

“What a terrible tragedy.  My heart and prayers go out to the little girl and her family and friends…”

It then changes to a graphic of the message from Frannie Fran, another viewer:

“This almost happened to a friend of mine…these new stands nowadays aren’t built to hold the weight of older standard definition tvs”

The newscast and Facebook page work together as a type of spontaneous shrine, I believe.  The Facebook page is the gathering place and the newscast serves as a type of extension of the shrine’s space.  The anchor refers to the people who posted as “you,” thereby inviting other viewers to leave their messages.  While this may be a tactic for getting hits on the Facebook page and engaging the audience, it also invites passersby to stop and look at the memorial.  The page is a place where people leave messages of support and sympathy for the family and for the dead — even though they do not know them.  Finally, the messages work with the memorial space as a type of memento mori.  Frannie Fran’s message tells us all–

Remember, this could happen to you!

Photographic memory(alization) – A person, a camera, and 1,854 pictures of roadside shrines

Terry Cook has dedication, passion, transportation…and a camera.

Terry visited my blog a while back and left a comment.  Curious about this commenter, I clicked link after link and followed a line of social media until I came to the Flickr photostream of MT Silverstar.  I was absolutely amazed at the images I found there.  Terry has perhaps the most impressive, immense, and diverse collection of roadside memorial photographs I have ever seen.  Not only is each memorial treated in a compassionate and thoughtful manner (any known details about the shrines and the people they memorialize are included), it is clear that the photographer has often made an effort to re-visit many of the shrines after the initial encounter:

               

          

There are photographs of smaller shrines:

and photographs of larger ones:

…photographs of new-age shrines:

          

and photographs of traditional shrines:

The photographer has an eye for detail…

And an eye for individuality:

I always wonder what draws people to these unique markers and was especially curious about what led this particular person to put so much effort into stopping and taking the time to lovingly photograph nearly every roadside memorial that would otherwise have flashed past.  I asked Terry and this is what I received in response:

“When I was very young I used to see the Montana American Legion fatality markers ( a small white cross on a red pole) along the road and they seemed a little spooky to me. Later I worked for many years as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff, and while attending to motor vehicle accidents was a routine part of the job, having to go to someone’s home to tell them that a Son, Daughter, Wife or Husband would not be coming home was a task that I dreaded. Each time I knew that what we or I was about to tell someone would change their life and would be something that they would remember forever. I’m pretty sure that those experiences lead me to my interest in (or obsession with) the memorials that families and friends create for their loved ones.”

Thank you, Terry, for sharing these beautiful images.

In the news: Utah pays $388K to resolve roadside-crosses case

I just found this article today on the firstamendmentcenter.org site under the Religion subheading.  I’m fascinated by initiatives such as this to remove spontaneous shrines from American roadsides using First Amendment (Freedom of Religion) arguments.  I’m still thinking about how exactly to approach this issue.  There are so many different facets to consider!  I’ll be working on it for the next few days and hopefully a good post will be the result.  Stay tuned…

UTAH PAYS $388K TO RESOLVE ROADSIDE-CROSSES CASE

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WIRE REPORT
Monday, February 20, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is paying nearly $400,000 to resolve a lawsuit over roadside crosses honoring Utah troopers killed in the line of duty, officials said Feb. 17.

The settlement forced the state and the Utah Highway Patrol Association to remove 11 Roman crosses along state highways and roads.

The trooper association has taken down the crosses and plans to move them off roadsides and rest stops to nearby private land with the owners’ permission. It also must remove UHP logos from the symbols.

The lawsuit was filed by American Atheists Inc. and three of its Utah members in 2005.

Utah paid $1 to settle the case, but the Utah Attorney General’s office confirmed Feb. 17 it is paying about $388,000 in legal fees for the atheists.

Utah and the troopers’ association “fought tooth and nail saying these crosses aren’t really religious symbols and they should stay,” Brian Barnard, a civil rights lawyer who represented American Atheists, said. “They wouldn’t entertain any discussion about compromising over six years. We offered repeatedly to try and resolve it short of full litigation.”

At first, the atheists’ lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge David Sam in Salt Lake City, but a three-judge panel from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that the highway crosses represented a state endorsement of Christianity.

State attorneys appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but justices declined to hear the case last year.

Barnard said the $388,000 pays his legal fees but that the state and trooper association probably spent as much money and time trying to defeat the lawsuit.

The Utah Highway Patrol Association maintains the memorials and is repainting them to remove official logos. It was represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., group that describes itself as a defender of religious freedom.

“We were prepared to fight this battle to the very end because it was very important,” said Byron Babione,the group’s senior counsel.

Babione said troopers were unhappy with the settlement and wanted to keep the crosses in place — without logos, but with a disclaimer saying Utah wasn’t endorsing any religion.

State lawyers rejected that request, saying it risked more litigation, he said.

Barnard’s legal fees were authorized by Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature, but Barnard said he was given a check on Feb. 15 that fell about $8,000 short of the agreed figure.

Utah is writing a second check to cover the difference, said Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s spokesman, Paul Murphy.

Remembering after the storm: 3 strands of Mardi Gras beads in the Lower Ninth Ward

These are from a website of photographs of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana.  They were all taken in January 2006, five months after Hurricane Katrina:

————————————————————————————————————

And then I saw this one:

And I knew it was different.

The caption for this photograph is simple.  It reads:

“Mardi Gras beads on an iron fence at Deslonde(?) Street in Lower Ninth Ward in fog at morning.  New Orleans, Louisiana, January 30, 2006.”

What is so moving about this photograph?  The first image shows the absolute destruction.  The second is terribly sad–a heap of children’s bikes and slumped beads and poppets.  The third is mind-numbing in its bluntness–the matter-of-fact message scrawled in blue spray paint: “possible body.”

But there is something different about the fourth picture.  It shows the devastation and the beads again, but this time they do not fit together as they should.  The background is chaotic and mangled.  Yet, the beads are perfectly straight, hanging calmly from a single point on the fence.  They are not tangled, nor are they haphazardly thrown on the wrought iron rod.  They are neatly wrapped around and balanced–green, gold, silver.

When I look at these beads, I do not see an accident or a consequence of the storm.  I see a deliberate act.  I see the work of a person bringing order to chaos–of a person re-familiarizing a desolate and unrecognizable landscape.  Perhaps the beads were found on the ground, picked up, and hung on the fence.  Perhaps they were around the person’s neck and were left there on Mardi Gras.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is the result of this action.  It is a re-claiming of space.  These beads, however small and simple, are a spontaneous shrine.

I initially thought that a makeshift memorial for an event as catastrophic as Hurricane Katrina would be impossible.  How does one spontaneously memorialize mass death, extreme suffering, unfathomable trauma, the absolute destruction of an entire city?  A massive shrine might be appropriate–a mountain of flowers and candles and photographs of all the dead, perhaps.  But when the city is gone, where does one put the shrine?  In the middle of the destruction?  In the midst of chaos, a chaotic heap of objects does not stand out–it only adds confusion to the already cluttered landscape.

The Lower Ninth ward was de-humanized.  It is inhospitable.  It is obvious from the other photographs that people cannot live in that.  In this once populated landscape, now devoid of human life, the greatest statement can be made by the simplest act.  An act of compassion toward the space through an attempt to bring familiarity back to the space is enough to mark that space from all that surrounds it.  The strands of beads stand against the mark of “possible body.”  They say clearly “people were here.”  They are meant to be seen and meant to be noticed by others who venture into this place.  Especially in a place where the tradition of Mardi Gras is strong, the beads are instant symbols of the way things should be–of the way things were.  The photographer noticed the beads–or perhaps even placed them, and then took a picture of them.  The message is passed along.

Three strands of Mardi Gras beads remind the lookers that people lived there once and that people are there again.  They invite us to look, to remember, and to begin to take back this devastated space.

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Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics...They are, I believe, the voice of the people." --Jack Santino

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