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

About the Author

Hi!  My name is Shady Grove and I just wanted to say thanks for checking out my blog.  I hope you’re finding it interesting!

Growing up in CA, I often passed spontaneous shrines on the side of the road.  When I was in high school, a local college student was killed in her driveway by a person trying to steal her car.  Her parents set up a shrine around a tree in front of the apartment complex where they all lived.  For many years, I drove past the shrine almost every day and watched it change with the seasons.  Her parents would put up hearts for Valentine’s Day, wreathes and lights in winter, and flowers in spring.  The shrine became an integral part of the landscape and the center of a number of discussions over space and place.  I discovered that it had also found its way into the hearts of many people throughout the city.  I was worried when I heard the city might try to cut the tree down for safety reasons.  On a number of occasions, I saw people straightening up some part of the shrine that had fallen over, or been blown askew by the wind.  Inspired in part by the local shrine, during my senior year in college, I decided to do one of my honors theses on shrines like it.  I wanted to find out the stories and the people behind the shrines, the controversies they sparked, and the ways in which these personal memorials were connected to larger societal narratives.

After graduating with a B.A. in Foreign Languages and Religious Studies, I moved up to the Talkeetna Mountains in south-central Alaska to work for the State Park Service.  As a Natural History Interpreter, my job was to tell visitors the story of the abandoned gold mine where I was both living and working.  It was there I think I really fell in love with storytelling and being a story detective–finding the voices of and in the landscapes surrounding me.

I moved down to southeast Alaska and passed the winter as a barista and assistant baker in a small coffee shop before getting a job as a morning news host and occasional reporter for the local public radio station.  As a result, I got to talk to a lot of really interesting people and learn many new things I’d never known anything about before.

Two years ago, I moved from Alaska to New York City (driving all the way) for graduate school.  I recently completed an M.Sc. in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University and constructed this blog as my thesis/capstone project.  Although I am done with the academic side of the project, I plan to continue writing this blog indefinitely.

10 thoughts on “About the Author

  1. VL Nyitray on said:

    I am very much looking forward to seeing this develop, and I’ll alert my students and colleagues to its existence.

  2. P. Sakala on said:

    This is a fantastic project. I have often wondered about the stories behind the shrines I see on the side of the road. I find this so interesting. P. Sakala

  3. Hi Shady Grove, Thanks for following our blog, Next Gen Memorials. Your project is very interesting. Have you seen on the news the shrine to an ex-soldier who died during the Occupy Oakland protests? I also like the wordpress theme you chose for your blog. – Sharon

    • Hi Sharon! Thanks very much for checking out my blog and for the tip about the shrine for Scott Olsen @ Occupy Oakland. I’ll check it out! I look forward to reading your blog as well.

  4. Laura Vidal-Prudholme on said:

    Hi Shady, Andrew showed me your blog and I have to say it is fascinating and very well done! I have never given much thought to roadside shrines and I will now look at them with new eyes! Congratulations on completing your Master’s Degree!

  5. Hi Laura– Thanks very much for the lovely comment. It’s exciting to be officially done with grad school! It was very nice of you to visit the site. I hope you’re doing well.

  6. Hi, and congrats on an amazing project. I specialise in 18th century English history, and for much of that time the infant mortality rate was around 60% so there are no images of children till later. One realy touchng family portrait shows a couple looking sadly at their young daughter who was already dead when the painting was made. another, of a really wealthy family, has the child draped in a black scarf for the same reason. very beautiful and spooky. People think that life was cheap in those days. i think they valued it more than we do. they just couldn’t afford to express it.

  7. Hi Barb– thanks for your lovely comment! I’m happy you like the blog and I always look forward to hearing your insightful thoughts on the posts. That portrait does sound captivating…

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