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 tag “holidays”

Veterans Day #1: Lake Elsinore Veterans memorial proposed for Diamond Stadium

I will be sharing a series of articles from the Inland Empire-based newspaper The Press-Enterprise regarding a proposed Veterans memorial in Lake Elsinore, California and then writing a post about it in the context of spontaneous shrines.  Here is the first article from PE on October 24th:

LAKE ELSINORE: Veterans memorial proposed for Diamond Stadium

The Lake Elsinore City Council will vote on the project at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The cost is put at $46,172

STAFF WRITERBY JOHN F. HILL

johnhill@pe.com

Published: 22 October 2012 04:16 PM

A black granite memorial to military veterans has been proposed for the main entrance to the Lake Elsinore Storm’s Diamond Stadium.

The City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 23, will consider approving the memorial’s final design and $50,000 price tag. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Lake Elsinore Cultural Arts Center, 183 N. Main St.

The six-foot-tall memorial will feature a set of polished black granite pedestals set on a raised concrete circle in front of the stadium entrance. Five small pedestals will be engraved with the emblems of each branch of the armed forces, surrounding a taller, central monument with text over an American Flag.

The base of the monument, under the silhouette of a solider kneeing in front of a cross, will read: “Freedom is Never Free.”

The design was chosen by a committee of Mayor Brian Tisdale, Lake Elsinore Historical Society President Joyce Hohenadl and representatives from local veterans groups, according to a city report.

Hohenadl said the group wanted a prominent location, so they decided to put the memorial right where baseball fans walk in to buy their tickets for Storm games.

“We thought that would be the most visible place for it,” Hohenadl said.

The memorial will be built by Sun City Granite, a Perris company known for its work with the military. The engraving company produces headstones for all fallen troops buried at Riverside National Cemetery.

It also built the National Distinguished Flying Cross Memorial at March Air Force Base and the new veterans memorial in Canyon Lake, said owner Teresa Herbers.

The company, which designed the Lake Elsinore memorial, has agreed to build it for $46,172. The city has $50,000 set aside for the project in its 2012-13 budget.

Follow John F. Hill on Twitter: @johnfhill2

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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.

A pumpkin on the Speedway

This is an interesting article about the most recent spontaneous shrine on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Driver Dan Wheldon died in a car crash in late October and a memorial was erected for him near the track.  Although his shrine is similar to many other race car drivers’ memorials, there is one thing that stood out to me in particular.  Someone carved a pumpkin with his number (77) and left it at the memorial.  Because his death occurred during Autumn and just before Halloween, his memorial was personalized with decorations appropriate to the season.  You can find the article in its original form, here.

Fans leave tributes for Dan Wheldon

  • INDIANAPOLIS — Dan Wheldon‘s biggest fans wanted one more chance to thank their favorite driver Monday.

One-by-one they turned Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s main gate into a memorial for the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, who was killed Sunday in a fiery crash at Las Vegas. Less than 24 hours later, the iron bars at IMS were decorated with flowers, notes of condolence, checkered flags, American and British flags and even half-gallon milk jugs, symbolic of the traditional victory drink at Indy.

“Dan was special, he was a hero,” said Nick Garside, a 37-year-old Indy resident who grew up in Wheldon’s home country of England. “We had a group of British fans who would get together the last nine years in the plaza and fly our flags. Dan made us happy on two occasions. He gave me two of the happiest days of my life and one of the saddest as well.”

Scott Olson/Getty Images
James Allen looks over tributes to two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon which have been left behind at a memorial at the gate of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was Indy where the 33-year-old IndyCar driver had his greatest successes and the most devoted fan-base outside his native country.

He won the Indianapolis 500 driving for Michael Andretti’s team in 2005 and won it again in May for Bryan Herta’s team — in what was, at the time, his only scheduled race of the season. Along with being the 18th driver to win Indy twice, Wheldon also finished as the runner-up in 2009 and 2010 with Panther Racing and finished third in 2004.

Fans loved him for more than winning races, though.

“He was an amazing driver, an amazing father, an amazing person,” said Paula Buis, a 41-year-old Indy resident who dropped off an American flag with flowers attached to it. “He smiled wide and he was always happy around everybody. My heart goes out to everybody who loves him.”

Track officials lowered the flags above the main office to half-staff, and later Monday afternoon, they hung a 5-foot by 30-foot banner with Wheldon posing with Indy’s Borg-Warner trophy.

Fans were honoring Wheldon long before the banner went up.

One brought a pumpkin with the No. 77 carved into it, the number Wheldon was driving Sunday at Las Vegas. Another placed two green candles on a handwritten note, explaining that the candles represented his two Indy wins. Another added a child’s drawing with a heart colored in crayon with the words “We Love You!”

The most poignant message: “To Dan’s children and their mommy, you are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Garside hung a large Union Jack flag with the words “Brit Corner” emblazoned on the cross of St. George. It dominated the scene at the gate.

“It feels better to have it here than in my garage,” he said.

It’s not the first time a makeshift memorial has popped up around the speedway.

Track historian Donald Davidson said the gate, which has remained in the same location at the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road for 102 years, has been the scene of too many other memorials over the years.

But Wheldon, who lived several years full-time in nearby Carmel, Ind., had a special bond with the community.

In 2010, Wheldon convinced three other drivers to fly from the track to Camp Atterbury, south of Indianapolis, in Blackhawk helicopters. At the time, he was driving the National Guard car. He had also become increasingly affiliated with talking about Alzheimer’s Disease, an affliction his mother was diagnosed with in 2009.

And he was so enamored with Indy, that track officials sometimes joked he was part of their public relations staff.

“I don’t remember a driver, any driver, at any time saying as much about the Indianapolis 500 as Dan did,” Davidson said. “He was constantly talking it up.”

Yet Wheldon remained a down-to-earth, fun-loving guy.

After winning his second 500 earlier this year, speedway spokesman Doug Boles said he was walking behind the Pagoda where posters of each year’s four race winners are encased in glass. When Wheldon saw his photo during the Brickyard 400, he was shocked.

“He said, ‘Hey, that’s me,’ ” Boles said. “It just really surprised him that a picture of him was up, and I had to take a picture of him pointing at the picture of himself. It was like he was 10 years old at Christmas.”

The steady stream of fans who turned out Monday wanted to see Wheldon win a third time.

Instead, they came out to remember the drive they embraced one more time.

Boles said the IndyCar Series is working out details for a public service that fans can attend. GoDaddy.com, which agreed to sponsor Wheldon’s car next year, has announced it will create a website with links to a Facebook page where fans can post thoughts and see a photo retrospective of Wheldon’s career.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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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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