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 “makeshift memorials”

Russian Orthodox shrine in Sitka, Alaska

I thought I’d share a photo sent to me by my good friend, Ed Ronco.  He a radio reporter in Sitka, Alaska and noticed this shrine one day in the small southeast Alaskan fishing town.  Not only is it a gorgeous photo, it shows a type of shrine I’d never seen before.

It’s a Russian Orthodox memorial.  Russian Orthodox crosses differ from the crosses typically seen on roadside memorials (which have the two perpendicular beams) as they have an additional top beam (symbolizing the sign reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”) and bottom beam (a footrest).  While spontaneous shrines are predominantly Catholic and Protestant crosses/crucifixes, there is the occasional shrine that features a different symbol (including the Orthodox cross or Star of David).

I find this shrine beautiful in its simplicity.  There are not many objects around it–just a bunny and the angels.  It is a simple cross, but it is personalized with the small red heart in the center.  This shrine was obviously built to last a long time as it is made of sturdy material and has a plaque that will weather well.  Especially in a place like Sitka, Alaska where the weather can be harsh and the ever-present damp takes its toll on even the most resilient materials, a shrine must be constructed with durability in mind.

Thanks, Ed,  for sharing this photo of the shrine for Christine Beth Howard.

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San Onofre Ghost Bike

Just wanted to share a photo sent to me by my good friend, Ashley Cooper.  She snapped this photo near the San Onofre power plant in southern California.  It shows a ghost bike and accompanying shrine on the fence behind it.  Thanks for sharing the picture!

Hesperia and Apple Valley, California

I’m writing an article right now that’s taken me into a number of small communities in the southern CA desert.  A few days ago, a friend and I drove out to the towns of Hesperia and Apple Valley.  Although they are quite a few miles apart, they are connected by a main thoroughfare that had a few spontaneous shrines along it.  The first shrine we passed in Hesperia was for Kimberly:

We drove about a mile down the road before I saw this nearly hidden shrine out of the corner of my eye.  The memorial for Bryan is a white cross that’s decorated with flowers and tacked onto a telephone pole:

A few miles away, in Apple Valley, we passed a very visible shrine.  It surprised me that such an eye-catching shrine had no name or information on it.

This shrine is particularly interesting, because I can’t tell what kind of a person it is for.  The color of the cross and the presence of multiple stuffed animals are common in shrines for children.  The American flag is often present in shrines for veterans or active military.  I’m not sure what to make of the pail filled with stones.  Stones are often left on Jewish gravesites, and I’ve seen pails filled with votive candles at shrines (presumably for passers-by to light if they so choose), but I’ve never seen a pail filled with stones.  Of course, there is also the possibility that the stones are in the pail to keep the pail itself at the memorial.  Any ideas?

“When Newspapers Die, Where Do We Bring the Flowers?”

Hello dear shriners!

I’m very sorry for the long absence…April was a truly crazed month.  The long and short of it is I ended up leaving a job to pursue freelance journalism full-time, I’m in the process of getting ready to move, I’ll be officially graduating next week from my graduate program [for which this was my thesis, though it’s become much more], and I’ve been putting a lot of time into my part-time responsibilities– namely as an interviewer and host for a public radio station, program assistant and blogger for an education abroad trip that I’m totally excited about [it’s on Religion, Secularism, & Civil Societies!], and social media coordinator for a public radio news service.  Plus, New York City’s been a happening place to be what with all of the Occupy Wall Street action!

But, I’m excited to be back in the world of spontaneous shrines.  I’ve been collecting lots of interesting material to cover in the coming weeks and I’m looking forward to having the time to blog on a regular basis again.  I figured I’d start off with a more light-hearted post:

It starts with an empty newspaper/flyer box [like those found on many street corners] in Toronto and a person with a sense of urban art aesthetic who had a creative idea for a DIY [do-it-yourself] project.  This person took some plywood and constructed a flower planter inside the open flyer box.  Then, this DIYer posted the idea on a DIY website along with this picture:

I happened upon this photo of the newspaper box planter one day while searching for “makeshift memorials” online.  It was accompanied by an alternative press blog post entitled: “When Newspapers Die, Where Do We Bring the Flowers?”

I find it interesting that although the person who initially created the flyer box planter seemed to be only re-purposing and re-beautifying public space, the person who wrote the blog post transformed the flyer box planter from DIY project into makeshift memorial–and what a makeshift memorial it is!  Not only does it have the typical flower offerings, the flower offerings are planted in an aesthetically pleasing configuration.  It is a lovely example of public art and folk art.  The space calls attention to the newspaper stand, and it’s immediately apparent that the space has been altered.  Those print newspaper lovers among us (I’m definitely one) feel a pang of sadness at the loss of a newspaper, but the flowers help me cope with this feeling of loss.  They are beautiful and give me the physical space to deal with the change from what has been to what is now.  It also invites us to participate in this re-claiming of space–we can all make flyer box planters with simple plywood, dirt, and seeds 🙂

This is why I find spontaneous shrines and makeshift memorials such a fascinating topic.  There are so many ways in which public memorialization can be seen in everyday life–and not all of those ways are associated with such terrible topics as death.  People have a need to remember that which has been and memorials, no matter how small or playful, help us reflect upon and move with these changes that comes with time.

With that, I would like to thank you for reading and stay tuned for more posts in the near future!

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.

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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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