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 “roadside 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?

Spanish Spontaneous Shrine

I’d like to share some photos sent to me by a journalist and good friend of mine, Lucas Laursen.  He’s currently based in Spain and came across this spontaneous shrine earlier this year on the side of the road near Guadalupe, Extremadura.  I think this is a particularly lovely example of a roadside memorial.

It is simple yet elegant.  While it stands out against the landscape as something beautiful and human-made, it is also visually jarring.

The red flowers are a warning–a gash in the natural surroundings that passersby can’t help but notice.

Thanks for sharing these photos, Lucas!

If any of you have photos you’d like me to put on the blog, feel free to email them to me.

“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

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

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.

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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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