On roadside memorials …

I’m waiting for some feckless shutterbug to publish a coffee table book of roadside shrines — those crosses that pop up alongside the interstate to mark the spot where some loved one breathed their last — and expect to immediately find it on the bargain table for $2.99. Heck, I’d write it myself except for the act of hauling over into the breakdown lane, popping on the emergency flashers, and risking my own life as the 18-wheelers whizz past just to take a picture of two pieces of wood, a garland of plastic flowers …

I first saw roadside shrines in Puerto Rico — apparently its part of the Hispanic culture to mark the tarmac where the bus plunged or the publico had its last chance power drive. Busy intersections and treacherous curves are veritable Arlington cemetaries, forests of white perpindicular planks that are more effective than Slippery When Wet signs for warning of dangers ahead.

About a decade ago they began to pop up around southeastern Massachusetts, primarily around New Bedford, a big Portugese-American enclave. Some local attorney had been taken away for offing some junkie hookers and dumping their bodies in the ditch (New Bedford is also the home of the infamous Big Dan’s Tavern, home of the pool table where the poor woman played by Jodie Foster in The Accused was raped) and I always wondered if some of the crosses were meant to memorialize his victims. Gruesome thought, but now that bucolic stretch from Wareham to Fall River is still creepy as can be thanks to the crosses.

It is strange to read a newspaper account of a particularly tragic car accident and then see, for years afterwards, the trio of little crosses that mark the spot where as wrong-way drunk wiped out a young family. And that’s the point. My father died in a head on crash on Route 130 in Mashpee just past the spot where the highway crosses under the approach path for the runway at Otis Airforce Base. I didn’t erect a cross. But I did seek the spot out the day after the accident, finding it by discovering the detritus and trash the EMTs had left behind by the roadside.

Roadside memorials went official after a state trooper was gunned down by a desperado on Route 3 in Kingston, right by where the old Howard Johnson’s stands by the muddy banks of the Jones River. It’s a big honking pink granite monument in memory of Trooper Mark Charbonnier. Apparently roadside memorials are illegal in many states, but the road crews always seem to mow carefully around them out of respect.

There are many resources about roadside memorials online. The most irreverent is PorkJerky.com — and therefore the funniest, or as the author says, “Funnier than a Retard on Fire.”

It contributes this image to the forthcoming coffee table book project:

There is a book on Amazon, Roadside Crosses in Contemporary Memorial Culture which will not be getting the One-Click treatment from me this evening.

As for my decision not to get out of my car to take pictures of memories, Mr. PorkJerky tells this cautionary tale:

“Here’s the gist: Jeff Frolio, a cameraman for the ABC affiliate in Omaha (KETV 9) was getting some stock footage of dangerous intersections in the Omaha area. Can you see where this is heading? Well, it happened. As Jeff was walking back to the news van he gets plowed. And where did it occur? That’s right, at a dangerous intersection in the Omaha area. Specifically, 220th and West Center, exactly in front of the Wilkins and Alfrey memorial which moments early he was shooting. That intersection is so dangerous in fact, the driver who hit Frolio wasn’t charged with a thing.”

I should get onto more important things. Like using Mr. Jerky’s interactive build-your own memorial tool.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “On roadside memorials …”

  1. Wow .. pretty intense post … I see those things all the time.

    I am sorry to hear about your father, David .. I did not know about that … I lost my brother in similar fashion, on the railroad .. and spent many days, weeks even, searching the scene (and official reports) for evidence and clarity, and I suppose, connection to those last moments. My monuments to him live in my heart and memories … and in his children’s eyes.

  2. You have a strong voice. Moved me in many emotional directions in one blog entry.

    And oy vey the heart of dorkness… Mistah Porky Jerky? He demented. lmfao.

    Tag it: Hil.a.rious

  3. To My Loved Ones,
    Keep me in your heart, as you’re always in mine. But please, take down that roadside memorial. If I could ask one last thing of you, it would be to celebrate me where I lived, not where I died. I don’t need a memorial on my behalf, but if you feel the need, create it at one of the places I loved the most, not at the place I like the least.

  4. I live in NC and would like to help families preserve their roadside memorials. Many parents are grieving the loss of a child and that pain is excruciating! I hope there are no coffee table books profited by another person’s sadness.

    Peace Love and Hugs from Above

  5. Hello David


    My name is Cendra Gier. I am in the planning stages of writing a book on roadside memorials, and I will be focusing solely on the memorials – Descansos – of people who died as a result of alcohol-related accidents.

    This book will be quite comprehensive in that it will include interviews with as many people as I can find – the affected family and friends, the survivors and/or the person responsible for the accident (even if that person is in jail), and a brief life story of the deceased.

    I will also include many black and white photographs – of the memorial itself, of the families, of the person who died….perhaps even of the scene of the accident, if the survivors are willing.

    There will be a brief history of the Descansos themselves, as a forward.

    My goal is to have a book for each of the 50 states, and to have them in every middle and high school in the U.S. I will begin in the state of Florida, as that is where I live, and will proceed from there, one state at a time.

    I plan to self-publish, and I am writing to you at this time to ask if there are any grants for something like this. I am a full-time pediatric Hospice nurse, which is my calling, but I would like to focus on this project to the exclusion of all else, and for that I will need funding.

    Do you know of any such funding or grants?? Any assistance you could offer me – suggestions, support or advice, would be very much appreciated.

    Thank you very much,


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