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William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

It would be interesting to go back and trace the history of roadside memorials. They were once unusual, and now they seem ubiquitous. There are three or four in the immediate vicinity of LCA's school, and I assume that these commemorate crime victims rather than people who were killed in motor vehicle accidents. They are the worse for the Buffalo winter. It seems to me that at some point a plaque should be substituted, but that probably wouldn't eliminate the impulse to adorn the site with teddy bears or whatever. Placing a pebble at a gravesite, which is the Jewish tradition, has always impressed me as more pleasing than flowers-- it is less cluttered. I am, apparently, in the minority on this. When I visited Hemingway's grave in Ketchum I found that the accepted token was a coin, but there were some pint bottles too. In a cemetery there are employees on hand to follow Blind Lemon Jefferson's instruction to his survivors, but removing roadside memorial clutter seems to be a more thankless task.

In Europe the highways are sometimes marked with small white crosses at the scenes of fatalities, but that always impressed me as more of a cautionary posting rather than some sort of shrine. Outside of Binghamton yesterday I saw a cross that was about four feet tall, with flowers and who knows what all, topped with a green hard hat. The effect of something like that is different than seeing a quiet white cross-- a funerary scarecrow does not inspire reverence or even sympathy in my mind.

Was it Princess Diana's death that set off this impulse? It was certainly well established by the time the planes hit the towers.

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