Roadside Memorials


“We say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in an obscure and distant future. It does not occur to us that it can have any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.” ~ Marcel Proust

“Americans take an average of four car trips every day—that’s more than 1,400 per year. It’s no wonder that the chance of dying while inside a moving vehicle is about 1 in 6,700. Car crashes are the leading cause of death in teenagers, and second leading cause of death in all other populations. Without a doubt, driving is risky business.” (Source: NTSB Safety Compass)

Having been a professional truck driver for over 25 years, I’ve seen more than my fair share of accidents, injuries, deaths, and roadside memorials.

I’ve always been aware of the fleeting nature of life. I was never one of those teens who thought he was invincible. I’ve always thought I could die at any moment. Considering all I’ve been though in life, and the many times I’ve nearly been killed, I’m amazed I’m still here.

Roadside memorials, when we see them, are a reminder of just how fleeting life is. We can be driving down the highway one minute and dead the next.

I was once driving on Interstate 30 in Arkansas, in my car, when a tractor-trailer came across the median, missed me, and killed a guy who was driving behind me. You can’t imagine how fast it happened. Had I been the one hit by the truck, I may have just barely had time to realize what was happening. In fact, when I first noticed the truck in the median, coming towards me, my only thought was “Something’s wrong with this picture”. By then the truck was already on my side of the road, passing me. I looked in my mirror and saw it hit the car behind me, pulled over, stopped, and went back to see if anyone was hurt.

It was obvious when I walked back to the accident scene that the driver of the car was dead. Soon the fire and police arrived. After the police had talked to the truck driver, I was, I think, the only other person who bothered talking to the driver of the truck. I told him not to be too hard on himself in the future, when he thought about the accident. That everyone knew it was an accident. And that, if he could, he would have done things differently.

I remember looking at the guy who was killed, and noticing he was wearing a wristwatch. I thought to myself “He had no idea this morning, when he put that watch on his wrist, that today would be the day he died.”


I’ve seen other people killed on the highway, talked to other drivers who have been responsible for another driver’s death, and I’ve prayed countless prayers and shed countless tears for fellow travelers I didn’t know.

The highway, like death, is a place were everyone is equal. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, black or white, Christian or agnostic. Everyone is at risk of being killed in a moment of time.

I’ve comforted a stranger in the middle of the interstate, in the early morning hours before dawn, at that sacred place and time when the spirits of their loved ones have left this world while their bodes remained in the wreckage of their car.

That place of sudden, unexpected death on the road is where friends and loved ones will sometimes create a roadside memorial, in memory of the deceased. I think these memorials are good ideas. The place where someone is killed becomes, to me, a sacred place. The time when someone dies is a sacred moment. And that’s what roadside memorial are designed to remember: the place and moment someone left this world.

Below are links to books, videos, and webpages related to the subject of roadside memorials…

“A mother is asking for the community’s help to find her daughter’s missing memorial that was recently taken from where she died more than two years ago…” Mother wants missing roadside memorial returned

“3,089 people were killed on Texas roads in 2009. Family members sometimes erect memorials at the locations of these accidents. East Texans share their loss and how the cope with a loved-one who is no longer with them…” Along The Roadside: Street Memorials In East Texas


“Holly Everett documents over thirty-five memorial sites with twenty-five photographs representing the wide range of creativity. Examining the complex interplay of politics, culture, and belief, she emphasizes the importance of religious expression in everyday life and analyzes responses to death that this tradition. Roadside crosses are a meeting place for communication, remembrance, and reflection, embodying on-going relationships between the living and the dead. They are a bridge between personal and communal pain—and one of the oldest forms of memorial culture…” Roadside Crosses in Contemporary Memorial Culture

“American roadsides are home to a vast range of impromptu memorials, some anonymous and modest crosses at the scene of a tragedy and others elaborate and well-maintained commemorations. Most of the markers on the shoulders of American streets commemorate the victims of an automobile accident, but there seem to be no especially systematic surveys of the geographical distribution, styles, composition, or duration of such markers…” Spontaneous Mourning and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Roadside Memorials

“The author of a new book on roadside memorials says British Columbia has more than its share of street-side shrines and predicts that number will continue to grow. Dr. John Belshaw co-authored the book Private Grief, Public Mourning along with his wife Diane Purvey…” Author pens book on roadside memorials


“With vivid images of a variety of different shrines and monuments built across BC, this book helps to delve into the human emotion of grief and why taking it into a public space can provide such comfort to one mourning individual and such discomfort to others…” Private Grief, Public Mourning: The Rise of the Roadside Shrine in British Columbia…

“Resting Places” is a documentary film about roadside memorials and the controversy that surrounds them…

Descansos: Roadside Memorials on the American Highway…

Roadside memorials give a public face to private grief… Journey Interrupted


“A ghost bike (also referred to as a ghostcycle or WhiteCycle) is a bicycle roadside memorial, placed where a cyclist has been killed or severely injured, usually by a motor vehicle…” Ghost bike

What Is A Ghost Bike?

About ajmacdonaldjr

writer, author, blogger
This entry was posted in Accident Prevention, Bicycling, Culture, Religion, Safety, Society, Symbolism, Transportation, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Roadside Memorials

  1. Cross honoring fallen UHP Trooper Eric Ellsworth joins memorial along I-15 in southern Utah via @fox13

  2. Roadside memorials must go after 30 days

    El Paso, Texas – Altar-like memorials decorated with flowers, photos, candles and trinkets stand on the side of roads across El Paso, honoring loved ones killed in traffic crashes.

    They often appear from one day to the next, sometimes simple, other times elaborate. Some are left to fade over time, others are cleaned, cared for and updated season to season. Most remain indefinitely.

    And, until now, they had mostly been illegal. City policy prohibited the makeshift memorials, but had mostly let them stand unless they obstructed traffic.

    Recent revisions to a city policy, however, will mean they’ll now be removed after 30 days of being spotted by city crews or reported by the public.

    The City Council last week amended the roadside memorial policy, which was first implemented in 2006, after the city received complaints from a neighborhood association that some appeared tattered and that they wanted them to be removed. City officials did not name the association that complained.

    Under the previous policy and for $124 a year, families could buy blue placards with the name of the person killed and a message that read either “Please Don’t Drink and Drive,” “Please Drive Safely,” or “In memory of.”….

    Continue reading: Roadside memorials must go after 30 days via @elpasotimes

  3. Removal of memorial for baby fatally hit in stroller sparks anger

    LANDSDOWNE, VA (WUSA9) – The removal of a temporary memorial for a baby killed while his mother pushed him in his stroller is drawing anger in Loudoun County.

    Friends and family of the baby boy thought that a makeshift memorial would stay up until a permanent memorial could be put in place. But the Landsdowne on the Potomac homeowners association decided on Monday to take it down.

    “It was incredibly shocking to me,” said Sharon Wright, who lives nearby and drives by the spot everyday.

    A single flower placed on the corner is now a far cry from what the memorial has been. For five months, the corner has been decorated with flowers and momentous for five-month-old Tristan Schulz.

    “As we look at the pole, you know his picture was literally right in that black tape, and pulled down,” said Wright.

    On August 31, 2016, Tristan Schulz was killed in a crosswalk at the intersection of Riverside Parkway and Coton Manor Drive. The baby was in his stroller being pushed by his mother, Mindy Schulz, when an SUV hit them. Mindy Shultz was injured. Now, a memorial that brought the family much comfort is gone…

    Continue reading: Removal of memorial for baby fatally hit in stroller sparks anger via @WUSA9

  4. Nasty note left on roadside memorial for teenage girl

    KINGSTON SPRINGS, TN (WSMV) – A grieving mother says she is heartbroken after a nasty note was left at a roadside memorial for her daughter.

    The makeshift memorial on Poplar Creek Road was created for Emma Skrabacz, who was killed by a drunk driver in October 2015

    “He veered into her lane and struck her and instantly killed her,” said Catherine Skrabacz, Emma’s mother.

    When new items are left at the site, it usually brings a smile to Catherine Skrabacz’s face, but not this time.

    She said she found a note in front of Emma’s picture that read…

    Continue reading: Nasty note left on roadside memorial for teenage girl

  5. Hagerstown to remove roadside memorials after 30 days

    Julie Hellane-Mikolajski, the mother of Darren “DJ” Reeder Jr. who died in 2014 in a motorcycle accident, said Wednesday that she was heartbroken when city workers removed her son’s memorial at Virginia Avenue and Wilson Boulevard in Hagerstown.

    Since her son’s death, Hellane-Mikolajski said she had been maintaining the memorial, changing the flowers around it with the seasons, making sure it looked nice, and even pulling the weeds and cleaning up trash that was around it.

    She first noticed the memorial was gone when driving to church on Easter Sunday.

    “I was driving through with my other son, and I am coming up the hill — just as I always do waiting to see it — and it was gone,” Hellane-Mikolajski said…

    Continue reading: Hagerstown to remove roadside memorials after 30 days

  6. Group demands Salem remove roadside cross memorializing mother who died in crash years ago

    SALEM, Ore. — A roadside cross memorializing a mother who died in a car crash years ago is at the center of a battle brewing over the separation of church and state in Salem.

    A group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding the city remove it.
    Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett said Tuesday that the city is reviewing the situation and that it’s the first time they’ve received a complaint about the memorial.

    Tucked away in some grass off Kuebler Boulevard near Stroh Lane is a nearly 4-foot tall cross sitting on a heart-shaped piece of land.

    Cheryl Kolbe told KATU it’s been there for at least a dozen years.

    “This is not the same as a very recent car accident where somebody put some flowers or whatever or even a cross on the side of the road a week or two,” said Kolbe. “The cross dramatically conveys a message of governmental support for Christianity whatever the intention of the display may be.”

    Kolbe is the Portland area chapter president for the Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Wisconsin.

    About two weeks ago, a lawyer for the organization sent a letter to Bennett demanding the memorial be removed, saying someone in the area complained.

    “The government cannot be seen as endorsing any religion,” said Kolbe. “The courts have ruled consistently that a cross does represent Christianity and gives the impression of promoting Christianity over other religions or non-religion.”

    Mayor Bennett admits the memorial is on city land.

    “We had a woman killed there in an accident 10 or 12 years ago,” Bennett explained. “Her children wanted to put up a memorial to her, did and have maintained it ever since.”

    When asked if the memorial is an endorsement of Christianity by the city, Bennett said, “No. It’s an endorsement of a family’s love for their mother and their sadness at her loss and their desire to commemorate her memory.”

    Bennett couldn’t tell KATU who the woman was or identify her family.

    A KATU crew could find no indication of her identity on the memorial.

    A city spokesman said they’re looking into it.

    “It’s a new complaint and we’ll take a look at it,” said Bennett. “And we’ll take a look at our, at their constitutional rights of free speech, our ability to allow memorials on public right-of-way, what the statutes say.”

    “I don’t like seeing Christian symbols or any religious symbols on public land,” said Kolbe. “They’re free to move it to private land.”

    When asked what her group’s next step would be if the city decides not to remove the memorial, Kolbe referred KATU to her group’s national leaders.

    “We’ll have to discuss that (possible) decision with our local resident complainant and see what they’d like to do next,” Rebecca Markert, managing staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, told KATU by email on Wednesday. “We’ll wait to see what the city decides to do. The best remedy for this situation is for the memorial cross to be moved to private property where it is more appropriately displayed. We believe that once the city reviews the case law surrounding these crosses, they will agree.”

    See video at:

  7. City removes shrine honoring Plano teens killed in crash

    Friends and family of two Plano teenagers who died in a crash last winter are angry and confused after the city moved the memorial at the crash site.

    Lilly Davis and Samantha Sacks were killed when the SUV Samantha was driving slammed into a tree. Another friend survived the crash last February.

    Family members and friends of the girls are upset a shrine that they put together to remember the teenage girls was removed because of neighbor complaints. They are now determined to bring it back…

    Continue reading and watch video: City removes shrine honoring Plano teens killed in crash

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