For the last several years, I've been photographing roadside memorials, places where people have died in auto accidents. This practice of marking the spot with a cross seems recent in the Midwest, but dates back to pre-automobile times. In the southwest, memorials (called descansos) were placed where Mexican pall bears would lay the casket down to rest while carrying it to the cemetery. Soon this practice evolved into marking the site of roadside fatalities. Robert Frank's Americans has a photo with 3 roadside crosses.
Besides being a very public expression of mourning and loss, these signs also serve as a warning, both to the particular dangers of that spot and of driving in general. States in the west often post generic markers at the site of fatalities. Some of the memorials I see are no more than a simple cross, but many are complex and personal, often with writing and epitaphs to the victims, and even the generic markers erected by state highway departments are being personalized. Many of them are kept up, with new flowers and other additions added as time goes by. In a society that avoids any serious discussion of death, they are a reminder of the fragile nature of life.
Near Cortez, Colorado
Horse Cave, Kentucky
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Las Vegas, Nevada
Espanola, New Mexico
Swan Lake, Montana
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