First of all, seeing a small white cross along the highway evokes curiosity in me. When I realize that these small memorials mark the spot when someone’s loved one lost their life I feel sympathetic and sorrowful. Although this practice has been underway in some
states and countries for generations, I believe their erection has become more common place, only recently, in PA.
They are becoming numerous enough now that I am no longer startled at seeing them. However, recently I became aware of one of these, a very small one, decorated with a floral wreath, placed just on the edge of our property. Our property extends to Main Road, Sweet Valley, a very rural country road, where traffic has picked up greatly in recent years. Years ago, we used to live right on this road at a spot where a curve in the road was banked improperly and quite frequently speeding vehicles didn’t make it around the curve. At the time, my husband worked night shift and I was home alone with our five, small children. I will never forget the sound of screeching brakes and feeling relieved when they were not followed by a crash. This was not always the case, though, and a number of times someone escaped their overturned car and made their way to my front door. Fortunately, in most cases of a crash, another traveler was soon upon the accident scene, and lent a hand although, sometimes, they required the use of our telephone, or asked for blankets. At times like this, if my husband had been home, he would have jumped at the opportunity to be helpful, but it was frightening to me.
The memorial is placed just beyond the curve that I speak of. (Years ago, the highway
department properly banked it, so now there are far less accidents.) It is approximately 300 feet from where we live. It’s been a long time since I am aware of any fatality on or near the site. So I was curious at seeing the shrine erected there. My thoughts began to go wild as I remembered that families also erect them at a scene of violence. It wasn’t until a number of years ago, while traveling in Greece that we saw such roadside shrines, frequently erected along the roadways and elaborately constructed. Many of them resembling miniature chapels and inside a glass door were items such as flowers, handwritten messages and personal mementos belonging to the deceased. I realized that those who had lost a loved one in such a tragic manner took comfort from knowing that someone is thinking of them every day as they pass by. Actually these shrines serve to remind others to drive carefully and to pray for the families involved.
Each state has its own laws regarding roadside memorials, Many of them are placed on a state’s right of way. In Pennsylvania, roadside memorials technically are not allowed but the displays are tolerated. The origin of roadside crosses in the United States has its roots with early Hispanic settlers of the Southwestern United States and are common in areas with large Hispanic populations. It began in the day when a coffin was carried to the burial ground and a white cross was erected wherever the coffin was set down.
There is controversy over rather the custom of roadside memorials should continue. There is no question that they are statements of grief and love from the loved ones of the accident victims and also their way of warning others to to drive safely. One man was quoted as saying, “Those shrines surely caught my attention as a teenage driver.” Today, there’s also controversy over larger crosses dotting our countryside, the cross of Christ, and there is a movement to remove them from public view. Some tell us to think of the roadway memorials as a life story that ended on that spot. The cross of Christ, however, represents a life story that did not end there, but instead, a life given so mankind may live eternally. Why should there be controversy over such a wonderful gift? It bothers some people to see others express their grief along roadways. The cross of Christ reminds people that they must grieve over the sins in their lives and ask for forgiveness. Many would rather not be reminded of this.