Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Okay, this is another of those "not the most important issue in America today" articles which will no doubt tick off someone out there in virtual land.

Call me a curmudgeon. Go ahead. Get it over with. Now read on.

You know those memorials with all the teddy bears and candles that spring up every time someone dies in a wreck or is gunned down on the street somewhere?

I say enough already.

At least, if something ever happens to me, no "Elvis" style memorials, PLEASE.

Do the people who bring all the junk and pile it up next to a tree or a brick wall somewhere ever take into account the person who died...or their family and loved ones? Not everyone wants to remember their child via a makeshift shrine of stuffed animals and notes signed by folks they never heard of. Not everyone wants dying flowers tacked to a tree as a way to be remembered. Not everyone wants to be memorialized via an aesthetic blight of Mylar balloons and stuffed baby bunnies covered in grime.

Some people would like to remember their loved ones in dignity.

Some of us are satisfied to know that when we die, however we die, someone will remember. Even more importantly, some of us would like to be engraved in eternity by how we lived even if no one does remember that we lived.

On top of all this is the practical yet seldom discussed fact that roadside memorials are distracting and dangerous. More and more states are trying to regulate them. Some, like Montana and California, allow the memorials, but only if alcohol was a factor in the crash.

I'm not sure why that makes them less dangerous.

I think maybe the people who like the memorials most are the people who bring all the stuff. I'm not sure what it does for them, but they seem to exist everywhere. I wonder is it a way to deal with a world they don't understand and aren't willing to even make an attempt to...or is it a way to pat themselves on the back and let themselves know how much they "care" without doing anything about the ills of the world.

If you've got the energy and time to hang out at the corner, then how about using that energy and time to do something truly constructive and leave the mourning and the ways of mourning to those truly doing the mourning. Get it!

I mean like maybe your intentions are swell, really swell, but someone else's death is not about you. Everything is not about you.

The following comes from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Marking where life was lost
Street-side memorials hold great meaning to those who set them up; others may regard them as eyesores or too-painful reminders.
By Susan Snyder

Inquirer Staff Writer

It breaks Tracey Schwartz-Corsey's heart.

Without interference, she and her family for two years maintained a memorial for her niece Nicole Lee Schwartz around a tree at the State Road site in the Far Northeast where a drunken driver struck and killed the woman in 2004, just shy of her 22d birthday.

When it snowed, they shoveled. When people littered, they cleaned. At the holidays, they strung tree lights. They nailed pictures and sports jerseys to the tree and placed flowers and teddy bears around it.

"I feel like I can talk to her when I'm there. I feel like a part of her is there," said Schwartz-Corsey, 40, of the Parkwood section of the Northeast.

Then, a year ago, neighbors complained, and the Fairmount Park Commission, which owned the tree, got involved. Everything on the tree had to be removed. And now, the flowers and candles placed nearby often are stolen - even a five-foot cross.

"That's all we had, and they took it from us," a tearful Schwartz-Corsey said.

The number of makeshift memorials around the city has grown in recent years, fueled by the increase in the homicide rate. The one for slain Police Officer Chuck Cassidy grew so big in front of a West Oak Lane Dunkin' Donuts, where he was shot, that a canopy was erected over it.

Though that fresh memorial has brought positive sentiments, others - such as the one for Schwartz - have stirred controversy.

In the summer, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham publicly expressed frustration over the memorials, saying that the energy would be better spent giving tips to police to help catch the killers. She clarified her position last week through spokeswoman Cathie Abookire: "It's all well and good when people erect a memorial in somebody's memory. However, solid information about the perpetrators of a crime is better."

That fortunately happened in the Cassidy case, Abraham said.

One grieving mother, Kisha Bivines, 34, hates how teddy bear memorials have become a routine, accepted response to an abnormal demise - the killing of a child.

She became so angry about the memorial that sprang up for her 17-year-old son, Ivan Simmons, shot to death last year in Nicetown, that she dismantled it the very next day and spray-painted "peace" on the wall that bore his name.

"To have to drive by the spot in which my son was murdered and to be reminded constantly what happened, it's like reliving the nightmare over and over again," she said. "So many memorial sites go up, it makes the city look like a graveyard."

A local cemetery is developing a new way to channel the grief. With $100,000 in seed money from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Laurel Hill Cemetery plans to launch "The Urban Mourning Project" next fall. By engaging children in art and studies on mourning across cultures, the project aims to help them cope with losing a loved one to homicide.

"Seeing the memorials in our neighborhood, they struck me as creative expressions of grief, modern urban mourning rituals," said Ross Mitchell, executive director of Laurel Hill Cemetery, a national historic landmark in East Falls.

"Let's take these naturally occurring urges and channel them in a creative and constructive way to help [children] work through their grief and break the cycle of violence in some small way."

Street-side memorials first emerged in other countries and have become more popular in the United States over the last few decades - first surfacing for car-accident victims and then for other types of deaths, local academics said.

And the 19th century had its own "teddy-bear memorial of the day," Mitchell said.

Then, he said, a broken urn on a gravesite meant a violent death. A broken column signified an untimely death.

Academics have noticed the local proliferation of public memorials, which are designed to honor people at the spot where they met their demise.

"There is something afoot in America . . . what I believe to be an increased willingness to carry our heart on our sleeve or to reveal our inner feelings publicly," said Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association and a professor at Temple.

He likes the memorials, but understands there may be a need to regulate the length of time they remain, their content, or their location.

"Maybe municipalities should write rules so it doesn't get horribly messy," he said.

Some have made attempts. Delaware's department of transportation created a park at the Smyrna rest stop of the Dupont Highway to memorialize accident victims statewide in place of roadside shrines.

In Philadelphia, some memorials remain for years.

Affixed to a pole at Queen Lane and Greene Street in Germantown are statues, stuffed animals and a flag, in memory of Adam Hammer, who was shot to death on Sept. 28, 2004.

Others naturally disintegrate.

Victoria Yancey, a Philadelphia School District employee who helps families of children who die, sees memorials where "the teddy bear is just fading away, like a person's spirit might be fading away."

From family to strangers, some find comfort in them.

On Tuesday, the day before Officer Cassidy was buried, Maria Breyman stopped at the corral of stuffed animals, balloons, flowers in cellophane, and handwritten cards.

The 20-year-old La Salle University student set down a teddy bear and a card.

"It made me feel like I can say I added something to show my appreciation for what he did," Breyman said.

Jessica Checchia, finance manager for Tri-State Auto Inc., which is next to the Dunkin' Donuts, said placing balloons at the memorial gave her "closure."

"It is some kind of peace for people to have somewhere to go and say goodbye," said Checchia, who added that she knew Cassidy.

Melvin Figueroa, 40, whose pregnant daughter La'Toyia was killed by her boyfriend in 2005, keeps an entire wall in his living room as a memorial, with a poster-size picture of La'Toyia, her obituary, and mementos.

"It helps me to know she's there by my side," he said.

City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski is trying to mediate the dispute over the State Road memorial for Nicole Lee Schwartz. Some neighbors had found the memorial morbid, said Patty-Pat Kozlowski, legislative aide to Krajewski.

"It's a hard case," she said.

One way or another, the family wants to have a plaque there, at least.

"If one person sees that and decides, 'I'm never going to drink because that beautiful girl was taken here,' " Schwartz-Corsey said, "then it served its purpose."

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