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When Public Expression of Grief Meets Private Land Owners

My family owns a large piece of land that runs several miles alongside one of the most dangerous roads in our area – it has lots of curves and no center divider during many stretches.  The speed limit has been lowered and other safety measures have been taken, but unfortunately there are usually one or two fatal car accidents per year.  There are several handmade memorials that have been placed alongside the road where the accidents happened.  Right now there is one put up for a man who worked night shifts and apparently fell asleep on his way home, crashing his car.  A little further along is one for two teens who were racing another car and the car they were in flipped, killing them both.  All in all there are about a half-dozen “active” memorials with people regularly leaving flowers, etc. and then two or three memorials that have been there for years, seemingly untouched.

The items left behind range from small crosses, to large painted wooden letters spelling out the deceased’s name zip-tied to a fence pole.  At Christmas last year, someone stuck about 100 plastic tree ornaments through the chain link fence and inserted plastic cups in the grid spelling out “Merry XMas (name of deceased).”   This was a huge installation- about 25 feet in total and I thought could be quite distracting to other drivers on what is already obviously a very dangerous piece of road.  At the site where the teens crashed, their friends put up balloons in their school’s colors when they would’ve graduated and a poster with handwritten messages and photos of the deceased and friends.

The land is rural and mostly let out for grazing to third-parties and we do not live on it or even visit more than once a week.  We obviously do not own the public road, but we do own the fence where the memorials are usually put up and signs are placed every hundred or so yards informing people that they are on private property.

My question is- is it okay to take down the memorials? Especially things like balloons, stuffed animals, posters and the like which quickly deteriorate in the elements. After a couple of weeks in the rain, paper is torn and ink smudged and it frankly looks like trash.  As I said, we don’t live on the land, so I’ve never seen anyone in the act of leaving something, and I don’t think I’d want to confront anyone even if I did. I truly am sympathetic that they lost someone and they want to express that.

My family is split on the issue, with some saying we should remove the items as soon as we see them, like we would with most things that had been left behind on our property. Some think that the memorials are better suited to grave sites or the homes of the bereaved.  Others think we should be more sensitive and just let the more study memorials stay and maybe remove older ones as they get more shabby.

I’d be interested in what E-Hell members would do in our situation. Add signs that say something to the effect of “post no bills?” Ignore it?    0828-14

The resolution of this problem lies in the principles of property ownership and the choices a property owner makes in regards to their own land.    For example, cemeteries have restrictions on what can be placed around grave sites and when.   Our local cemetery prohibits loose objects and other items around the grave during grass mowing season but in the winter, the cemetery becomes decorated with garden flags, little statues, solar lights, etc placed around numerous graves.

Public places do not leave memorials intact and up for unlimited periods of time either.  Bouquets of flowers, candles, toys, notes are left in public, common areas when a tragedy strikes and I do believe the people who do this must know that these items cannot remain there indefinitely.    Items placed at the base of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. are removed daily and I am sure that the many flowers left at Buckingham Palace after Princess Diana’s death were removed before they deteriorated.

A man died after being ejected from his flipping truck just a hundred feet past my driveway several years ago and someone placed a cross made of PVC pipe on the telephone pole near his death site.  It’s still there because it is small enough to be discreet and it is out of the way.   But another death memorial a few miles away consisted of a huge mound of stuffed animals and as time went by, it became disgusting and someone eventually had to clean it up and I’m certain that someone was not the person who originally created that memorial.    Along one highway near us, people have placed memorial crosses or wreaths on the fences at crash sites which remain in place for years.   The main point of this paragraph is to enlighten people who are inclined to do memorials to consider what you leave behind so that you do not create more work for someone else or create an eventual eyesore.

OP, placing more signage on the fence won’t have the deterrent effect you want.    I think you are fine with throwing away items that are disposable and are deteriorating or in danger of deteriorating.   It’s trash at that point.   I’d more inclined to leave discreet items like small crosses, wreaths, plaques, vinyl banners that have been tied to the fence for a period of time of your choosing.   By leaving the more discreet and durable memorials in place, perhaps you may subtly influence others to leave similar memorials in the future.  Obviously you cannot control the road right of way the government owns and maintains but what you choose to do with your own land is your right as property owner and you shouldn’t feel guilty for any decisions you do make.

{ 143 comments }

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  • Lex September 4, 2014, 3:01 am

    Why not ask the local authority to put their own boundary fence up on their side of the boundary then they will have responsibility for maintaining it?

    • Colleen September 4, 2014, 7:08 am

      Why should taxpayers have to pay for an additional boundary and upkeep?

      • Karen L September 4, 2014, 4:53 pm

        Taxpayers are the ones leaving crap on private property.

      • Steve September 4, 2014, 4:53 pm

        Why should the property owner have to pay for the mess that the taxpayers made?

        The county does need to take some action here. A fatality every year is flat out idiotic. There are ways to control speed, and they work.

    • hakayama September 4, 2014, 9:03 am

      Have you priced fences lately?
      Have you looked at budget allocations of local government bodies?
      If you had a voice in local public spending, would YOU vote for such an item?
      I’m glad that you (probably) don’t have any say in ANY matters in my own neck of the woods, but then, perhaps it was YOU that OK’d the $1000. toilet seats* for the military… 😉

      *Recollection is sketchy but that’s the principle.

      • hakayama September 4, 2014, 9:27 am

        Sorry, my original response was made before the proverbial second cup of coffee, so I must have missed the joke.
        You did write your comment tongue in cheek, right? 😉

    • Calli Arcale September 4, 2014, 11:27 am

      In a rural area, that local authority would be the county, which would have little interest or funding to build and maintain such a fence. I think the suggestion would be met with resounding silence.

    • Powers September 4, 2014, 1:47 pm

      Why would the local authority erect a fence that they would then need to maintain?

      • bloo September 5, 2014, 4:35 am

        It would be best for the county to mull over and erect whatever needs to be erected to make that stretch of road safer than to erect a fence in need of maintenance to memorialize the persons who die on that stretch of road.

        • hakayama September 5, 2014, 9:20 am

          A voice from “the boonies” here: please let’s not ignore the very nature of old country roads. So many of them were laid out along meandering streams and rivers, before there were automobiles, before there was heavy mountain moving equipment to build costly flat and straight raceways between Podunk X and Podunk Y.
          Those roads were not meant for the young indestructible immortals out for fun. They were built for awfully boring utilitarian traffic, not for fun rides.
          You enter at your own risk. You read the road signs. You act responsibly. If you don’t, you might die young. If you don’t die but become an invalid, you might become the taxpayers’ charge for life.
          Sorry, I prefer to choose my own “good causes”…

          • Steve September 5, 2014, 1:18 pm

            Uh, no.

  • just4kicks September 4, 2014, 3:30 am

    We live in a rural area with alot of winding back roads. There are many of these memorials around some of the more dangerous bends. Some are beautiful and poignant, others are garish and tacky. It’s your property, I feel it’s your choice to take them down or leave them there.
    Two years ago, a girl in my oldest son’s sophomore class shot and killed herself. It’s a small Catholic High School and the kids and faculty were beyond devastated. My son was good friends with her and had no inkling whatsoever that she was suffering so badly. Her favorite teacher put a small Christmas tree on her desk with the intention all the kids brought ornaments to decorate her tree. The teacher wanted to keep it there until the end of the school year, but the school board demanded he take it down after a week or so. The kids were very angry and hurt, and my son said the first day they came to class and saw the tree was taken down, the teacher was sitting at his desk quietly crying. A lot of the parents, myself included, implored the board to please let them have Emma’s tree. The answer was no. It wasn’t in anyone’s way, and made the kids feel as though she was still with them, in some small way. To this day, I honestly do not see what the harm was in keeping the tree on her desk.

    • flora September 4, 2014, 8:12 am

      That’s sad. I’m sorry for your son’s loss. When I was in high school (over twenty years ago so my information is dated) schools would memorialize high school student deaths from car accidents ( especially due to drunk driving, using it as a lesson) but not sucide. Their reason being that they didn’t want to glorify sucide or encourge others to choose that path. Perhaps that was thier reasoning? If so I don’t agree but could understand their reasoning.

      • Jen September 5, 2014, 6:49 am

        Not that I agree with the reasoning, but, I think you might be right. ESPECIALLY with it being a Catholic High School. Suicide is a mortal sin in the Catholic religion and gives you a one way ticket to H-E-double hockey sticks.

    • Lady Anne September 4, 2014, 10:39 am

      One has to wonder why a religious school would object to a Christmas tree. (School boards, by and large, are composed of loony birds, anyway.)

      However – most of the time, private property does not go all the way to the edge of the road. On our street, the property line is 20 feet on either side of the yellow stripe down the middle, so technically if somebody placed a memorial on the edge of our lot it wouldn’t actually be on our property, although, like you, I would consider it to be so – especially if I had to mow around it. The county has always taken the attitude that as long as the memorial is “well maintained and not a distraction to other drivers” it can stay. I would think that balloons could be removed within a day or so, as they die a “natural death”, anyway, with the air or helium leaking out. Stuffed animals ought to be tossed after the first good rainstorm. Beyond that, you could ask the local authorities for advice and assistance.

    • Sarah September 4, 2014, 11:10 am

      What did the board say that the harm was?

    • AnaMaria September 4, 2014, 12:44 pm

      The only possible way I could sympathize with the school board would be the possibility that it might look like the teacher was “glamourizing” suicide – in the heat of a highly emotional moment, other students who may be dealing with suicidal thoughts might have visions of their classmates setting up memorials on their desks and crying for them.

      That’s not to say this is the right attitude to have towards suicide- years ago, it wasn’t understood how many people can be affected by depression or other mental illnesses, or how much bullying or abuse can break a person down to the point where death feels like the only option. Suicide was seen as a selfish way to gain attention. It also wasn’t understood that regardless of the cause of death, loved ones who are left behind need to grieve and remember the one they’ve lost. Perhaps members of this particular school board weren’t willing to let go of old mindsets.

    • lakey September 4, 2014, 12:57 pm

      This is a tough one. I taught 4th grade at a Catholic School. Several years ago a student in my class died very suddenly at a sports team practice. It turned out that she had had a heart defect that there was no way of knowing about. Everyone was devastated, the family, students, school staff, and parents of other students. I will never forget the morning after. Parents brought their children in and stood in the classroom crying. Fortunately we had a school social worker who had had experience in dealing with handling these issues at schools. Interestingly, she was against the idea of putting up memorials. She had some very good reasons why they were a bad idea, but I can’t remember what they were.

      I can see where the school board members would feel that keeping this tree on the desk for the rest of the school year might be a bad idea, perhaps dragging out the grieving process too much.

    • Asharah September 4, 2014, 1:27 pm

      School board probably figured the best way to deal with a teenager’s suicide was to stick there heads in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen. Just ignore the problem and refuse to acknowledge the other student’s pain and it’ll all go away.

    • Devin September 4, 2014, 3:37 pm

      I also can see the school boards side on this since it’s a Catholic School. Some Catholics still believe that suicide is the ultimate sin and those who kill themselves are going to hell. If this is a conservative board, they might think that this goes against their biblical teachings.

      • just4kicks September 4, 2014, 4:28 pm

        Thank you all for your heartfelt comments and possible explanations as to why the tree was thought not to be a good idea. The school did bring grief counsellors in for quite a few days, and kept the school chapel open for anyone who may want to pray. She killed herself on a school night (much speculation, nothing concrete as to why), and as the news started to spread through social media I watched my son’s heart breaking. He was very torn up over it as they sat next to each other in most of their classes. He told me that if they had lined up every kid in his school, she would’ve been the last person he ever thought would commit suicide. I think the school handled it the best they knew how, I just personally agree with how it was handled. On the one year anniversary of her death, my son came home very upset because the school did absolutely NOTHING to honor her memory. No Mass, no morning prayer….nothing. Right before the last bell of the day, there was a quick mention of her over the loudspeaker because all her friends planted themselves in the Principals office until he made mention of the one year anniversary and a quick prayer. And, a bunch of the Seniors went to the Priest who is the spiritual advisor and said how upset there was no Mass for Emma that day. The priest replied that suicide is condemned in the Bible…So there certainly would be no celebration of her life since she took her own. Um, that’s not the God I chose to believe in or teach my children to believe in.
        Apologies for this being so long, and thanks again for all the nice comments.

        • just4kicks September 4, 2014, 4:32 pm

          Sorry….I just personally DISAGREE how much of it was handled by those in charge….

      • lakey September 4, 2014, 5:26 pm

        Most Catholic priests that I know will say that yes, suicide is a mortal sin, however you can never be sure in an individual case, since the person may have felt remorse between committing the act, and dying. In my experience, they now give the family the benefit of the doubt.
        You never know if someone is guilty of serious sin or not,because you don’t know what is in their heart. I doubt if the demand that the teacher take the tree off the desk, was due to thinking the student had sinned. I suspect that it is more likely that there are those people who feel that it is better to not dwell on an incident like this too much.

        As I said previously, a school social worker, in an incident involving one of my students, was against having any type of memorial object, including planting a tree. There was a rationale behind this that I don’t recall. Some people feel that it is better to grieve and move on. Others are just uncomfortable with death. In the case of a high school student, there is probably a fear that some students may get the idea to do the same thing.

        • just4kicks September 5, 2014, 10:55 am

          I do agree that might their thinking. Another “slap in the face” so to speak, was our local middle had a very beloved teacher pass away a few years ago from cancer. The school board planted a beautiful memorial garden outside the school with a beautiful commerative plaque. On the anniversary of her death, all the kids gather around it for a small ceremony. We live in a very small town, so many of the high school kids were there when this teacher passed. Now, I certainly do not begrudge this lady any of the memorials they put in place after her death, I think it’s lovely, but a little confusing to classmates of the girl who died. Let’s celebrate a wonderful teacher and just sweep this girl’s death under the rug like it never happened.

      • Cat September 4, 2014, 6:32 pm

        The Church sees suicide as a form of mental illness and does not believe that those who commit suicide are damned. That was a very old belief when mental illness was not understood.
        I taught in a Catholic school and we had a Christmas tree in the office, but it is not a Christian symbol. It is a pagan German practice brought over by Prince Albert when he married Queen Victoria of England. It spread to the United States and, while lovely, is not a reflection of Christian belief.
        I had students who passed away and we said the Office of the Dead for them. The Office of the Dead is a series of prayers said for those who have died, regardless of the cause of death. The prayers concentrate on the resurrection and eternal life. We also had a mass for those who had died with the entire student body in attendance.
        We never ignored our student’s feelings or put our heads in the sand. We taught them to turn to their faith and to believe that there is no death in Christ.

        • keloe September 5, 2014, 11:42 am

          Yes. It was explained to me that if a person commits suicide while mentally ill, it is not a sin, because they could not be held responsible for what they were doing. Apparently nowadays the church tends to see every suicide as a sign of mental disturbance.
          I was told of this after the perfectly regular church funeral of my uncle who hanged himself in a barn, so I guess that’s the official approach now.

          There is, however, a psychological phenomenon of suicides being “infectious” and that may be behind the schools’ decision.

    • Melissa September 4, 2014, 4:43 pm

      I hope the school board did it for the sake of the children. It is ok to publicly mourn for a while, but life does go on and the students need to know that, and move on from their sadness, and start living again. Just having the tree on constant display was morbid and they were right. The teacher was unintentionally teaching the children a flawed process for dealing with death and dying and grieving. Also just to placate you, the school board did not say not to display the tree the next holiday season, which would be acceptable

    • Kimstu September 4, 2014, 6:29 pm

      The reasoning behind requiring the “desktop memorial” to be taken down after a week or so may have been akin to the custom of raising the blinds and un-muffling the doorbell in a house of mourning after the funeral is over. Restoring the usual appearance of a household, workplace, classroom etc. in this way doesn’t mean that the bereaved aren’t still mourning the loss of their loved one. It just means that the living are now expected to start resuming their ordinary responsibilities and activities rather than constantly contemplating the physical tokens of their grief.

      Besides, although I’m no expert in Catholic theology, it seems plausible to me that a religious school might not totally approve of relying on a physical “mini-shrine” to the deceased girl to “make the kids feel as though she was still with them, in some small way”. Doesn’t their faith teach that she’s “still with them” in a very important way even after death, shrine or no shrine?

      And finally, if the teacher constructed this “desktop memorial” while Christmas trees were in season and proposed to maintain it until “the end of the school year” (in June, right?), that does sound to me like a rather long time. After about a week or two, it could get rather awkward or creepy to have a deceased classmate’s desk still symbolically “occupied” by her so the other students can “feel as though she was still with them”.

      For instance, what happens if there’s some activity where the kids all have to pull their desks into a circle: do they have to put the deceased classmate’s desk in the circle too so they’re not symbolically “leaving her out”? If a visiting student sits in on the class one day and needs to use the vacant desk, will the deceased’s friends feel angry or hurt if the memorial symbolizing their classmate is temporarily shoved into a corner or a closet? Classrooms are really not appropriate places for maintaining shrines to the recently deceased.

      • Angel September 5, 2014, 8:17 am

        I totally agree with this. The school board was correct in making the teacher take it down. The students should be able to remember their classmate without a physical reminder. A more appropriate memorial would be a plaque on a bench outside or something like this. Or maybe plant a tree in her memory. To have a memorial in the classroom of this type–may eventually be more upsetting to the students than anything else.

        As for the OP’s issue, signage will definitely not help. But if the fence is her property, she is well within her rights to take down any memorials that will be damaged in the elements. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to put up a sign but, she should be aware that most people who are operating on emotion probably will not read the signs 🙁

        • just4kicks September 5, 2014, 10:59 am

          Thank you all again for all your comments.
          You’ve given me a different perspective on the situation to think about.

      • Sorka Hanrahan September 5, 2014, 10:43 am

        I totally agree with this. When I was a student, this would have been extremely distracting and macabre to me after a week or two, and bother me daily. Not that I would have forgotten her, but it would have caused me to dwell on it too much.

  • Martin8 September 4, 2014, 5:04 am

    “…… could be quite distracting to other drivers on what is already obviously a very dangerous piece of road.”

    This is, I think, the most important issue here. A dangerous piece of road is being made more dangerous by adding distractions for drivers.

  • camlan September 4, 2014, 5:52 am

    Some states/counties/towns have regulations about how long such memorials can be kept up, their size, what can be posted, etc. I’d look to see if there are any regulations for your state/area, and follow them.

    If there aren’t any, your family is free to do as they wish.

    One thing that won’t stop the memorials, but will give the family some protection against lawsuits if someone complains about things being thrown away, is to post signs stating that the fence is private property. I suspect many think it is public property and that they can leave things there forever.

  • Marie September 4, 2014, 5:57 am

    Did you try talking with the local police department? Maybe some ground rules van be set or they can assist in removing the memorials.

    If you don’t want to involve them: just take away things after a month or so, or earlier if it’s an environmental hazard (why people leave flowers wrapped in plastic… I’m still clueless). If people persist, leave a note mentioning that memorials will be honored for a month our of respect, but that after that month, the memorial will have to move to the cemetary and all further items left behind will be thrown away. Not very nice, but sometimes people need to get a little “shock” to let them see some reason through their grief.

    Of course this will do nothing for the next person that is building a shrine on your private fence, so I do suggest trying to make an arrangement with the police regarding memorials. They will know who died, and can call the family to kindly ask them to move their mourning to a more private place, such as the cemetary or at their own homes. The police will also have to realize that the memorials are a potential hazard for both nature and drivers, and hopefully assist you.

  • Lkb September 4, 2014, 6:05 am

    I wonder if the OP would consider installing a small but dignified permanent memorial “in honor of the many people who have been injured or killed on Elm Street over the years. Please Drive Carefully.”

    Might stop both problems, the accidents and the makeshift memorials

    • admin September 4, 2014, 3:54 pm

      Nice solution.

  • Anonymous September 4, 2014, 6:10 am

    This isn’t so much an etiquette issue, as a safety issue. Why would people think it’s a good idea to put up visually distracting items on a piece of dangerous road where so many people die in car accidents? A small memorial tree of a deceased classmate is one thing–everyone agreed they wanted it there, it wasn’t in anyone’s way, it didn’t impede the learning process, and even if it had, well, learning in a classroom isn’t a situation where distractions can be life or death, in most cases. I’m not saying that public memorials are bad, but a dangerous stretch of road isn’t a good place for one. Is there any way that the memorial could be moved someplace else, like maybe a public park, library, free art gallery, city hall, community centre, or another place where people will see it, but their safety won’t be compromised in the process? It might even be better to do it that way, because then people could look at the memorial properly, without having to worry about traffic.

  • The Elf September 4, 2014, 7:24 am

    This is one reason I don’t like roadside memorials. They look fine at first, then you get a nasty rainstorm and the teddy bear looks rather bedraggled. Then a few weeks pass, and the the bear looks moldy and sad. Then it’s a full season, and the everything has turned to mush. It lays forgotten, which defeats the purpose of the memorial.

    If they are not “active”, I think you’re free and clear to dispose of any and all of it. If you feel that it is wrong to simply throw it out, burn it. Fire is used in many religions as a purifying act, and we dispose of flags by burning. If you want, you can attempt to contact the next of kin and ask if they want anything first, or decide to leave up durable and more permanent structures like those wooden crosses I see planted roadside.

    For those that are new, I think you should leave them alone. Yes, it’s your property, but I think the memorials will happen no matter what signs you post and if you try to remove them you’ll come off as an unfeeling cad. What you can do is to approach the next of kin, express your sympathies, and then say that it is your policy to do whatever (remove everything after 6 months, dispose of flowers and other organic materials weekly, etc). You can do this via letter if you like.

  • Dominic September 4, 2014, 7:36 am

    This discussion touches on some issues brought up a few months ago in a posting about memorializing the deceased in tattoos on one’s body or stickers on the back of one’s vehicle. It seems as if memorials are shifting to more visible and public places beyond cemeteries in the last few years. And the memorials in cemeteries are often of an increasingly personal nature.

    In certain ways, this is not a bad thing, if it means people are being more open and genuine about grief and remembering their loved ones who have passed. And the memorials along highways or at dangerous intersections can be a reminder, perhaps, to be more careful. That is often what I think when I see them, and I see these displays more and more often in our area. When the display gets dirty, tattered, or dilapidated, however, it’s time for it to be taken down, and it would be nice if those who put it up in the first place did take care of that. As for the 25-foot-long Christmas message to the deceased, that one I find a bit odd and very intrusive, and I hope the creators cleaned it up shortly after the holidays.

  • knitwicca September 4, 2014, 7:50 am

    The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 devastated so many lives.
    I was visiting family in 2009 and the sheer volume of items attached to the fence around the memorial was overwhelming. Flowers, stuffed animals, IDs left by the first responders, cards, even t-shirts covered the fence. Some were obviously old, faded, weather-worn. Others were newer.
    The sight of all those items is both poignant and distressing.
    I have never understood the need to leave mementos at the site of a death (or multiple deaths). I prefer to remember lives lived for the time the person was allotted.

    For the OP, I would suggest your removing items as necessary. I also agree with asking the local county government to add a fence on the public area so that you and your family don’t continue to be responsible for clearing other people’s well-intentioned memorials.

    • admin September 4, 2014, 3:47 pm

      You reminded me of something….instead of leaving anything “memorial”, I remember I chose to pick up an unusual stone at the site. It’s about the size of a quarter and I still have it. I came across it in my dresser the other day and it brought back a lot of memories. So, I’d prefer to take a small memento, if possible, than leave one.

      • o_gal September 5, 2014, 7:08 am

        That’s a good point and is a lovely sentiment. However, if you take it further, if everyone who visits a memorial tries to pick up something as a memento, even something as small as a quarter-sized rock, it can end up devastating an area. In the case of the OP, if people turned leaving memorials into taking stuff, she could end up with a new problem. I think it’s best to apply the “leave no trace” mindset – take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

  • Mags September 4, 2014, 7:50 am

    If it’s a rural area like mine, a letter to the editor of the local paper would serve to remind people that memorials attached to private fencing leave the property owners with the uncomfortable decision of whether and when to remove it. You could also mention that someone has to remove the memorials that have deteriorated, and given the dangerous nature of the road, that person is at risk of being struck by a vehicle. You can be compassionate for the families while still raising the issue.

    Alternatively, you could ask your local government rep to raise it at a meeting and have it reported in the paper (county meetings for my area are all summarized and reported in the local papers). It shouldn’t even be your responsibility to clean up roadside memorials, so perhaps the county could set a policy about memorials and you would just have to report them and the county maintenance department could deal with it.

    Another possibility would be to speak to your local funeral director and ask if they would be able to bring up the issue of road side memorials with families in that situation. It might be something they would be willing to do as a matter of course.

    To be honest, I’d never really thought about the issue of who cleans up the memorials.

  • Melissa September 4, 2014, 8:02 am

    I always thought grieving should be private and there is a time for the public expression and then to withdraw and resolve the issue privately. The land owner is in the right to remove the items especially after a week. The Christmas tree in the classroom was morbid, yes, the children needed something, but leaving it up stalled the healing process for the deceased classmates. The schoolboard was right to ask the teacher to remove the tree, but they did not say the teacher could not bring out the next holiday season to remember her.

    • just4kicks September 4, 2014, 4:42 pm

      I do agree grieving should be a private matter also, but these were heartbroken teenagers that were probably for many of them, dealing with death for the first time. Add the fact this girl shot and killed herself, was an extra sadness to deal with. It wasn’t as though she died of an illness or in a accident, the suicide aspect made it especially tragic. My son was great friends with her and still today feels tremendous guilt that he “didn’t know she was suffering”. That’s hard on an adult, much less a 15 year old. The tree was because this girl LOVED Christmas and all her friends made or bought ornaments that reminded them of Emma. So in a way, that tree was her spirit, and they still had her there. I thought it was beautiful and touching, and still think it wouldn’t have hurt to keep it there.

      • Melissa September 5, 2014, 7:33 am

        The children needed to be taught that life does go on, and also the Christmas tree was originally a pagan symbol, the teacher was making a shrine out of the desk and tree, and teaching the children this flawed process of mourning is wrong. That’s right flawed, my father also chose to end his life but I do not return to my childhood home and insist to the new owner that a shrine must be their basement for all time. I am not discounting the idea, but my goodness, what world do you live in?

        • Ai September 5, 2014, 11:06 am

          I have a very hard time swallowing that a particular grief process, especially one with a Christmas tree memento to represent the memory of a young girl who died, as “flawed”. Everyone processes grief differently, and while I don’t think it was completely wrong for the school to ask that the teacher take down the little tree, I think you’re being really harsh. A memento, a reminder of someone near and dear, is not the same as a demanding a owner of a home to turn their basement into a shrine of someone they don’t know. I have no idea why you needed to add that comparison. Grief is a personal thing and how you process grief might be very different than just4kicks child and neither process is wrong.

          • Ai September 5, 2014, 11:09 am

            Reading through the thread, I can understand the comparison to the roadside memorials. Still not with a little Christmas tree on a desk in a classroom, especially if it was during the holiday season.

        • just4kicks September 5, 2014, 11:12 am

          Um…Wow.
          Respectfully, just because you don’t agree with how the kids and this teacher decided to mourn a 15 year old girl who killed herself doesn’t mean its “wrong” or “flawed”. The tree wasn’t morbid, it was beautiful and gave the kids a place to focus their confusing feelings of guilt, sadness and loss over their friend and classmate.
          The “world I live in” is one where I’ll do anything in my power to help my young son through a difficult grieving process…no matter what that “process” might be.
          I’m so sorry your father committed suicide, no one should go through that, ever, but given your harsh comments and rude tone, maybe you’re still going through your own “process”….which kind of proves my point that it’s different for everyone.

          I think I’m done with this now, and won’t be commenting again. Thanks to all.

        • Lady Anne September 5, 2014, 12:30 pm

          Charging off on a tangent here – I’ll agree that the Christmas tree was *originally* a pagan symbol, but it has been thoroughly “cleansed” over the years, and is now considered a symbol on the unchanging nature of God, because pine trees are green all year round.

          Jesus was NOT born in December; we took over a pagan celebration of the return of the sun and used it to celebrate the return of The Son. Sheep are kept in folds or pens during the winter; the only time the shepherds needed to keep watch during the night was in the spring when the lambs were being born. Nobody beds down in a snow bank! Would you suggest that since we are using a pagan date for Christmas, we move the holiday to the spring? The Feast of the Annunciation to September?

          Sorry about that – has nothing to do with OPs original question. Some things just set me off.

      • Sorka Hanrahan September 5, 2014, 10:48 am

        What about the students that this would have bothered greatly? I understand that everyone mourns differently, but what about the child would needs to not be reminded daily about the tragedy? What about the child who was not her close friend and who struggles with their own depression and/or suicidal thoughts and sees the attention heaped on the shrine?

        • Asharah September 5, 2014, 12:57 pm

          What the heck difference does it make if a Christmas tree was originally a pagan symbol?

        • Melissa September 5, 2014, 3:24 pm

          That’s my point, you have to turn your attention to the living and life itself and not stay stuck like just4kicks insists upon. It was horrible that no one noticed her depression but helping the living is even more important.

  • Kimberly Herbert September 4, 2014, 8:06 am

    Remove it immediately – all of it. Eventually it will stop. It has gotten so big because your family has let it. For those in your family that want to leave it up – ask them at what price. What happens when some of this junk blows into the road, or someone is distracted because of it and there is an accident.

    For something like the 25 foot memorial – I would report it to the cops as vandalism. That is an awful amount of trash to clean up. I would go in person to the sheriff’s office or whoever the local authorities are and tell them you consider all the memorials to be vandalism and while you don’t want people to be arrested you do want them told to get off the property if an officer observes them putting up anything.

    If these people want to do something in their deceased friend/family member’s name they should be doing some type of PSA/public awareness campaign about not street racing or not driving while impaired.

    • Karen L September 4, 2014, 5:07 pm

      Kimberly makes sense. If there are a bunch of memorials already there, people don’t mind adding another one. But if there are no memorials, then only very determined people will leave one.

      Getting the police or other authorities involved is also a good idea. Work together to try to find a solution.

  • another Laura September 4, 2014, 8:08 am

    I have some concern for the animals your tenants have grazing in these fields. If these memorials are fastened to the fence in such a way that the livestock can access them, it could cause major problems. Just imagine if a cow, horse, sheep or goat swallows a plastic cup, Christmas ornament or balloon! I would make sure that your renters feel free to imediately remove any memorial, no matter how tasteful, if they feel it may endanger their animals.

    • Skittle September 5, 2014, 7:47 pm

      I agree completely. I have a horse that will eat anything she can get her mouth around and would very likely try to eat a balloon if one was left tied to the fence along the road. I certainly wouldn’t want to have to pay a huge vet bill due to an impaction colic because someone decided to litter by leaving a ‘memorial’ on my property. I would very promptly remove anything left on my property because ultimately it is litter, and I would also be inclined to have anyone caught leaving a trash on my property charged with trespassing and littering.

      Even if it was left on the roadside where farm animals weren’t able to access it, what’s to stop a wild animal from getting hit by a car because it was curious about the garbage on the road that might be food, or worse yet, dying a slow painful death because it ingested a non food item that looked or possibly smelled like food.

      I’ve never understood the insistence of leaving trash behind in this manner, and the ever increasing number of these roadside shrines disturbs me.

  • Girlie September 4, 2014, 8:22 am

    Having witnessed the suffering of a family that resulted in the construction of one of these roadside memorials, my thoughts are in agreement with those of the admin.
    Nothing lasts forever – flowers, teddy bears and love notes included. Even the prettiest, best-made wooden cross will eventually appear worn with age and will need to be repainted or replaced. If this were my property, I would allow the construction of such memorials, but I would also take them down after a certain period.
    Quick question: would it be possible to post a letter in the local newspaper informing individuals that all memorials over 30 days old or that were in bad shape would be removed, and to come collect any items that they may want? It’s entirely possible that nothing would change, but it’s also possible that at least some of the work would be done for you by the very people who put them there.
    Actually, that makes me wonder… Perhaps instead of “No Trespassing” signs, a small investment in a couple of signs stipulating that all memorials will be removed and disposed of by the property owners after a period of 30 days would be helpful. At least then, no one could say they weren’t warned. The thought may be unreasonable and I don’t really think it’s fair for the OP’s family to have to make that sort of investment, but maybe it would help.

  • Steve September 4, 2014, 8:22 am

    You don’t get to appropriate public property, or other people’s private property, for any reason. Any reason.

    I never saw these memorials in the U.S. when I was a kid. In fact, relatives who traveled to Europe would tell stories about all the crosses clustered around hairpin turns on mountain roads, and we all thought it was the craziest thing we’d ever heard.

    We all lose family members and other loved ones. Why are the victims of automobile accidents the only ones to get memorials? I can think of a couple of nursing home and hospice beds where I could tie a gigantic blinking cross to the bedpost, as the current occupant looks on in terror. Someone died in one of the bedrooms of my parents’ old house. I could bang on the door, demanding to install a wall of votive candles and pictures of Jesus. I don’t. Nor would I even try such a thing on the public curb out front.

    Highway memorials are a mixture of genuine grief plus groupthink plus trend. No one ever really thinks about maintenance or clean up. No one cares if all these crosses are attached to a fence belonging to a rabbi. Yes, they’re touching, and I sympathize. But they’re also part of a larger American cultural movement where whoever has the most feels, wins.

    • Steve September 4, 2014, 8:50 am

      Sorry, one more thought:

      Whatever happened to tending graves?

      People used to pay their respects by keeping gravesites continually maintained. Planting flowers. Pulling weeds. Trimming around headstones. It was the ceaseless, continuing care that showed the departed was still loved and remembered. Even after cemeteries started prohibiting some of this, people could still weed and trim.

      By contrast, these roadside memorial seem to say, “I had my big moment. Now it’s your problem.”

      • Melissa September 4, 2014, 4:34 pm

        Right Steve, I should go to my childhood home bang on the door and demand to put a cross on the place where my father passed, it has gotten ridiculous and tacky

      • Karen L September 4, 2014, 5:10 pm

        Steve, will you marry me?

    • bloo September 5, 2014, 4:42 am

      I agree completely. Well put.

    • JD September 5, 2014, 9:49 am

      I hadn’t thought of it that way, Steve, but you’re right about that. There’s a new house on the property where my parents’ house used to be, the house they both died in when it burned. I doubt the new owners would be too happy if I stuck a memorial in what is now their yard, or nailed a plaque to their house or fence. They didn’t even know my parents.
      That reminded me — a neighbor (with our permission) dug up my folks’ rose bushes before we sold the property, and planted them in the memorial garden at the church. Now to me, that is a lovely memorial.

      • NatGrl September 5, 2014, 1:54 pm

        And its Steve with the Win! This….all of this!

    • keloe September 5, 2014, 11:36 am

      In my country roadside crosses are quite frequent. However, I think it’s usually just a small simple cross with a candle, or maybe just a candle or two. Even in cities, I sometimes see a few candles where an accident took place recently. I can’t remember ever seeing large displays or stuffed toys (I wouldn’t be surprised about a small toy where a child died, though). People tend to leave a lot of stuff and candles at graves, though. Which is an appropriate place to leave stuff.

      Also, as a part of a statewide programme, stretches of road where lot of people died are marked. There is a big sign saying “Black Spot – xx dead, xx wounded”. It’s supposed to get people to drive more carefully, but apparently it doesn’t work – vast majority of drivers tend to speed up when they see the Black Point signs.

      As to why people do that – I think unexpected, sudden death is an important aspect here. Hospitals, hospices, are places where death is not unusual and often people have more time to come to terms with it and say goodbye. Learning that a loved one lost his or her life alone on a road somewhere is much worse (or so I imagine). Often the body is not in a condition to be seen. Maybe in that case people feel some sort of a connection to them at the death site. I guess it’s a way of saying goodbye.

      Personally I’m not the kind of peorson who reacts to death with a need of placing stuff in public spaces (I put flowers and candles on relatives’ graves), but it’s not unusual. When the former Czech President Vaclav Havel died, people immediately started placing clandles, flowers and letters around the King Wenceslas statue, in front of the Velvet Revolution memorial and in front of his house (Havel’s, that is). These were cleaned away after a few days. After John Paul II’s death people would place candles and flowers all along the John Paul II street on the curb. Those were cleaned away daily.

      Also: is it prohibited in US to tend graves?

      • Steve September 6, 2014, 8:31 am

        When I was little, my aunt would plant seasonal flowers in front of my grandfather’s headstone. Today that practice is prohibited by the cemetery. They switched to big tractor lawn mowers to save on labor costs, and flowers get in the way. It’s the same in many places. Everything in the US is about the dollar. Everything.

        • keloe September 8, 2014, 3:06 am

          Ahh, that explains it. Our cemeteries don’t look like flat lawns with headstones. The graves are usually stone. And if they are old (the cemeteries), the graves are usually piled chaotically between the lanes. No way to use a tractor lawnmower there. Or any lawnmower. people are responsible for maintaining them.

  • Cat September 4, 2014, 8:28 am

    The best memorial would be one sign that would read, “Dangerous road. Let’s be careful out here.”
    I would leave the memorial up for two days and then remove it. They do become trash eventually and are distracting.

    • hakayama September 7, 2014, 9:24 am

      Standard road signage takes care of that. But perhaps “official” warnings are not enough? Could it be that we need Las Vegas style billboards because the customary signs are not dramatic enough?

  • Angie September 4, 2014, 8:30 am

    Even if you post a sign that says “post no bills”, people are still going to leave things there. You could put up a sign that says no tresspassing, but a lot of people will still put things there because they aren’t going “inside” the fence. A better option might be to put up a sign that says “Items left on fence will be removed at the property owner’s discretion”. (obviously it shouldn’t be your responsibility to remove the items, but the fence is something that you have control of) That wording makes it clear that the fence is not on public property. If you find something distracting or items that are deteriorating, you can remove them when you feel it’s necessary. If you see something like that and it isn’t on the fence, you can call the road department and ask them to handle it. You may even find out what the road department will do with the rubbish, if you call then and tell them that it is in a designated area and is ready to be picked up, or if they will do a scheduled pickup say every 2 weeks, etc.

    • Steve September 4, 2014, 4:06 pm

      I think this is an important point. I have found that the traditional formulations for signage — like “curb your dog “or “post no bills “— are no longer widely understood. You really have to be explicit and hit people over the head.

  • Redneck Gravy September 4, 2014, 8:37 am

    I agree with Admin, it’s your private property and you should be able to maintain it.

    However, I’m sure you don’t want to offend anyone by removing their “memorial”, I know it’s more work for you but perhaps just keep it neat for awhile longer. Eventually most people get through their grief and stop leaving their memorial clutter on the side of the road.

    We have a few of these sites in our community and a letter to the editor in the local newspaper about the trashiness of it got the sites cleaned up and the continuous clutter stopped. Everyone handles their grief differently and I wouldn’t want to be the one that stopped the parents of this child from memorializing their son, however, you are still entitled to clean property, it’s a touchy situation.

    If after the first anniversary year has passed and the clutter continues it might be time to start removing everything as it appears, someone will get the hint.

    • Rap September 5, 2014, 10:16 pm

      See, my personal view is that one’s right to grieve exactly as one wants ends when it is affecting other people. If I want to wear black and tat myself up with the names of my dead relatives, or set up a massive shrine on my front lawn, that’s my right.

      I don’t have the right to set up a massive shrine on anyone else’s property

  • acr September 4, 2014, 8:58 am

    I’m probably going to sound harsh, but generally I think these road side memorials are very rude. As the Dame mentioned, it’s not as though the person placing is going to come clean it up when it deteriorates.

    I find the continued trashing of the OP’s property years after the deaths occured to be incredibly thoughtless and rude.

  • Chrysla September 4, 2014, 9:12 am

    I know people grieve in different ways, but I am one of those who cannot stand roadside memorials. I find them tacky and ugly. I know I am stepping on the grief of someone when I say this. However it smacks of someone’s grief being made public to outdo everyone else. Look at me – I’m grieving this person who died here. Look at me – I am still remembering them. Hey total strangers, look at me – my loved one died here. Acknowledge me me me. This is what I get out of roadside memorials. I hate it when roadsides are littered with reminders of sadness and death.

    My father died of a heart attack while driving home. I occasionally drive past the spot and think of him. I also notice that the tree he hit suffered no damage. I love to see the new growth on it. I saw children riding their bikes. I was so happy to see joy and laughter at that spot. It is much better than a reminder of sadness in my opinion. My grief is private and strangers need not intrude upon it.

    Having said this – I am aware that people grieve differently and some people have grown up with this type of behavior in their families and think that is how you are SUPPOSED to grieve; by putting up large displays for the world to see.

    OP: It is your property with all the rights of property ownership. If you wish to clean it and leave the non-deteriorating items that is up to you. Some places have laws about leaving roadside markers and this should be looked into. Frankly, I would be upset that all that litter was being left at the edges of my property. I think I read a story about one family getting a littering fine for putting up a memorial.

    • Steve September 4, 2014, 4:09 pm

      I find it funny that so many of us posted similar thoughts, each thinking at the time that no one else would agree!

    • hakayama September 4, 2014, 5:11 pm

      I’m with you, Chrysla, on the “look at broken-heartedy me” angle of some memorials, whether they’re at the roadside, the back window of a car or people’s body parts. What I call the “Sicilian widow” syndrome falls into this category also. Pity that the “in style” crowd, with its head to toe black uniforms, spoiled the effect for the original traditional mourners. 😉
      It is hard to decide which has the highest “ick” and risk factor: tattoos that look like bruises, car windows with reduced rear visibility, Pepto Bismol pink or porta-johnny blue plastic flowers by the road…

  • JeanLouiseFinch September 4, 2014, 9:14 am

    Maybe stuffed animals could be quickly taken down and donated to a children’s hospital or other children’s organization if they have not reached a stage where they look worn?

    • hakayama September 4, 2014, 7:37 pm

      Why would you want to expose young humans, with already compromised immunity, to the enormous potential of NASTY microbes hiding in STUFFED animals collected in the “wild”? No matter how unworn they may look…
      I don’t think there’s a really good way to disinfect these things effectively.

    • Anonymous September 4, 2014, 8:44 pm

      At the risk of getting flamed, it really bothers me when people leave stuffed animals on children’s graves, because those dead children don’t even know they’re there, but there are so many living children in the world who don’t have anything to play with; some in developing countries, and some not. I think it’d be far better to donate the toys to charity to begin with, and not even bother putting them on graves. The graves could still be decorated with things like flowers, pennant flags of favourite sports teams, laminated artwork, pretty stones, and other things that honour the deceased, without taking anything away from the living.

    • cheri September 4, 2014, 11:23 pm

      Lovely thought, but they may have exhaust, dirt or pollen on them. Not for sick kids.

      • AnaMaria September 5, 2014, 3:20 pm

        Maybe a different organization, then? In my hometown, the police department collects donated stuffed animals for children who are waiting at the station to be picked up (usually after their parents have been arrested and a foster home is being arranged). Or an international charity? Some of the animals could probably be safely tossed in the washing machine.

        This would only work if the OP’s family wants to remove the memorials immediately, though- stuffed animals would become shabby within a few days of being left outside.

  • Magicdomino September 4, 2014, 10:02 am

    There’s a short length of steep, twisty road leading to my neighborhood that I’m a little surprised has only one memorial. It’s a bit elaborate, but well-maintained — no rotting stuffed animals or faded fake flowers, just a cross and a kind of arbor around it. It is also well off the road, so that it isn’t a distraction to passing drivers.

    I like the idea of simple white crosses as memorials because they serve as a reminder that the road can be dangerous. Toys, flowers, etc. are understandable when the loss is new, but people need to understand that it must go when it deteriorates, and that you can’t keep leaving piles of stuff on the side of the road.

    • catherine September 4, 2014, 9:08 pm

      That’s what my council does only they are black crosses and those who are grieving for the victim can drape flowers over them. They are discreet and they are also a reminder of where the road is dangerous.

  • Tex Carol September 4, 2014, 10:03 am

    Consult with the local governmental entity that controls the right-of-way about removal of memorials in the ROW. Anything attached to your fence is up to you to move, and in fact, you may have a legal responsibility to do so if they are a distraction to drivers. Also, by not removing the memorials after a brief time (I’m thinking a month), it seems to me you’re sending a message that you are OK with them and therefore welcoming more of them.
    I understand that everyone grieves in their own way, but have often wondered about the advisability of these roadside shrines that take the eyes of other drivers off the roadway, leading perhaps to even more accidents.
    Planting a tree in a park in the deceased’s memory would be more fitting.

  • Princess Buttercup September 4, 2014, 10:10 am

    In some areas roadside memorials are actually illegal. In my state (Tennessee) they are illegal but will be left alone if they are small and not distracting. I would check the laws for your area. But in general, I’d remove anything that is put up on my fence because they could be causing undo wear and tear to your property that you have to pay to replace.

    I really have never understood roadside memorials. People say they do it to remind people that is a dangerous section but all they are doing is creating a distraction and thereby making it even more dangerous. And if a loved one has a heart attack in the dairy aisle of the local grocery store, we don’t go put up a wreath in the aisle. If someone dies on the job we don’t put a bunch of teddy bears on the conveyor belt they worked at. I could see if someone was intentionally murdered, putting up a memorial for a couple weeks as a way of telling the killer that they took the life of someone who was well loved, but otherwise…

  • Harley Granny September 4, 2014, 10:47 am

    I agree with Admin. While it is your property and you are free to do as you please. I would be on the side of leaving it there until it started to look shabby.

  • Library Diva September 4, 2014, 11:05 am

    Many years ago, a young man I grew up with lost control of his car on the last of a series of sharp curves in a nearby thoroughfare. It was the eve of his high school graduation, and his family terminated his life support a few days later. He was very popular, and the memorial grew quite large. The police let it stay up for a few days, and then announced that everything would be taken down to avoid future tragedies. I went out to see it, and there were five or six other people there, all pulled to the side of a two-lane road with a series of sharp, dangerous, blind curves.

    I think Admin’s approach is a good and compassionate compromise. You mentioned that someone goes out there about once a week. Maybe that could be part of the family member’s “rounds,” and anyone who seriously disagrees with removing things wouldn’t have to be a part of it. I think that a week is a fair amount of time, especially for paper and fabric items that don’t stand up to the elements. I completely understand the impulse to do this, but I agree that it’s better suited to a gravesite or to the person’s own property. I don’t think anyone would feel that a bunch of moldy, filthy stuffed animals is a fitting tribute to someone they loved.

  • Lisa September 4, 2014, 11:20 am

    I don’t mind these markers at all and can only imagine the grief the survivors are going through.
    These markers also serve as a reminder to drivers to slow down and be alert.

  • Margaret September 4, 2014, 11:22 am

    It’s your property pull it down if you want. If it was my property I’d take everything down immediately as a signal that the memorials aren’t allowed.

    In my humble opinion ALL roadside memorials are distracting. People will slow down and look and thus create hazardous driving conditions. Surely there is a safer way for them to memorialize their deceased rather than a small monument where they died in a horrible accident?

  • JD September 4, 2014, 11:30 am

    I don’t know about the OP’s county, but our county isn’t putting up a fence anywhere just because someone asked for it, especially if a fence, albeit a private one, already is there. I go with admin’s solution — take them down as needed. It would be great if there was one large plaque where names could be added as fatalities occur and that be it, but the OP’s family shouldn’t have to foot the bill for it, and I can’t imagine who else would. Perhaps an ad in the local paper explaining your sympathies, but stating that perishable and degraded memorials will be removed, and that you ask that no more be added…? If it could be worded gently enough — I wouldn’t want to see your fence vandalized by angry “mourners.”
    just4kicks, in our community, such memorials to suicides are strongly discouraged because of the fear that others will see suicide as a glamorous act guaranteed to have people beating their chests in regret over one’s death for years, and emulate it. We see too many teen suicides these days for the authorities to allow anything that might inadvertently encourage it. Agree with them or not, that’s the reason around here.

    • just4kicks September 4, 2014, 4:49 pm

      I understand what you’re saying, and maybe that’s why the board decided that. It’s a fine line between helping young ones grieve constructively and not wanting to advocate suicide as a solution.

      • JD September 5, 2014, 9:21 am

        You are so right. I can’t understand her idea myself, but my daughter had a friend who for a time had a “suicide pact” with a relative, and she told my daughter it was because she thought that would be the best way to leave the world — while you are young, good looking, in control of yourself, and so all your friends will still be around to mourn you. We’d had a suicide occur just before that which was very publicly mourned as a tragedy, and it just started her thinking about suicide. My daughter immediately told me and I called her mother. She never did it, thank heavens; maybe she never was truly serious, but she scared us for a while.
        Having said that, I have suffered two suicides in my family (two first cousins), and it seems cruel to the survivors to ignore the deaths completely. It’s a very fine line to walk!

  • Laura September 4, 2014, 11:36 am

    I wouldn’t place a “post no bills” sign or talk to anyone. They’re mourning. They mean no harm. I wouldn’t want to add to their distress. I would just quietly remove the items. I doubt they expect them to be left up. They probably haven’t really thought much beyond their grief. I’d probably just establish a routine like every 2nd Friday remove everything that is on my property. That way it’s not personal or selective and things have been left for a bit.

    Where I live, roadside memorials are actually illegal because they have caused traffic problems/unsafe conditions.

    • Lady Catford September 4, 2014, 9:11 pm

      Well said. Just quietly remove the stuff.

  • Daphne September 4, 2014, 11:39 am

    You are very kind to allow this on your property. I don’t know if I could be so patient with people attaching things to my fence, and I would probably post some signs to that effect.
    In my rural area it is customary to leave a small white cross on the site of a fatal car accident indefinitely. But I don’t see anything wrong with removing everything else as soon as it starts looking trashy, or a month or so after the accident, whichever comes first. People don’t expect things they leave at cemeteries to stay there forever, they won’t expect the same from a roadside either.

    • KiwiAlice September 5, 2014, 8:12 am

      It’s common to see these white crosses in New Zealand, but generally with no embellishment – at least after a certain amount of time has passed. Our roads are pretty dangerous, and the simple white crosses, I think, actually remind people to drive safely, rather than distracting them. Sort of a “Lest We Forget (To Drive Safely)”.

  • Calli Arcale September 4, 2014, 11:39 am

    I think it shows great compassion and kindness that you have put some thought to this issue, and that you want to do the right thing for grieving people speaks well of you. Admin’s response is excellent. People who put up these sorts of memorials are doing it in the expectation that it will be transient, generally. I presume you do go out to the property every now and again to see to any maintenance of the fence and general inspection of the property. You can add in a little time for general cleanup of memorials which have deteriorated. Sodden paper, soggy stuffies, wilted flowers, that sort of thing. If you have a slough along the fenceline that you burn it periodically, that would also be a good time.

    There’s no good rule of thumb. My inlaws live out in the country, and they have had only one death on the road along their property — a drunk driver. As it’s in South Dakota, the site is therefore marked with a “Think!” sign, and someone has decorated it with a pair of boots. None of us has any idea who, or why, or even if they have anything to do with the actual deceased, but my inlaws elected to leave the boots alone. They’re leather, so they’ll last a long time there. There had been a wreath placed right after the death, but it was entirely plant material and I think the local deer took care of it pretty quickly. My inlaws do decorate family graves regularly, and I agree with admin that you can apply similar standards to those at cemeteries, which is usually that the items stay until the maintenance crew needs to move them in order to do their jobs, and then they’re discarded (although some cemeteries have stricter rules; the one where most of my mother’s family is interred has a rule that only compostable material can be used, and it will be removed at the next mowing).

  • MM September 4, 2014, 12:26 pm

    at the risk of sounding insensitive, I do not like those roadside memorials. these people choose to honor their loved ones who passed away on the road by placing things on the side of the road which might distract other drivers and maybe cause more accidents. it just seems counter intuitive to me

  • LonelyHound September 4, 2014, 12:28 pm

    In the area I lived in memorials like this were banned merely for the fact that most of them were located in dangerous sections of the road. These memorials actually CAUSED a few minor accidents because people were pay attention to the memorial and not to driving. Durable memorials were grnadfathered in, but others were banned. Example: One memorial was a wooden plaque with the deceased name and dates on it, it was in a wooded area and not very visible from the road unless you knew where to look. It was left. On the other hand, memorials of stuffed toys are always taken away and the white wooden crosses are not allowed, period.
    Putting a distraction in a dangerous area of road is hazardous, especially in inclimate conditions.

    • Steve September 4, 2014, 4:47 pm

      I recently about two teenagers who were struck and killed by a passing car as they gathered by a roadside memorial.

      The article didn’t say whether someone put up two more memorials for them.

  • Jen September 4, 2014, 12:34 pm

    I tend to agree with Admin on this one. But ultimately, OP, your land, your right to do as you wish with the memorials.

  • Kimstu September 4, 2014, 12:56 pm

    First of all, @OP, I’d like to say that I think it’s kind and good-natured of you to undertake to clean up other people’s trash on your property. Even the most well-intentioned and thoughtfully designed temporary installation or memento becomes trash after prolonged exposure to the elements, and nobody should expect you to leave a bunch of decaying trash on your property indefinitely.

    I think you would be showing plenty of respect and sympathy to the bereaved if you left all memorials in place for maybe a week or so, or longer if you’re okay with that. As soon as something starts to look shabby or fall apart, I’d have no compunction about deciding that it’s served its purpose and can be discarded. A grubby heap of trash doesn’t work very well to convey sentiments of love and sorrow anyway.

    I agree with @Admin that it would be thoughtful to leave small, discreet and nonperishable memorial items undisturbed for a longer time, maybe indefinitely. But you should have no hesitation about immediately removing any item that you think might be a traffic hazard. I don’t know what the liability issues are regarding hazardous items left on your property by others, but if you think something’s unsafe you are definitely entitled to remove it.

    And count me in among those who think that such memorials are in any case better suited to homes or gravesites than the actual scenes of fatalities, where as far as I’m concerned they seem kind of gruesome. Suppose a teenager, heaven forbid, commits suicide in one of the school bathroom stalls: would it be appropriate for his/her friends to turn the stall into a memorial shrine? I don’t think making shrines out of roadside accident sites is much less inappropriate than that.

  • Amber September 4, 2014, 1:32 pm

    I’m with you, admin. Seems like a perfect compromise between letting people honor their lost loved ones and getting rid of bits of memorial memorabilia that quickly become trash.

    Also, goodness, at least one fatal accident per year? That means that the non-fatal accidents on this road must be sky-high. That city really should look into heavily reducing the speed limit and maybe even putting up a series of roundabouts to slow things down and make people pay attention.

  • Gamer Girl September 4, 2014, 1:46 pm

    There’s a memorial like this about a mile or so from my mother’s house. A student at the local high school died several years ago when the car she was in smashed into a tree on the side of the road, just inside someone’s property line. That tree, and the accident scar on it, became the memorial. It is littered with signs, wreaths, pictures, teddy bears, foil tree garland, plastic flowers, and all other manner of things, some new-ish, some from the time of the accident. It rains a considerable amount where my mother lives and the memorial is getting pretty foul. She tells me that the large teddy bear that sits prominently against the tree has been there for quiet some time. It’s actively deteriorating and covered in some kind of fungal or mossy growth. This last summer (when I first saw it) you could actually smell all the stuff there from your car as you passed.
    My mom doesn’t know if anyone lives on that property right now, but says that the stuff needs to be cleaned up soon, because it’s started to attract rodents. No one seems to take care of it, they just keep adding more stuff to the mess.

  • Dee September 4, 2014, 1:53 pm

    If some of these memorials are distracting and are determined to be at least partly to blame for a future crash, could you, OP, be held responsible because the memorials were on your property and thus allowed by you? Maybe you could put up a large sign along a smoother section of the road, proclaiming the number of lives lost and the dates, and imploring the drivers to slow down, in an effort to stem the increasing memorials. Locally, we have the same issues on public property and while the city is sympathetic to those grieving it does often take down the memorials early on because of the distraction factor. There might even be some legislation in your area, OP, that mandates immediate removal from public or even private property, and you may be able to convince your local government to assist in the removal of memorials before they are there for long. At least in that case the hard decisions are not yours to make. And perhaps pestering that government about the memorials will inspire them to address the road safety issues that lead to some of those memorials in the first place.

  • Lisa Marie September 4, 2014, 2:47 pm

    I lean towards taking it down. It is a distraction and might cause yet another accident.
    Memorials to the dead belong by their grave.

  • Ocotilla September 4, 2014, 3:03 pm

    I’m going to chime in for the landowner. I would remove the memorials from the fence. If my livestock ingests something that you purposely left on my fence, I will be looking for compensation for vet bills/ euthanasia. Depending on the animal, it could be $1200 for cow or more for horse. You don’t mess with private property, fences, livestock ect. You could easily destroy a breeding flock/herd of rare livestock. Once those bloodlines are gone, extinction is forever.

  • NatGrl September 4, 2014, 3:19 pm

    I have always wondered how private land owners feel about this kind of memorial on their land. I live in a residential area and often these memorials are basically in the corner of some (unrelated) persons yard along the main road. I imagine its a sensitive issue for both the home owner and the memorial’s creator. No one would want to look like a jerk by tossing this stuff in the trash, but its has to create issues trying to mow around this stuff.

    I have to assume legally, if its private property, people don’t really have the right to leave anything there. So if i were you, i wouldn’t feel bad removing things left behind. Perhaps if you remove it on a regular basis, that will dissuade people from leaving new memorials behind. You are not being insensitive. You have the right to what is posted on your property and what is not.

    I have a similar issue with Real Estate and yard sale signs in my yard. We live directly across from the entrance to a subdivision. I constantly have yard sale signs and “house for sale” signs posted in my front yard with arrows pointing into the subdivision. Often, no one ever comes back after the “event” is over to retrieve their sign. So now my policy is…as soon as i see an “unauthorized” sign in my yard….it gets tossed in the trash. I know that sounds grumpy, but this is not public land….this is my yard. You don’t have to mow it…..i do.

    • A different Tracy September 5, 2014, 7:41 am

      It doesn’t sound grumpy at all. It’s incredibly rude to put your sign in someone’s yard without asking.

    • Library Diva September 5, 2014, 2:57 pm

      Grumpy? On the contrary, they’re lucky you didn’t call the police to complain, or go down there and complain yourself. Memorials at least have the “excuse” that someone is grieving. Putting a yard sale or for sale sign in SOMEONE ELSE’S YARD is just plain rude. The offenders are lucky that all you do is throw them out.

  • grumpy_otter September 4, 2014, 3:29 pm

    I’ve never understood the impulse to mark the site of a person’s death on the side of the road, as though the location of their demise were somehow representative of the life they lived.

    And roads seem to be the only recipients of this type of memorial–you don’t see makeshift crosses in other death locations. But that’s probably because of the exact property issue addressed in the opening remarks.

    I also wonder if this is a uniquely Christian thing. I have never seen a Star of David or Star and Crescent on the highway (or any other religion’s symbol).

    • Magicdomino September 4, 2014, 4:01 pm

      “I also wonder if this is a uniquely Christian thing. I have never seen a Star of David or Star and Crescent on the highway (or any other religion’s symbol).”

      A big part is simply that it is very easy to nail two pieces of wood together. Joining several pieces at the correct angles for a Star of David, or cutting a Star and Cresent from plywood is just difficult enough to make many people stick to flowers and teddy bears.

      I’ve seen photos of memorals displays in playgrounds, alleys, and the like in urban areas. Never heard of a display inside a building, though, at least not the spontaneous, semi-permanent kind. I don’t know if that is because the site is less visible and accessable, or if people are more likely to recognize the inside of a building as private property.

    • Library Diva September 8, 2014, 1:06 pm

      I don’t think it is. The memorial I mentioned above was not religious in any way. It contained items from the young man’s life (I remember seeing the apron from the popular char pit where he worked), stuffed animals, photos and messages.

      Living in a more urban area, I have sadly seen these memorials at the sites of shootings. When I made my “moldy stuffed animal” comment, I was thinking of a shooting memorial that I used to drive by. Someone was killed in a home invasion, and the home was subsequently boarded up. Stuffed animals, cards, etc. blossomed on the telephone pole outside the home overnight. Unfortunately, they were not removed. The stuffed animals went through a couple of freeze-thaw cycles and got quite disgusting before someone came and finally got rid of them. Whoever had originally placed them there had actually wired them to the pole, so it wasn’t like they’d blow away….just slowly deteriorate in the wind, rain, snow and sun.

  • deary September 4, 2014, 4:52 pm

    I have never understood why there can’t be any kind of a tragedy without people wanting to tie stuffed animals to a fence. How on earth does that help anyone? You want to honor the memory of the victim, donate the stuffed animals to the children’s hospital or something similar.

  • Gabriele September 4, 2014, 4:54 pm

    I agree with the person who mentioned talking with the local mortician…the OP might also prepare a letter and give a copy to each local church. I think most memorials start right after the death so waiting until the person has a funeral service would only stop some of the displays.
    The letter could call attention to the fact that while outward displays of grief and loss can be necessary, they may not help the grieving process and could retard it. Since the letter would be general, the local minister (etc) could remind parishioners that grief counseling is available (if they offer it) and one does not have to (usually) be a member of the church to come and pray there.
    Having lived in a rural community I saw very few memorials along the roads and I think it was because there was often an immediate outreach to members of the family so the attention was with the family rather than a specific location. In some instances, there might be a small gathering at the location for a brief prayer meeting.
    Living in a large city now I see displays on streets (most often where there was street violence or car accidents) and they include the memorial type candles (which could be a fire hazard, or if broken, a glass hazard), the stuffed animals, signs, and in cases where the decesaed was known for their drinking, bottles or cans of beer, etc.
    I was suprised when I first saw the stuffed animals…I hadn’t seen such things before I moved back to the city, likewise the balloons.
    So back to the letter, a minister could also note that with the sudden loss of a loved one, the family is often presented with unplanned for expenses, and rather than buying momentos, a contribution in the same amount would help the family meet the cost of taking care of the departed.
    I know many people don’t have a church they attend but friends and neighbors could share the information (letter?) should there be a loss.
    Other generations had established ways of dealing with loss but now it seems that death is a dirty word we don’t mention…I was one of those. When my father died people I didn’t know well brought unexpected comfort. When I closed my business for a couple days no one complained, although my husband complained to me that others had complained to him. I asked him if he had told them I had lost my father and he said no, he didn’t think it would matter.
    (He also told me I should forget about it and get on with my life…looking back, I can trace the beginning of the end of the relationship to that time).
    Having received such sympathy, I carry those memories with me so that when someone I know has a loss, I can try to respond.
    For young people wanting to ‘give’ something, perhaps whoever is arranging the funeral could make available plain paper and envelopes. Messages could be written on the paper (or a collage, a drawing, like that) with a ‘to’ and ‘from’ on the outside of the envelope…it could be placed in the coffin prior to burial or cremation. People would have a real connection between their ‘gift’ and the person they’re missing. Even if it’s a private service, the person would feel a part of the farewell…

  • Karen L September 4, 2014, 4:56 pm

    Here in California, the Department of Transportation removes all highway memorials, specifically because they are distractions to drivers (and basically piles of crap that people don’t want all along the highway). I believe DOT generally leaves them up for a week, in deference to the bereaved, but everything comes down after that.

  • Vera September 4, 2014, 5:05 pm

    Our local municipality has now come up with regulations to say these memorials must be discreet and uncluttered (ie. stuffies and such need to be removed within a week) and will be kept at the sight for 11 months following the fatality. At that time, the city workers will remove it.

  • ImJustSaying September 4, 2014, 6:04 pm

    Would the OP be inclined to purchase a giant roll of wide Ribbon in a bright but appropriate color? Not as expensive as an lighted sign (which is also a good option) but it can effectively replace the memorial of bears and paper with a bow around the nearest tree. It’s not fair that OP has to regularly clear these makeshift memorials but the sudden appearance of bows around trees would definitely set a precedent for proper roadside memorials. No posters no bears just a giant bow.
    The bow would hopefully withstand the weather and also give a sobering yet understated visual cue to the number of souls lost on the road.
    If I drove down a road regularly and each year the bows increased I might A) be more careful driving myself and B) contact the powers that be and ask for them to do whatever construction is needed to make the road safer.
    And before someone rails about taxes the cost would to the benefit of everyone in the town as well as those just driving through that have no clue the road is dangerous. a few more tax dollars are ok if it saves multiple lives a year.

    • hakayama September 5, 2014, 8:55 am

      Road signage DOES alert ALERT drivers about risky stretches of road.
      But I imagine that totally clueless illiterates cannot read the words or interpret the pictures.
      Hmmm… could they be driving without a license? After all, license testing does have a written component.

      • ImJustSaying September 5, 2014, 4:38 pm

        I’m sorry but could you give a little bit of warning before you jump to such conclusions as “Illiteracy and non-licensed driving”?
        I like to stretch first.

        Signs are everywhere for a multitude of driving reasons. To my knowledge there are NO signs dedicated to the prohibition of roadside memorials. Infringing on public property YES but regarding memorials specifically…. No. Ribbons around a tree would be there for one reason: a lost life, a preventable accident, a death. The follow up positive would be the minimization of bulky soon-to-be junk filled memorials.

  • NostalgicGal September 4, 2014, 9:35 pm

    Some states or areas allow or even erect small signs (such as one I remember that is a small diamond with an X on it and the word ‘think’) The problem is is that particular state has some very scenic touristy areas and some roads that demand attention from a driver in good conditions… and almost always where there is one or more of these signs, there happens to be a particularly scenic view…. so instead of alerting most drivers about there’s a major hazard, it is ‘oh looky there’s the VIEW’.

    I like the idea someone already posted about putting up a small permanent marker; then remove everything else as it appears. After a while hopefully it gets across that the other memorializations need to be elsewhere.

    I think in the case of Princess Diana they had daily cleanups and stated that they took the stuffies and such that were in good shape and donated those to orphanages and children’s hospitals.

    • B September 5, 2014, 8:18 am

      I saw all those flowers outside the palace in the time between her death and her funeral.

      All they were, was one big ugly sea of plastic-wrap with the flowers rotting inside. It was hideous. It was a disgusting waste of money – want to remember her? Give the money to charity, don’t dump yet more plastic-wrapped flowers onto the pile then cling onto the gates howling DIIIIIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAANA!!!!!

      The whole thing was so ‘look at MY grief’ it was unbelievable.

    • Steve September 5, 2014, 8:58 am

      Funny you should bring up Diana again.

      Everything I saw coming out of the UK on the anniversaries of her death suggested a nation looking back and saying, “What the hell were we thinking?” Grief is one thing, but today no one seems able to understand why the entire country seem to suffer from a mass hysteria that almost cratered the monarchy.

      I think her makeshift memorial outside Buck House is connected to highway memorials today. It was probably what gave a lot of people the idea. But the highway memorials also share in some of that same groupthink and over-the-top public display.

    • NostalgicGal September 5, 2014, 1:30 pm

      I mentioned the Princess Diana stuff because it was the one that was so in everyone’s face; so huge; and such a waste in the end. I agree that if you wanted to remember her instead of putting flowers at the gate to rot, go make a donation to charity in her name instead with the flower money.

      There are a few around here, along the road, and some they actually asked the landowner abutting if they could install it; or the landowner was a close relation. One in particular is a fence mount and is aging badly, I see it is de-weeded once in awhile but.

      If you need to remember someone; and I have done this a few times; is go out to the site with someone of faith, hold a short saying of a few words and a prayer; lay a few things and take memorial photos, then REMOVE THE STUFF. I know there’s more than a few pressed flowers in a memory album that were laid at a site.

      A memory album was a tradition in my mother’s side; when someone passed we would gather all the pictures we could find, and put together a scrapbook/photo album of the person as we wanted to remember them. The last picture would be at the funeral parlor with the deceased carefully blocked out but the flower arrangements in the picture. Sometimes this was a great saving thing for the family that needs to deal with their grief.

      I think the states that install small signs, they’re more of a distraction than a help. As said in that one touristy heavy place; a cluster of signs means there was a great view, and the driver was probably distracted LOOKING hence the crash… and that even when I’m driving, the ‘oh can I sneak a peak’ is very strong.