Spontaneous shrines

Roadside shrines in Buenos AiresOne of my favorite subjects in folklore study is the roadside shrine. Every culture has them, from folk Shinto and their spirit kami to the Irish who have a long standing folk tradition of marking deaths in open places. There is one down the street from me now, a boy was killed on his bicycle. A reminder of death and danger as well as a significant place to go, a special place because he traveled it on a daily basis, back and forth to school. I have heard that authorities like to remove these memorials because they are distracting, because they are messy and unsafe. But people still create them because they need to.

I sense that this event on MySpace is similar,

Matt Frank had been dead for eight hours when the first goodbye message to him was posted on his MySpace page.
The note was short and simple: I love you. I’ll miss you.
Dozens more followed, as disbelieving friends took to the Web to mourn the 17-year-old and three other teenagers who were killed Sunday when a car — crammed with nine passengers — slammed into a utility pole after a late-night house party in suburban Chicago.

The article goes on to say how much the family appreciates the short notes left behind by their friends along with the hope that this page will remain a memorial and not be taken down by the provider.

It is natural for people to visit the places important to the dead. Whether it’s online or off. There is a new company dedicated to preserving space online for just that reason called Respectance.com (see sidebar for their blog). Their service is still in beta now, but eventually it will be an online space where you can leave and share memories that will remain, whether it’s poetry, pictures or video. It is like creating an online shrine to not only your own beloved but for visiting the shrines created for others too. The only thing missing is a sense that the person was there. And I think that’s one of the more difficult battles for companies trying to help out our increasingly fractured communities in such a way. It’s like visiting a memorial at a gravesite. Once you’ve paid your respects, is there reason to make the pilgrimage back again someday? For some there will be. (Thanks to Matty for the tip. Photo credit: tinyart)