After visiting the Surf Ballroom, I knew I had to see the Buddy Holly Memorial Crash Site (well, at least that’s what it’s called on Facebook for those who like to check-in) in order to complete “The Day The Music Died” pilgrimage. This is the cornfield where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed during a snowstorm on February 3, 1959. A map I found on the internet was a bit confusing, but there was also a set of directions at the nearby Surf Ballroom museum. Because there is no signage on the drive up there, you need a bit of research and dedication or you’re probably not going to find it.
Although I grew up in an urbanized environment surrounded by millions of people, I was actually nervous driving through cornfields as I am only familiar with cornfields that are now suburban subdivisions. I felt pretty ridiculous driving around dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, until I saw another car with out-of-state plates parked on the side of the road next to a giant pair of signature Buddy Holly glasses. This is the place to stop and get out, although most people just take a few photos and leave. But this is just a marker. The actual crash site with the memorial is about 200 yards inside the cornfield. It’s private property, but luckily the farmer who owns this land doesn’t really care about trespassing and has left an unplanted row to allow access for crazy people like me.
When I pulled my car over, I noticed a man sitting inside the other parked vehicle. He said his wife is “in there” and “it’s a really long walk,” which is the reason why he didn’t make the trek. Well, I understand it was the middle of summer and a bit humid, but the walk was literally five minutes, proving yet again that Americans cannot walk (or simply refuse to do so). I walked by his wife, who seemed rather happy to be there (she must be a fan…her husband not so much). Anyway, the memorial is a metal sculpture of a guitar marked with the names of the three musicians along with three records of their popular hits: “Peggy Sue”, “Chantilly Lace” and “Donna”. I’m not a huge fan but it still left a lasting impression, especially after having just visited the Surf Ballroom. And I did watch La Bamba a lot as a kid.
There is also a tribute off to the side, a set of pilots wings with the name of the plane’s 21-year-old pilot, Roger Peterson, who also died in the crash. The stainless steel monument was erected in 1988 by Ken Paquette, a fan of the 1950s era. The glasses appeared not soon after. The pilot wings were unveiled only six years ago. Visitors leave bouquets of flowers, personal notes, and other tokens (when I was there a microphone and…what a surprise…some lyrics from “American Pie” were tied to a fence post). And that’s about it. A “smaller than you’d expect” site, but still a fitting tribute for musicians who left the world over 55 years ago.