Join 3,416 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


D. C. Shrines, Washington's Other Monuments
April 4, 2008 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Washington's Other Monuments is a photoblog by photographer Lloyd Wolf chronicling "the many sad memorials erected by friends & family to honor murder and other violence victims in the Washington DC area. These spontaneous, homemade, heartfelt creations are found on streets throughout the region. They are often the only physical tribute to the many slaying victims." Washington Post article. [via Eddie Campbell]
posted by Kattullus (18 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lloyd Wolf's other photoblog.
posted by Kattullus at 10:40 AM on April 4, 2008


You know, it's funny, I started doing this in Philly at roughly the same time (links are in my profile) but I feel the series I've been working on might turn out a little better because I have a lot of knowledge of the neighborhoods involved and more experience working in them as a social worker than your average photographer. I'm teamed up with a photographer so I can roam around talking to people and jotting notes while he shoots, and the range of responses we've gotten is unreal. In one case the memorial was set up a few doors down from a former client of mine and so I was able to get an intense perspective on what happened from her mom. I was waiting to link it on Projects because we've only posted four of them (we've got a substantial backlog, though, and have been doing this for a couple months now). Either way, it's nice (though weird) to see someone else with the same idea, it's the kind of after-the-fact coverage you don't often see.
posted by The Straightener at 11:14 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Please don't encourage these drive-by memorials. There's one on every corner...Don't they still bury people in cemeteries? Don't they still have funeral homes? Why the need to memorialize the spot of a death or accident? When granpa dropps dead in front of the Fridge do they set up a memorial in the kitchen? Seriously these things are an imposition on the public, sometimes placed on private property, the property owners are essentially forced to maintain them. Can you tell yet that I don't like them? Can you count the number of people who have been killed in your town? I can.
posted by Gungho at 11:39 AM on April 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Don't they still bury people in cemeteries? Don't they still have funeral homes? Why the need to memorialize the spot of a death or accident?

From one of the memorial scenes I wrote about:

"I ask her to speak on the street shrine phenomenon; is there an economic reason them? Is it that Mook’s family is too poor to afford a grave plot? Is it because friends and neighbors can’t arrange transportation to the grave site?

The woman explains that the memorial is mostly for Mook’s friends. Mook was 18 years old and this was the corner he hung out on; the memorial acts as a place for other neighborhood teens to pay informal respects. “His family don’t got nothin’ to do with this,” she says."

This is a common response I've heard, that the curbside memorials are generally for the young kids, erected and maintained by their young friends in the area. The families do likely have a formal burial space, but that's reserved more for family than street associations. These kids lived in the streets; a lot of their neighborhoods don't have open green spaces to play in so they grew up, played, hustled all in the same space. It's in this space that their friends erect a sort of proxy image for the sake of remembrance that's accessible to them.

Seriously these things are an imposition on the public, sometimes placed on private property, the property owners are essentially forced to maintain them.

Nearly all the memorial sites I've visited have been erected on the stoops of abandoned houses, except in the cases of some of the larger graffiti memorials (which look awesome) that are on private property where the owner clearly consented to having their building adorned. I think they actually bring a sense of light and joy to spaces that are otherwise seriously decrepit and ruined.
posted by The Straightener at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2008


And if half a town did this?
posted by notreally at 12:17 PM on April 4, 2008


.
posted by dosterm at 12:28 PM on April 4, 2008


Oh christ who cares good for them the finger waving nannies can stuff it this is great culture. There are road side memorials all over the place in MD they don't last very long but I like them, a bit of humanity.

I remember driving through Montana and there were metal red crosses along the road about the size of a mileage marker - all uniform - turns out the state would put up a permanent metal red cross whenever someone died of a traffic accident. It was very strange because there were thousands of them along desolate stretches of road - turns out a lot of people fall asleep at the wheel and/or drive drunk and these were meant as public reminders.
posted by stbalbach at 12:31 PM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


stbalbach, what did Montana do when a driver fell asleep at the wheel on some desolate stretch of road, drove off the shoulder and died when the car crashed into a red metal cross?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2008


Very moving. It reminded me of Kyle Cassidy's project, Echos of Life wherein he photographed the scenes of past murders in Philadelphia. The Straightener, you should look him up sometime for your project.
posted by Wroughtirony at 12:56 PM on April 4, 2008


Kyle and I talked about it last week, ironically enough, he seemed to like the angle I'm taking with the really in-depth street intelligence. He really didn't think there was a market for a Echoes of Life book so he kind of dropped it after a while.
posted by The Straightener at 1:05 PM on April 4, 2008


Once again, The Onion beats us to it.
posted by John of Michigan at 1:21 PM on April 4, 2008


Faint of Butt, surely it's happened. Montana felt like a giant grave yard, scene of mass death in a desolate wilderness. It's like Custer's Battlefield writ-large (if you ever been there, also in MT, the soldiers graves are scattered across the hills where they fell, usually in pairs, with Custer himself at the top of the highest mound surrounded by half a dozen or so). There's been discussion of MT's roadside grave markers in the past on MeFi but the archives now are so vast I wouldn't know where to begin finding it.
posted by stbalbach at 6:16 PM on April 4, 2008


Don't they still bury people in cemeteries? Don't they still have funeral homes?

The blog in question is about urban DC. There are no cemeteries for the poor in urban areas. Funerals cost money that poor people don't have. Those living hand-to-mouth do not have the luxury of dressing in black formal clothes they can't afford, getting in cars they don't own, and driving to a memorial marked with a marble monument. The cost of the average American funeral is roughly six thousand dollars.

This is what this grieving community can do to honor its dead. It's all they have. I'm sorry it offends you aesthetically.

Fuck, I wish Dr. King had lived another forty years. We clearly still need him.
posted by cirocco at 6:54 PM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are no cemeteries for the poor in urban areas....Fuck, I wish Dr. King had lived another forty years. We clearly still need him.

This has nothing to do with Black and White, Red or Yellow. Roadside memorials are non-denominational, and 100% non racists. Please don't make me believe that the African American population of DC just leave their dead in the trash. Funerals and Cemeteries are a lot more common than you would lead us to believe.
posted by Gungho at 6:02 AM on April 5, 2008


Wow, I would have thought those who fashion themselves as advocates for the public interest would be more offended by the gun violence these provisional memorials often decry rather than the memorials themselves.
posted by noway at 6:38 AM on April 5, 2008


Please don't make me believe that the African American population of DC just leave their dead in the trash.

I'm not trying to make anyone believe that; it's not remotely close to the point I'm trying to make. There are public resources available for the disposal of human remains (although I think the term "pauper's grave" has fallen out of fashion), but these are not true memorials. They are, in fact, little more respectful than trash disposal.

It is a very old human need to keep visible a tangible reminder of the deceased while coming to accept a death, though, and a wooden slab in a remote area does not suffice for many bereaved. Victorians, for example, made jewelry from the hair of their dead. Unfortunately, impoverished families who even attempt to have modest funerals for their dead are subject to high-pressure upselling from the funerary industry--you may wish to read Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death Revisited (Salon review), if you care about such things. Poor people are tacitly discouraged from "formal grieving" this way.

My mention of Dr. King had more to do with the timing of this thread, on the anniversary of his death, than the race of the memorialized. I was thinking of King's "Funland" speech, where he talks about how excited his daughter was to go to a new amusement park, and he had to tell her "Funland is closed to colored children." Imagine explaining to your own child that she is not good enough to ride a merry-go-round. When children cannot be children, whether due to race or poverty, society is failing them.

I look at these monuments and I see a community trying to give these kids the protection and innocence that they were denied in life: hearts, teddy bears, messages of love that look trite but come from the soul. If you see eyesores instead, I'm not sure what else I can say. God help you, I suppose.
posted by cirocco at 2:45 PM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's a dual purpose at work here; the memorial builders are hoping to cast a loved one who likely went astray in life in an innocent light and also a desire to cleanse the physical space of this horrifying memory.

One thing I've been doing in writing about these is uncovering as much as possible about the victim, both positive and negative. Yes, most of the victims have scores of loved ones who dearly miss them but the vast majority of them also had extensive histories of criminal behavior, sometimes including arrests for very violent crimes like aggravated assault. They often wore two faces; that of the good kid to moms and grandmoms, and the other as a ruthless street soldier. I dig hard to find their myspace pages (most have them, or at least a memorial page dedicated to them), and I find some interesting things, like in the case of one victim a picture of a cache of automatic weapons laid out on display along side a picture of his baby daughter. I think the choice of stuffed dolls is intentional; it takes the memory of the victim back beyond this point in their life when they took the wrong turn that eventually got them killed, and hurt other people along the way. I found it important to remember as a social worker that each of these kids at one point was a beautiful baby, and someone in their lives, somewhere, loved them dearly.

The second use, as a sort of cleansing image, was something I realized after I saw a memorial laid out for a stabbing victim under the El in West Philly. A woman was murdered in this narrow alleyway, just wide enough for her body to fit in. The dolls were arranged almost exactly in the shape of a body, in the amount of space a body would fill, right where the victim's body had lain. The day that I was there the street was filled with small children, playing, running around, riding bikes. The body was found in broad daylight. I'd wager these children saw it. I didn't ask because I have ethical issues with talking to minors for this kind of project, but the connection was very clear to me.

A lot of these streets where these things occur are filled with children during the day. The streets change character when the sun sets, but the children still live there. They know what happens when they hear gunshots. I think the stuffed animal memorials maybe help them process the trauma a bit.

Lastly, I don't know what he's finding in DC, but one really fascinating thing in Philly is that the Latin families do it totally differently. They use framed photographs lashed to nearby telephone poles instead, usually accompanied with Boricua flavored memorabilia.

We shot one this afternoon in front of a high rise housing project I'm familiar with that was adorned with red bandannas. Nearby graffiti read, "Got Red Bull?" and "Red Bull gives you wings." Blood insignias, all. The gang has been making inroads in Philly over the last year.

There's a lot going on at each of these, a lot of different angles to look at them from. Without someone to interpret the signals it looks like just a bunch of stuffed animals but believe me, they're not.
posted by The Straightener at 4:36 PM on April 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


[T]he vast majority of them also had extensive histories of criminal behavior, sometimes including arrests for very violent crimes like aggravated assault. They often wore two faces; that of the good kid to moms and grandmoms, and the other as a ruthless street soldier.

I realize that in many cases when a young person is slain, the victim was not an upstanding citizen while he was alive. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.

However, I think we also need to recognize that our urban poor are the Jean Valjeans of 21st-century America. Desperation drives them to protect themselves and their loved ones, and so they carry guns to fend off violence, form gangs because there's safety in numbers, and behave as most humans do when they fear for their lives. This does not mean their crimes should not be punished, but that we can do better than to heap societal scorn on top of incarceration and death.

To make my point another way:

White man steals some motherfuckin' candlesticks, another white man forgives him, and a third white man makes a motherfuckin' musical about it! Then white folks line up around the block and they be paying big dollars to watch this white man commit grand larceny and get told, "That's okay, Whitey! We understand a white man sometimes needs him some candlesticks! Go forth and sin no more, my brother!" Black man steals a TV and you see what happens! Shit, bitch, it don't go down like that at all!

Green olives come in a jar! Black olives come in a can! Why does The Man gotta keep the black olives the dark?
(Etc.)

Better?
posted by cirocco at 11:03 AM on April 7, 2008


« Older The problem with pennies....  |  Fun Flash Friday: Throw Me - t... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments