The Day The Music Died Memorial – Clear Lake, Iowa - Atlas Obscura

The Day The Music Died Memorial

Clear Lake, Iowa

A giant pair of thick black glasses mark the tragic demise of a trio of rock and roll legends. 


Some call it “The Day the Music Died” thanks to a reference in Don McLean’s song “American Pie,” but no matter what it is called, the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson marked a dark day in American history, and forever altered the contours of rock ‘n’ roll music. This tragic accident, and the lives and legacies of the performers who perished in it, are immortalized by a couple of unique monuments at the site where it occurred.

It was February 3, 1959 that the small Beechcraft Bonanza carrying the musicians crashed in a farmer’s field in Clear Lake, Iowa. Holly and the others had been on a taxing road tour, that gave Holly the flu and some of the other bandmates frostbite from the freezing cold bus rides. Having had enough, Holly chartered the small plane, which was ill-equipped for that night’s severe, wintry weather. Moments after takeoff, the pilot lost control of the aircraft. Within seconds, it smashed into the ground, killing all four souls aboard.

The performers’ remains were buried in their respective home states, but the crash site— remote as it is—has evaded obscurity.  In 1988, a guitar-shaped memorial marked where the plane went down, still a private cornfield. Later on, another permanent monument to the crash was put up just off the highway. This memorial is a bit simpler, just a giant pair of Buddy Holly’s iconic glasses, sitting on pillars.

Even today, people pay their respects to the memorials, leaving little tokens to their dearly departed musical idols. The glasses can be found on the roadside, but the actual crash site is set back from the road, and can be harder to find. However, visitors have reported that the locals, including the farmer on whose property the memorial resides, are more than happy to help.      

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