memorials at death sites

memorials at death sites
   During the late 1980s and 1990s, it became increasingly common to lay flowers at the scene of a murder or some dramatic accident, for instance a train derailment or the crash of a coach carrying children; other tokens, such as toys or football club scarves, are added if appropriate, and the chosen site may not be the actual scene of death but some other relevant place accessible to the public, for example at the gates of a school or club. These signs of communal grief can be on a very large scale; it is said that more than a million people visited Hillsborough football stadium in one week in 1989 to leave flowers and scarves in honour of those who died there. An early instance of this form of mourning was at Aberfan in 1966, when a landslide from a coal-tip destroyed a school, and wreaths sent from all over the world were laid out in a cross a hundred feet long (Vickery, 1995: 146).
   A highly dramatic development occurred after the death of Diana Princess of Wales on 31 August 1997. Bouquets bearing personal messages were laid in huge numbers not only in London but in virtually every town and village in Britain - on the steps of churches and town halls, at war memorials, at market crosses, in parks, or at any other central site. Photographs, candles, balloons, and teddy bears were added; the tributes were left in place for about two weeks.
   It is also becoming popular for small groups of friends and family to lay or hang flowers at the site of fatal road accidents and suicides as a private tribute to the victim. A photograph may be added, and the memorials may be tended for months or years. Less conspicuous forerunners of this custom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were crosses scraped on the dust at the roadside, cut into turf, or painted on a wall to mark the scene of a fatality, and maintained over a period of time.
   ■ Vickery, 1995: 146-7; FLS News 19-21 (1994-5); Tony Walter, Folklore 107 (1996), 106-7; George Monger, Folklore 108 (1997), 113-14. For the older customs, see Barbara Freire-Marreco, Folk-Lore 21 (1910), 387-8; Barbara Aitken, Folk-Lore 37 (1926), 80; The Antiquary 32 (1896), 945.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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