Noodle Muffin presents ...

Dan's Lessons about the White Crosses Phenomenon 

Being the sick, obsessive  bastard that I am, I have intensely researched and analyzed the white cross phenomenon over the years.   I really should pursue a Master's thesis on this, but I'm just too damn lazy.  So, I will simply present my findings here, in FAQ format.  Feel free to e-mail me if you have any more questions.  

 How long does a white cross monument last?  
On average, the standard white cross monument lasts between 2-3 years.  Of course, this depends on the location, construction, and family dedication to the monument.  A desert location can be beneficial or detrimental to a white cross, depending on if it is shielded from the rain and wind.  A cross that has the full force of the desert wind will most likely blow down within a year.  After that, if the family doesn't maintain it, it will become covered with sand and disappear.  Urban neighborhood crosses can last a long time, as long as they are off a main street.  Strangely, you'd think they would be easily destroyed by vandalism, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  Of course, road crosses on city freeways or busy streets don't last long at all. The crosses that decay the fastest are in the snow country.  Snow is the white cross' enemy, often obliterating a cross in a year or less.  An interesting (but rare) phenomenon is the voluntary removal of a white cross.  This generally happens at the one ot two year mark.  A family will vigilantly maintain a white cross, adding birthday gifts and Christmas decorations.  At the one or two year mark though, they decide it is time to move on, and completely remove any remnant of the white cross.  For me, this is a real travesty.  Still, I understand the logic behind it.  Sturdily constructed white crosses (i.e. concrete or metal crosses) can last a very long time.  The oldest white cross I've encountered is the magnificent monument of Father JJ Crowley.  Crowley died in the 1940, but his giant roadside memorial is still going strong.  Not only is it in immaculate shape, it is also regularly maintained and decorated with fake flowers.  I am quite puzzled by this.  Considering that everyone who knew the good Father is most likely dead, who the hell is maintaining this white cross?!!

Are these crosses maintained?
In most cases, the answer is yes.  The family will decorate the cross on birthdays and holidays (Christmas, Halloween, Mother's Day, etc.).  That is perhaps the most disturbing thing about white crosses:  dedicated families constantly maintain and decorate these monuments.  This is especially true for young victims (26 years old or younger).  The parents regularly update the crosses with flowers, decorations, and most chillingly, cards and notes.  The notes address the victims as if they were still alive.  The creepiest note I ever read told the victim how his girlfriend had moved on and married a new guy.  Parents also have a tendency to put photos of the victims on the crosses.  Generally, after four years, the maintenance of the crosses end. 

Why don't you see White Crosses on the freeways or busy streets of major cities (like my hometown Los Angeles)?  
First off, it is hard as hell to erect a white cross on a busy urban freeway.  The traffic makes it dangerous as hell, and many of those freeways have concrete embankments.  If you do manage to put up a road memorial there, Cal Trans (or your state's highway maintenance group) will likely remove it in a matter of weeks.  On busy city streets, you have sidewalks and pedestrians to worry about.  Unlike urban neighborhoods which seem to respect memorials, businesses and city officials tend to remove them quickly if they are not maintained daily.  I guess they are bad for business...

Are White Crosses strictly for car accidents?
Usually, but not always.  Road memorials are created for all sorts of deaths.  Sometimes, the tribute will be for a person hit by a car.  This is especially true in residential areas, and many times the victim is a child.  Sometimes, pet owners set up crosses for that are pets run over and killed.   In the city, you will often see a white cross memorializing a murder scene.  A good example of this was a white cross memorial that was on Overland Blvd. in West L.A.  This tribute was for a poor bastard who was killed in a drive-by shooting.  The family kept daily vigils for quite a while in an unsuccessful attempt to find witnesses to the crime. After about a month, the vigils ended.  A few weeks later, the cross and the memorial was gone. 

Why are there sometimes two or more crosses at an accident site?

In most cases, that means two or more people died at that site.  However, sometimes these are duplicate tributes to the fallen.  Friends and family will often erect different monuments to the victim.  The family's monument is usually more conservative and respectful.  The friends' monument is more fun and irreverent.  This is particularly true for young victims, especially high school students.  The friends' crosses are often colored with graffiti-like tribute messages and decorated with fun memorabilia (booze, high school stuff, clothes, jewelry, etc.).  Many times, the friends' and family's crosses are on opposite sides of the road.  Sometimes, a family will erect a temporary cross at an accident site, only to later replace the cross with a more permanent monument.  The original cross is usually left in place, though it usually collapses after a short time.  

What sort of relics are left at the accident site?
Of course, fake plastic flowers are the most common.  Strangely enough, the second most common relic left at a roadside memorial is a piece of the victim's car.  Windshield wipers, broken glass, shattered fragments of car bodies, cracked side view mirrors, and even engine parts are left as sole testament to the destruction that occurred.  Often, friends leave relics related to the victim's hobbies, such as ski glasses, golf balls, footballs, necklaces, etc.  If the victim is a child, the monument will undoubtedly be decorated with lots of children's toys.  If the victim is a Mexican (calm down, I'm 1/2 Mexican!), then the monument will almost certainly have some religious relics at the cross.  Rosaries, crucifixes, religious candles, and pictures of Jesus or the Virgin Mary are very common at these sites.  Often, the younger victims have alcohol-related items at the monument.  Beer bottles and hard liquor are most common.  Many times, empty bottles surround the accident site, leading me to believe friends of the victim sometimes hold a drunken wake at the site.  This is particularly true at sites where military personnel have fallen.  

What percentage of roadside accidents have white crosses erected?
This is only a guesstimate, but after hearing the statistics on highway accidents, I'd say only 25% of roadside fatalities have any white cross tributes erected.  Of those, only about 50% have permanent monuments erected.  Many of the initial roadside tributes are small, unmarked crosses or flowers - - most of these disappear after a few weeks. 

Are all these victims Christian?
Hmmm, that's a tough one.  In America, the cross seems to be a standard marker for the deceased.  It pretty much sums everything up in a nutshell:  in other words, someone died here.  So, I suspect that a good number of these victims are not practicing Christians.  I've only found one Star of David, and I have no idea what a Hindu or Muslim monument would look like.  As a non-Christian myself, if I died in a highway accident, I would hope my friends would erect some sort of tribute to me.  Despite my dislike of Christianity, I imagine it would probably be a cross.  What else would it be?  A guitar?

Why do people pay tribute to the place a person died?  Don't they have a proper grave?
In Olancha, CA, there is a tree covered with 4 white crosses.  That wooden bastard took out four Americans.  Why on earth would someone honor this evil tree with a marker?  Well,  in most cases,  you can't destroy a landmark.  Life goes on, and so will the tree, boulder or ditch that killed your love one.  Accepting that, the friends and family want the world to know that this particular anonymous section of road is special.  Their loved one met his Waterloo at this exact spot.  Some of the road memorials are almost setup as rest areas, as if normal people would stop off and visit these sites.  Many white cross memorials I've seen even have benches or chairs for people to sit and relax.  Numerous sites have photos and short biographies of the victims.  It really is about paying tribute to the victim.  A grave is fine, but there is a psychological need to stay close to the last place a loved one was alive.  It almost feels like this is the place to talk to them (and if you are Chris Embrey's family, you probably are right). 

Are multiple crosses common?  Who maintains them?
Unfortunately, multiple victim monuments are very common.  I'd say about 15% of all white crosses are double or triple cross sites.  The worst I've ever seen was a 5 victim site in Victorville, CA.  I haven't put the one online yet because of the work involved.  It is truly grandiose in scale.  That particular accident probably made the news, but I never heard about it:  5 high schoolers killed on Hwy 395.  Makes you wonder how bad the accident was that all 5 vehicle occupants were killed.  When high schoolers die, the school usually pulls together and makes a pretty cool monument.  Lots of graffiti and knick knacks adorn these crosses.  As time goes on though, it is usually one obsessed family member that maintains all the crosses.  The rest of the victims' family and friends let it go, but one victim's mom or dad keeps everything pretty.  Kinda sad, isn't it?  For non-high school students, one of the victim's family members usually sets up crosses for all the victims.  This is no surprise because in may cases, the victims are related.   In the instances where the victims are unrelated, it seems like one victim's family member has all the motivation.  You can usually tell whose parents made the tribute because that victim's white cross is given prominence.

Are all the victims human?  
That may seem like a weird question, but in some rare cases, a white cross will be erected for an animal that has died on the mean streets of America.  These are usually distinguished from regular white crosses by the young age of the victim, the missing last name, the quirky first name, and the lack of toys at the accident site.

Are you a sick bastard who cruises the lonely highways of America?  If so, send us your digital pixs with info and commentary, and we'll put them up!
Do you have any information on these accidents?  E-mail us at

or choose from these other fine websites presented by Fyoog State Records:

Return to White-Crosses Main Page

Copyright 2003 Fyoog State Records