Wayside Memorials at a Crossroads
As Shrines Proliferate, Officials Tread Softly In Calling for Removal
By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 3, 2008; Page B01
Every day, it gets a little easier to forget. The memory dims, the picture fades and more is lost. For the past five years, Deana Rogers has been fighting against time.
Every week since her husband died, she has visited the site where his motorcycle crashed and tended the memorial she built for him there. Some days, she trims the grass. On others, she adds a new ceramic angel or picture. To her, it is more than a tribute; it is an act of defiance against pressures to move on, to let go, to give up.
Out of respect, state highway officials for years have turned a blind eye to her memorial on the side of Route 50, near Davidsonville in Anne Arundel County. But this year, just before the anniversary of her husband's death, they told her that it had to be removed.
The number of such memorials has become a problem, the officials said, one they can no longer ignore. Every few weeks, another one pops up, meaning another difficult call to make to a grieving family.
Across the country, such memorials dot roads and byways. They have increased in number and magnitude, experts say, even as traffic fatalities have decreased nationwide.
They inhabit a tricky place in the eyes of the law. Officially, permanent roadside memorials are frowned upon, deemed a hazardous distraction, and they are illegal in many jurisdictions, including Maryland, Virginia and the District. Some states strictly enforce the bans. In Wyoming, for instance, road crews removed almost 300 memorials rcently. In other places, such as Virginia, families can pay for the posting of a standardized, state-maintained sign that reads, "Drive safely in memory of . . . "
But even the most stringent by-the-book bureaucrats say they recognize the delicate nature of the memorials and the intimate and tender grief they represent.