In Iowa, the Site Where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper Were Killed in a Plane Crash Is Marked by Memorials

A Guitar-Shaped Memorial and a Giant Pair of Thick Black Glasses Memorialize the Day the Music Died

A Guitar-Shaped Memorial and a Giant Pair of Thick Black Glasses Memorialize the Day the Music Died

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Oct. 30 2015 12:30 PM

Remembering the Day the Music Died

One of the memorials to the musicians.

Photo: Fernkes/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

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Some call it "The Day the Music Died" thanks to a reference in Don McClean'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. This tragic accident is still remembered by a couple of unique memorials.

It was on Feb. 3, 1959, that the small Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft carrying the musicians crash-landed 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 charted the small plane, which was unequipped to handle the severe weather they were flying in. The weather was poor and wintry, and unfortunately the pilot lost control of the plane, which crashed, killing all aboard, including the pilot himself.


The trio of musicians were returned to their respective home states and buried there, but the spot where the plane went down was not forgotten. In 1988, a guitar-shaped memorial to the tragic crash was installed on the spot 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 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 a bit and can be harder to find. However people have reported that the locals, including the farmer on whose property the memorial resides, are more than happy to help.      

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Eric Grundhauser is a head writer and editor at Atlas Obscura. He lives in Brooklyn with his comic book collection. Follow him on Twitter.