Paying respects at the crash site, 60 years after The Day the Music Died

February 26, 2019

Earlier this month was the 60th anniversary of "The Day the Music Died"Don McLean coined that phrase in his 1971 smash hit "American Pie". Of course, I'm talking about the February 3, 1959 crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. All three musicians plus their pilot Roger Peterson perished just north of Clear Lake, Iowa.

 

The tragic crash snuffed out the careers and lives of arguably some of the biggest stars of the day. It had a profound affect on American music and pop culture. It also instantly made the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake famous for being the last place these three stars performed.

 

On the weekend of the 60th anniversary of the crash, I found myself up in North Iowa so I decided to visit the crash site. I've been to the Surf Ballroom, but had never actually visited the crash site memorial. Located several miles north of Clear Lake, the crash site is actually in a field and a bit of a hike from the road.

There's a large pair of glasses, similar to what Buddy Holly wore, near the road marking the beginning to the path to the memorial.

Because it was the anniversary and the annual Winter Dance Party was that night at the Surf, there were a lot of visitors making the trek to the memorial when I was there. Several cars were parked along the road.

On this particular morning, the path was pretty muddy but I was not going to let a little mud get in the way of my visit. Hopefully when you visit, it will be nicer weather and the ground will be better to walk on. Many of the pictures on the Internet show the path to be grassy during warmer months.

 

On either side of the trail are agricultural fields that will be planted to crops in just a few months.

Once you get to the site (about a 10 minute walk from the road), there's a small memorial in the fence line.

 

There is a marker for the three musicians as well as as separate marker for the pilot. 

 

 

 

I stopped at the Surf Ballroom back in town but the actual ballroom was closed. They were getting ready for that evening's Winter Dance Party, an event that happens every year on the weekend of the crash.  

The Surf was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. I stopped there last February when I was in Clear Lake for the Color the Wind kite festival. However, the entire building was closed that day. 

 

There's a monument out front to the three musicians.

 

 

 

 

There is lots of parking by the building.

I was not allowed to see the actual ballroom (I still haven't actually seen it in any of my prior visits). They had security and black curtains blocking the view.

However, I did manage to take one photo, very quickly, around a curtain. There were some sound checks going on.

I did wander around and look at some of artifacts and pictures on the walls. There's a lot of music history in a place like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find some great information about the tour that the musicians were on in the winter of 1959.

 

There's a gift shop if you want a souvenir to take home.

 

The Surf was recently honored with a nomination by the Academy of Country Music for venue of the year - small. I certainly wish them well with this. It's a neat honor to be recognized.

Hopefully someday I'll get back and finally get a chance to see the ballroom. Perhaps, I'll even be able to enjoy an event there. However, I was glad to finally see the crash site. It's obviously a sad place but it's also an important part of our state's history, too.

As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Cerro Gordo County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this website.

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