About 5am Saturday morning I left Lamoni, Iowa to make the 5 hour trip back to Winona, MN. My urgency was due to two “must attend” weddings later that day. As I rammed through northern Iowa on I-35, I knew that Clear Lake was near. Clear Lake is a nice little farm town in north central Iowa that would be virtually unknown except for one event; the air crash death of legendary rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) on the night of February 3, 1959. The infamous date has been dubbed “the day the music died.”
I’ve passed the Clear Lake exit on and off for over 40 years. I never pass the exit without thinking about the crash, or telling my passengers about the tragedy. This morning however, I had a few extra minutes and decided to visit the crash site. With the help of a Google search of the words “buddy holly crash site”, I got exact directions. The site is about 4.5 miles north of the town of Clear Lake. As I followed the directions from a paved road to a gravel road and around specific turns, a somber feeling of sadness crept into my soul. This was, after all, a death site. I finally came to a corn field. The instructions said, “Walk along the fence line for about a half mile.” The sun had just risen and it was 36 degrees with a stiff wind. I had no jacket, but I had come this far and wasn’t stopping now.
As billed, the site was marked with flowers and mementos left by admirers. This crash occurred 53 years ago, but it felt like it had happened yesterday. There was a metal guitar with the words “Buddy Holley, Ritchie Valens, Big Bopper 2-3-59” Above the guitar handle were three metal records. One said “Coral…Peggy Sue.” Another said…”Mercury…Chantilly Lace”. The third record said “Delfi…Donna”.
I took the photo above, (click on photo for a zoom view of the site) said a little prayer and told myself that I better jog the half mile back to the car before hypothermia set in. I remember Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Bib Bopper but when they perished I was ten years old, not yet a big fan. But they were real, live, honest to God American music legends. And, in a real sense, that little shrine along the fence line of an Iowa corn field is sacred ground.
Both weddings were beautiful and I wish Matt & Jaclynn, along with Doug & Rachael the blessing of wonderful lives together. It was a great day; a happy day, a day of new beginnings…but for me, standing in a cold, windy Iowa cornfield, it started out so sad.
I was a teenager and had broken up with my young fella (that’s another story) and he came over to the house and started to sing ‘Oh Donna, I had a girl…). It did work for him and not because he couldn’t carry a tune or thought he was a second Elvis P and a terrible guitar player.