Roadside Symbology

As I have mentioned in the past, it’s a bit ironic that so many of the white cross arguments involve Utah. By “white cross” arguments, I mean the desire on the part of secularists to do away with the tradition of white crosses to mark the death of someone. The ironic thing about Utah is that it is the one state in the continental United States where the cross is not a symbol of the dominant religion (Mormons don’t really do crosses). In fact, it’s Utah first and foremost that I look at and actually believe that no, the cross does not have to be an establishing symbol of a specific religion (or series of religions). If that is what Utah were going for, they’d have little tooting Moronis on the site of the road. Or something.

As far as such crosses go, I can understand the objections even though I don’t actually share them. If anything, Christians themselves should be kind of anxious about their holy symbol being used for something that isn’t religious in nature. Sort of like the secularization of Christmas.

Arapaho makes extensive use of roadside crosses. And there is more of an establishment concern here than elsewhere, because they are put up by the state. There is one stretch of dangerous highway where my wife and I counted 30-something over just a few miles. They were put up by the state to underline, once twice and thirty-something times to drive carefully.

And part of the problem is that there is no other symbol that you see on the side of the road and know immediately what it means.

Which brings me to the point of this post: If crosses are really a problem, those that want to take the crosses down need to come up with a replacement. That would sell me on the issue. Instead of saying “Take down that cross” they should say “How about we use this instead.” I don’t know, and don’t really care what is used. It could be just a white stake in the ground. Something immediately recognizable and identifiable. Arapaho can put up a sign as you enter the Danger Zone saying (more concisely so that people don’t get into accidents as they try to read the sign) “Hey, you’re about to see a bunch of white stakes in the ground. This is where people died. So drive carefully!”

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. I should think a white stake and a wreath and a ribbon would work, although A: around Christmastime it would get confusing (oh God, all those people who died at the mall!) and B: a WHITE stake, huh? You saying that only WHITE people get to have their death memorialized? What about all the BLACK people GUNNED DOWN by WHITE COPS every DAY?

  2. I wonder to what extent these crosses are symbols of Christianity, and to what degree they’ve been co-opted – much like Christmas tree, as you mentioned.

    When I see a cross on the side of a road, I never think “Huh. Christians.” I always think “dead person.” They do not bring to mind any sect of belief, but rather a grave.

    • I think it depends at least somewhat on context. My ex-girlfriend, who was broadly agnostic, wore a cross because it was left to her by her grandmother. Generally, though, such a cross is that context is going to represent belief.

      The question for the white cross on the side of the road is how often it is one and how often the other. It certainly seems to me to be more likely to be secular than a necklace. But others disagree. And when it comes to symbols, how something is received matters as much as what is meant by it (the Confederate Flag being an example). So I understand the counterargument. This just seems an odd place to stake a claim (less odd than “Under God” or “In God We Trust”, actually), given how often I believe it is not religious in nature.

      But… if we’re going to do away with it, I think we should have a replacement of sorts, as it does convey information. Not just “dead person” but “person died here” and more likely than not, if on the side of a road, “person died here in something relating to an automobile.”

      • Not just “dead person” but “person died here” and more likely than not, if on the side of a road, “person died here in something relating to an automobile.”

        I think this solves the problem — a picture of the dead person (family members willing, of course). That would turn it from not just “dead person”, but “this person died here”. We’d have to make sure the pictures don’t cause more accidents as drivers turn to gawk…

  3. I am not sure how prevalent this sort of regulation is, but when I lived there, Wisconsin had state laws essentially stating that no one could place signs of any kind, including memorials, on the state property that extended a certain distance from a highway.
    Past that was private property and so if the property owner wants to put up crosses or whatever, they could, though I believe there were also limitations on what can be put up if it was deemed a distraction that can cause drivers to pay too much attention and thus get into car accidents.
    I always figured the real purpose of the law was just to ensure the state didn’t have to get into if they could allow people to put up crosses and what would happen if they did.

    • Cute and most people can indentify with one animal or another. I like this idea.

    • A stake with a green circle would be fine, too. I’m not really particular. It mostly just needs to be something agreed upon.

    • “in memory of…” is exactly what popped into my mind when Will suggested a replacement. Nothing says “a person died here” like the identification of the individual. Not a huge fan of the photo though. Could be because I feel (as well as numerous other people in this world) I never take a good photo.

  4. According to a HC commenter, in Colombia they use this star, which is a sort of cross-like star, in black and gold.

    I’d be cool with that, if it wouldn’t be considered too cross-like and resuscitate the whole debate. What do you think, Burt?

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