At 22728 Gull Avenue Clear Lake, Iowa, off a gravel road and in the middle of corn fields, you’ll find the Buddy Holly Crash Site, a memorial that marks the spot where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959.
Buddy Holly Crash Site in Clear Lake, Iowa
I decided to check out this memorial after a recent trip with the North Iowa Bloggers to Chicago. Once our plane landed safely at the Mason City Airport, the same airport that Ritchie Valens’ plane took off from, I googled up the address and drove the 15 minutes to the shrine.
I knew to look for these glasses – which you’d think would have been pretty obvious, yet I still missed the spot and had to turn around. When I saw the pictures of the glasses on the internet I thought they were much bigger and taller than they actually are.
I parked my car on the side of the road and got out by the glasses. The only reason I started walking was because Sara from Travel with Sara told me I’d have to walk quite a ways down the field to see the actual memorial site. Nothing near the glasses indicated I needed to walk or even where I was. I texted my husband a picture of my car on the side of the gravel road and joked with them that I was at the Buddy Holly Crash Site in case I didn’t return. It was a bit of a hike down a worn path to get to the actual crash site and memorial and a couple times before I got to the shrine, I thought about turning around!
This is what I found at the memorial: guitar picks, quarters, a cigarette, and a small shrine honoring the three musicians who lost their lives that cold, fateful day in February. According to a very interesting article by Katherine Rodeghier in the free 2016 Official Clear Lake Visitor’s Guide (which you can request here), Buddy Holly chartered the plane to take him and his band mates Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup to Fargo after the heat went out on their tour bus. Ritchie Valens won a coin toss with Tommy Allsup and took his seat. JP Richardson apparently had the flu, so Jennings gave him his seat. Apparently Holly and Jennings joked with each other, Holly hoping the bus would freeze up and Jennings hoping the plan would crash, a comment he said haunted him badly.
I honestly never heard the song American Pie by Don McLean until I went to college. Or if I did, I sure don’t remember. But I have vivid memories of dancing to American Pie at the college parties I frequented with my friends and this song was always a staple. After visiting the crash site shrine, I listen to this song with a different mindset. Next time you got to Clear Lake, Iowa, you’ll want to head out there too. It’s a surreal experience for sure.
For more things to do in Clear Lake, Iowa head over to these awesome posts!
Also, request your free visitor’s guide here!
Summertime Fun Kicks off in Clear Lake, Iowa by Sara at Travel with Sara
Clear Lake, Iowa – Your Summer Destination by Joy at livinglifejoyfully
Clear Lake, Iowa – A Destination for Modern Day Hippies by Shari at Inked & Educated Mom
Have you been to Clear Lake or the Buddy Holly Crash Site? I’d love to hear. And many thanks to the Clear Lake, Iowa Area Chamber of Commerce for organizing our trip to Chicago.