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Crash site.

Buddy Holly Crash Site

Field review by the editors.

Clear Lake, Iowa

It was just after midnight, February 3, 1959, in Iowa. Buddy Holly was cold, and he wanted some free time to do his laundry. So instead of riding a bus 350 miles to his next rock 'n' roll gig in Minnesota, Buddy chartered a plane to fly him there, along with fellow headliners Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. Unfortunately, their pilot was an unqualified local 21-year-old, and the plane only flew six miles before it crashed, killing them all.


Unlike the official "Day the Music Died" shrine at the nearby Surf Ballroom (where the trio played their last concert only a few hours earlier), the memorial at the crash site is strictly D.I.Y. In fact, the site didn't even have a memorial until 1988, when music fan Ken Paquette made a stainless steel monument of a guitar and three records with the names of the three rockers. In 2009 he made a memorial for the pilot as well.

Much like the Surf, the crash site is the same as it was in 1959: a lonely spot in a giant Iowa field. The access point on the nearest farm road is marked by a big pair of Holly's trademark eyeglasses. It's a long walk from there to the crash site, but the bare patch of dirt in front of the memorial shows that lots of fans make the trek.

The memorial is a repository of offerings: plastic flowers, spare change, Mardi Gras beads, little American flags, eyeglasses, even a rusty 1959 Iowa license plate (If more people knew about the laundry story, they might leave clean socks and underwear). A whirligig made of Jello molds spins in the breeze. The fragility of these items suggests that the site is frequently policed, and the only-recent graffiti on the big eyeglasses shows that it's probably repainted every year.

Most visitors don't realize that as they stand to the south of the memorial, snapping photos, they're literally on the spot where Buddy Holly's body was thrown from the plane, as seen in grim newspaper photos displayed at the Surf.

Also see: Surf Ballroom: Buddy Holly's Last Gig | Grave of the Pilot who Killed Music

Buddy Holly Crash Site

Gull Ave., Clear Lake, IA
From the Surf Ballroom in town, drive north on Buddy Holly Place. Turn right at the stoplight onto US Hwy 18. Drive a half-mile. Turn left at the stoplight onto N. 8th St. Drive north about five miles. As the road bends left, turn right onto gravel 310th St. Drive a quarter-mile, then turn left onto gravel Gull Ave. Drive a half-mile. You'll see the big eyeglasses on the left, at the intersection of 315th St. You can park on the shoulder.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Surf Ballroom: Buddy Holly's Last GigSurf Ballroom: Buddy Holly's Last Gig, Clear Lake, IA - 6 mi.
Tiny Church: Guardian Angel Roadside ChapelTiny Church: Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel, Clear Lake, IA - 6 mi.
Pyramid HousePyramid House, Clear Lake, IA - 6 mi.
In the region:
The Music Man Square, Mason City, IA - 10 mi.

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