This whole thing started when I was driving back to Texas from an extended camping/hiking/fishing trip in northern Wisconsin last spring. On my way north, I'd noted that the Interstate passed right by Clear Lake and immediately made the connection with Buddy Holly's plane crash. But it was the middle of the night then and I didn't want to stop and go exploring. But on the return trip about 5 weeks later, I hit the Clear Lake exit early enough so that I knew I had time to go looking for the site and take some pictures.
You know the story, of course. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper had finished a touring performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake on the night of February 2nd, 1959. Rather than continue with the other performers to their next engagement (in Moorhead, SD) via bus, they decided to charter a plane and fly ahead to do some laundry. The chartered Beechcraft Bonanza left nearby Mason City airport just after midnight in the midst of a blinding snowstorm and was not heard from again. The next morning, the wreckage was found in a cornfield about five miles north of Clear Lake. Everyone aboard was killed instantly upon impact.
A guy named Ken Paquette of Portersfield, Wisconsin, built the monument. It was installed in 1988 at the exact spot in the fencerow where the Beechcraft Bonanza had come to rest. The monument represents a guitar and 3 phonograph records, all rendered in stainless steel and mounted using 4 small reinforced concrete posts. The inscription on the guitar reads, "Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Big Bopper, 2359". (The name of Roger Peterson, the young pilot of the aircraft who was also killed in the crash, was deliberately omitted.) The records represent the gold records that had been awarded to each of the trio before their deaths. They are inscribed, "Coral - Peggy Sue" (Buddy's hit); "Del Fi - Donna" (Ritchie's hit) and "Mercury - Chantilly Lace" (the Bopper's hit).
People come to visit the site throughout the year but the biggest pilgrimage is always on February 3rd, the anniversary of the crash. Each year, there is an annual commemorative event held at the old Surf Ballroom in town on the first weekend in February. People come from all over the world to attend the weekend convention and Saturday night dance and, before they leave Clear Lake, many of them make the cold trek out into the frozen field north of town where the young stars met their end.
A man named Albert Juhl used to own the cornfield but in Amburn's book the owners are listed as the W. H. Nicholas family. They are very sympathetic to the people who want to walk out to the site. All they ask is that visitors show "proper respect" to the dead and please don't litter the field or damage the crops. When the monument was installed back in 1988, Mr. Paquette also planted four oak trees nearby, one for each of the souls in the plane.
After I took the photos, I hurried back to my truck and headed into town. The farmer had told me to just head into town on "Buddy Holly Blvd" and I'd go right to the Surf Ballroom. Well, not quite, but close. I found out that there are several streets named after Buddy Holly and they are all roughly in the same part of town. For your reference, the Surf is located on North Shore Drive in downtown Clear Lake just west of the intersection with Buddy Holly Drive.