This last week, we've been driving quite a distance across that face. Maybe an eyelid's expanse of earth-face. Much of the eyelid has been Montana, where the Montana American Legion has been carrying out its White Cross Highway Fatality Marker Program since 1953.
The unique idea of marking fatal traffic accident sites with a white cross was the brain child of Floyd Eaheart, a member of the American Legion Hellgate Post #27, Missoula, Montana; after six lives were lost in the Missoula area over the 1952 Labor Day Holiday. The safety program started out as a county and later district project for the Missoula American Legion Post. However, the idea was so good that it was soon adopted as a statewide program. The Montana Highway Commission (now Department of Transportation) approved the program in January 1953, with the blessing of the then 13th governor of Montana, J. Hugo Aronson (the Galloping Swede)....You appropriate an individual's death for your message of traffic safety, with the state's approval, and you don't like when the people who loved that person pile on a message of their own. Either it's a speech forum, where viewpoint discrimination is banned or it's the state's own speech, and it's an Establishment Clause violation (unless the courts say it's not).
The program is intended as a highway safety, not a memorial program. Still, many families place wreaths or other decorations on the white crosses, which may be considered a memorial to a loved one lost in an accident. Obstruction of the white cross with these decorations defeats the purpose of the safety program.
The white crosses serve as a public service message, reminding drivers to “Please Drive Carefully.” They are a sobering reminder of a fatal traffic accident, a place where a human being lost his/her life....Here's some discussion of the case. I don't see what the interstate has to do with it. The Constitution applies off the off ramp. But the crosses are all over the place in Montana, reminding us where people have died. How unsettled the skittish NYT reader might feel, driving in Montana, knowing about all that death. Or perhaps it's soothing to see so few doorways to oblivion have opened up in the years since 1953. Half a century has gone by and yet there are long spaces on the road that have never swallowed a human being. Often you can traverse an entire eyelash on the face of the earth without seeing a white cross.
Not all highway fatalities are marked. Due to a federal ruling, white crosses are not allowed along interstate highways.
Seeing the white crosses, I wonder about the places where there has been death. What if you could — everywhere — see who (and what) has ever died on that spot. How covered with death would the earth be? I'm blogging in the breakfast room of a Holiday Inn Express in Bismarck, North Dakota. Am I sitting on a dinosaur carcass?