At various times over the past five years, I have felt the urge to travel our nation by car. I have taken many trips and have now visited all 48 states in the lower contiguous United States. I have seen several great monuments to the memory of others in every shape and form conceivable.
From the colossal 67-foot-tall statue of Sam Houston in Huntsville, Texas to the larger-than-life bronze sculpture “Swing Low” of Harriet Tubman in New York’s Harlem neighborhood; from the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia solemn memorials in Arlington National Cemetery to the beautifully majestic Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, California, I have seen the numerous ways people chose to remember others.
One of my favorite forms of remembrance is also one of the most understated yet prolific in our country. In my travels, I found memorial or dedicated benches in every state, on many college campuses, on beautiful scenic trails, and most appropriately in cemeteries. I noticed that people walk by these benches every day going about their business and seldom notice that they are indeed memorials.
Memorial benches come in many shapes, sizes, and materials. Some are made of stone or concrete while others are manufactured of wood or metal. Still others have attached statues or are part of larger monuments.
These benches invite you to relax, reflect, and remember the person who is no longer with us.
Many memorial benches are dedicated to people who had violently tragic deaths. On the grounds of Werner Park stadium near Omaha, Nebraska is a dark blue metal bench with the dedication plaque that reads “In Loving Memory of Spencer D. Brown.” Spencer had once worked at the stadium as a teenager.
After graduating high school, Spencer moved to Minnesota. Shortly thereafter in 2016 he was shot by a stranger in Myre-Big Island State Park near Albert Lea when he was only 23-years-old.
Dustin Weber has a dedicated bench near Crescent City California. The plaque on the bench reads: “In loving memory of 25-year-old Yurok native DUSTIN DOUGLAS WEBER. Swept from the mouth of the Klamath River, March 11, 2011 tsunami. He may be gone, but never forgotten!” I found the view from this memorial bench quite serene considering this tragic loss of life that had occurred during the 2011 Tsunami.
Both Dustin and Spencer were in their mid-20s when they died. It is not uncommon for memorial benches to be dedicated to people who died at an early age. For example, on Pre’s Trail in Eugene, Oregon there is a green metal memorial bench for 15-year-old Zoe Bartlett who died in 2006 from cancer. The inscription on her bench reads: “In Loving Memory of Zoe Bartlett 1990-2006; A Lover of trees, this area was her favorite place in the park.”
I have seen over a dozen memorial benches that celebrate the remembrance of a person and their special relationship to their pet. For example, at the intersection of Duluth Street and Ensign Avenue in Golden Valley, there is a dedicated bench to Gary Prazak and his faithful companion Zeus. This bench has a photo of Gary and his Great Dane dog Zeus etched into its signage.
In many places in I found memorial benches that incorporate statues. One particularly cool statue-bench is in Sundance, Wyoming. It depicts the “Sundance Kid,” Harry A. Longabaugh, serving time in their local jail.
Ft. Ross State Park in northern California contains the fascinating remnants of a Russian fur trading outpost. I did not expect to find a memorial bench there, but I did. This bench is dedicated to John Sperry an author and member of the Fort Ross Conservancy.
The view of both Fort Ross and the Pacific Ocean is spectacular from John’s bench. His bench label reads: “JOHN SPERRY – FRIEND, MENTOR, & FORCE OF NATURE.” It makes me wish I had known the man.
Many dedicated benches are in the most picturesque areas of our country. When I was running around Lake of Isles and Bde Maka Ska, I noticed a single bench right on the channel between the lakes. This beautifully located simple wood and concrete bench is a memorial to Robert “Bob” Stinson, a founding member and lead guitarist of the American rock band The Replacements.
What I really like about memorial benches is that most of them are dedicated to everyday folk who enjoyed the beauty of life. At the most lovely Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington is one such bench created for Judith Ann Peecher. The inscription on the bench simply reads “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Dave Berger of Maple Grove, is a retired sociology professor who taught for 37 years. He is also a freelance writer working on a book about memorial benches.