Iowa April 12, 2018
It’s Impossible To Forget The Tragic Iowa Plane Crash That Rewrote Parts Of History
In all of Iowa’s history, perhaps no single event has earned as much news coverage and cultural significance as “The Day The Music Died” – when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson were in a plane that crashed shortly after a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa. Nearly everyone in the country can remember where they were when the heard the news, but it struck home for Iowans. Today, a memorial exists at the site, and the legend of these performers will never be forgotten. Read their story below.
The crowd at the Surf Ballroom, a legendary music venue, had no idea that they were witnessing the last performance of rock and roll legends.
Buddy Holly and a group of supporting musicians took to the stage as part of their midwestern "Winter Dance Tour". They played well into the night, and the concert ended just before midnight.
Holly had made arrangements for his band, consisting of Tommy Allsup and Waylon Jennings, to fly to the next stop on the tour.
After the show, Jennings and Allsup both gave up their seats on the plane. JP "The Big Bopper" Richardson, one of the supporting acts, had the flu and asked Waylon Jennings if he could fly, rather than take the crowded tour bus. Jennings agreed. Ritchie Valens, another supporting musician, asked Tommy Allsup for his seat, and the two tossed a coin, with Valens winning the seat.
Unfortunately, the plane did not make it to the next tour stop in Moorehead, Minnesota. Shortly after takeoff, in darkness and with the challenges of snowy weather and poor visibility, the plane crashed to the ground in a nearby corn field. Roger Peterson was the pilot at just 21 years of age. Everyone on the flight died instantly. You can listen to the local news broadcasts and see footage from the crash site on this video, put together by Youtube user King Todge VIDEO
As people woke up to the news the following morning, a wave of grief flooded the nation.
Even the musicians families learned of their fate by early morning news broadcasts. Holly's pregnant wife, María Elena, suffered such trauma that she miscarried, and has never been able to visit the gravesite. She did not attend Holly's funeral. Holly's own mother heard the news on the radio in Texas, and collapsed to the floor. Following the events, Police nationwide decided that news outlets would not be told victims names until their families were notified.
It did not take long for fans to gather at the crash site and create a memorial.
Today, you can find a path to the memorial off of Gull Road in Clear Lake. Look for a replica of Holly's signature glasses, and the path will take you from there.
After a short walk, you'll see the memorial at the site of the crash. Music fans travel from all over to visit this sacred site.
Letters, flowers, and all sorts of tributes are left here, honoring Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.
Each year, the memorial adds a few fan-made tributes, and despite decades of wear and tear, the site always looks tidy and respectful.
The steel guitar and records were created by Ken Paquette, a local fan, in 1989. Paquette later made a tribute for the pilot, Peterson, as well. The Surf Ballroom hosts annual tribute concerts, and there is a granite memorial bearing the names of those who perished in the crash.
Perhaps no tribute is more famous, though, than the song that reminded the nation of the tragedy. American Pie was released by Don McLean in 1971, and forever changed the way the music industry referred to the crash. After the song rose to the top of the charts, the day the world lost Valens, Holly and the Big Bopper was known as "The Day the Music Died".
Watch a performance from Buddy Holly and his band, the Crickets, below.
VIDEO If you need a bit of a pick-me-up after reading the tragic story of The Day The Music Died, read up on why Iowa Is One Of The Happiest States In America And We Couldn’t Agree More