My husband and I had just arrived in Mason City, IA and I wanted to explore my new hometown. On one of my first mornings in Iowa, I decided to visit the site where the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) crashed, killing all three musicians and their pilot in the winter of 1959. They played their last show at the Surf Ballroom, a venue located near the part of Clear Lake bustling with beach goers and restaurants.
The crash site is located on private farmland and does not have an exact address. Roadside America users provided helpful directions that helped me navigate around road construction projects.
Directions: From 35W, take the Clear Lake Exit 197. Go west and turn onto Hickory Ave., a gravel road. You can only take Hickory Ave. one direction, north. In about a mile and a half, turn left onto 315 St. and drive another mile or so until it dead ends at Gull Ave. You’ll see a statue of glasses marking the walking trail to the crash site and memorials. This intersection is quiet and visitors seem to park on the side of the road.
The walking trail begins behind the big glasses. Expect to walk for approximately ten minutes and wear sturdy footwear. Recent rain will make the trail especially muddy.
I was the only person in sight. For a city girl, this felt both terrifying and exhilarating. Every few minutes, I startled a group of birds that rose from the grass. They flew above me and squawked until they found a place to land along the fence. I tried not to think of Tippi Hedren.
When I returned to the intersection, another car appeared. I met three individuals who have lived in the Mason City-Clear Lake community for 40-years and were visiting the site for the first time. They asked me if the hike was worth it. At 9:45 a.m., the air was muggy and the temperature had already risen to 90°F.
I replied that it depends on what they are looking for.
Those searching for a flashy monument will be disappointed, but those who can appreciate a quiet place of remembrance will not regret embarking on this journey.
- Jeni (Hill) Flaa
About the author: Jeni and her husband are new Iowans, having recently moved from Fargo, ND where she completed a year of culinary school. While she and her husband grew up in the Twin Cities, she went to college in Iowa and feel like this move is like a homecoming. She looks forward to exploring her new home state through road trips and dining adventures. Find Jeni on Twitter @JeniEats and her blog.