February 3, 1959, a snowy day in Clear Lake, Iowa, was the site of a terrible plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, along with the inexperienced pilot who was hired to fly the single-engine plane. This day has been immortalized through the 1971 hit song, “American Pie” by Don McLean, with lyrics such as “February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver, bad news on the doorstep…when I read about his widowed bride…the day the music died.” In 2017, the original version was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”
Why is this day recognized as significant? Could it be the popularity of Don McLean’s song? Could it be because all three artists on the plane were up and coming rock stars? Could it be the circumstances surrounding the tragedy? We may never know the answers to these questions; however, we do know that Buddy Holly was 22–at the peak of his career; Ritchie Valens, was 17–just beginning his career; and The Big Bopper was 28—a talented, early rock star; were all too young to die.
Since that disastrous day, much has been written and memorialized through song, books, films, television, and museums. One such tribute is the actual crash site located in Clear Lake, Iowa. It is small and easily missed, but well worth the trip. You know you will have arrived at the entrance when you see his infamous trademarked glasses. From there it is about ½ mile walk to the actual location of the crash where one will find memorabilia left by fans along with a guitar/record monument. For a more formal exhibit, the Surf Ballroom, where they had their last performance, is not too far away.
If you’re interested in learning more about this day in history, or about any of the artists, here are some resources you might find helpful: