(Explore the world’s most poignant, whimsical and unusual monuments)
The urge to remember is a powerful one. Following a tragedy, or a disaster, or even just a great life, we humans feel a need to come together and memorialise. From the cenotaphs commemorating the Great War dotted throughout the towns and villages of the UK, to the stark monuments of communism in Eastern Europe, our world is filled with numerous icons of memory.
But not all memorials are the simple, elegant structures we’re used to seeing. Across our planet, the urge to remember frequently collides with the urge to do something truly unusual. The results are both poignant and startling, amusing and heartfelt, often all at once. This article looks at 10 unusual monuments across the world, some of them commemorating people and events, others strangely whimsical.
Boot Hill, Falkland Islands
If you head out of the tiny settlement of Port Stanley, and drift across the lonely moorland towards the airport, you may just pass one of the oddest sights the Falkland Islands have to offer. Scattered across the top of a remote hillock are dozens upon dozens of boots resting upside down on wooden stakes. Perhaps the most-remarkable aspect of this unusual monument is in its story. No-one knows for certain how Boot Hill came to be.
There are several theories, ranging from the grim to the prosaic. One holds that the first boot was staked there by a man who had his leg blown-off by a mine left over from the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina. Another claims the boots are left by employees of the airport as they finish their final shift and retire. But perhaps the most-likely theory holds that this is simply a monument to time well spent. As Falkland Islanders leave their tiny outpost for a new life abroad, many leave an item of footwear and Boot Hill to commemorate their childhood here. Visitors who do likewise are said to be signalling that they will one day return.
The Anchor Graveyard of Tavira, Portugal
On Ilha de Tavira in the Algarve region of Portugal lies one of the oddest sights in the region. Lines of rusted anchors lie buried in the shifting sands, their metal frames flaking and crumbling beneath the burning Iberian sun. Silent, eternal, and strangely-mournful, they memorialise not lost ships or drowned sailors, but an entire way of life.
Not so long ago, these same anchors were used as weights to hold down heavy fishing nets by sailors who braved the rough Atlantic to catch tuna. At the time, the region was at the beating heart of the tuna trade, and most local livelihoods relied on it in some way. Then, one day, tragedy struck. With tuna stocks depleted, the local fishing industry collapsed overnight. Jobs were lost. Many were plunged into poverty. A way of life disappeared, leaving only Tavira’s eerie anchor graveyard to attest that it ever even existed.
Soviet Tail Fins at the Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery
(Image: Modris Putns)
In the dark days of the Cold War, the majority of communist-led countries united under the Warsaw Pact. Like NATO, it stipulated that an attack on one member was an attack on all, meaning any western incursion would be met with the full force of the Soviet Union. Airfields sprang up across Eastern Europe, prepared to defend the Pact nations. But they were also places where pilots lived and worked and formed deep friendships. All of which perhaps explains this offbeat little cemetery in Estonia.
Located at Ämari Air Base (originally called Suurküla), the unusual cemetery contains the remains of pilots who died while stationed there. But rather than be content with a simple headstone, those devising the Ämari Pilots’ Cemetery interred their bodies beneath the tail-fins of Soviet combat aircraft. In a strange twist of fate, Ämari is now a NATO airbase, intended to protect Estonia against Russian aggression – more-or-less the exact opposite of the cause these pilots died for.
Agricultural Crash Monument, USA
For many Americans, the 1980s were a boom time. A period of prosperity, social mobility, and the pursuit of the American dream. But this newfound prosperity didn’t touch everyone. Out in the Midwest, thousands of farmers saw their livelihoods collapse, as prices dropped and the cost of debt soared. What would become known as the Agricultural Crash would ruin tens of thousands of lives, a figure commemorated by this unusual monument.
Looking at first-glance like a memorial to those killed in a plane crash, the Agricultural Crash Monument features a broken plane face-planting into the dirt. But this is merely a case of metaphor translated into real-life. The ‘crashed’ plane represents the crashed agricultural market, a disaster as devastating for some as any air crash. Located about an hour and a half out of Chicago, the damaged plane now serves as a reminder of harder times, and all those who lost their businesses.
The Bra Fence, New Zealand
(Image: Ron de Ruijter)
Not so long ago, New Zealand’s South Island was home to one of the oddest tourist attractions in the southern hemisphere. The bra fence was exactly what it sounds like: a long chain of discarded bras, draped over a twisted wire fence, stretching out for miles alongside a lonely road. They first appeared in 1999, reaching a grand total of 60 before being removed. But when the press reported on the initial batch being taken down, the story went viral. In no time at all, the bras had returned in even-greater numbers than before.
At one point, it was claimed the bras were the most-photographed attraction in the Cardrona area. Some even likened the phenomenon to the mysterious Celtic votive offerings known as clooties. But we’d be stretching things if we said anyone truly believed this weird monument to be spiritual in nature. Instead, the bra fence was simply a quirk of culture, always destined to be temporary. Not long after it first reappeared, the local authorities took the bra fence down again. This time, no new bras appeared to take their place.
The Bullet Baba Motorcycle Shrine, India
When Om Banna climbed onto his Royal Enfield Bullet in the Indian state of Rajasthan one sweltering night in 1988, he couldn’t have known that he was on a collision course with history. Minutes later, Banna , who had allegedly been drinking, ploughed headlong into a tree at high-speed. The impact killed him instantly, yet his story was only just beginning. When police attempted to clear up the scene, they found that his Bullet motorcycle allegedly refused to be moved from the crash site.
According to local lore, every time someone moved the bike, it would return in the night to the exact place where Banna died. Eventually, the police gave up, and the Bullet was turned into a shrine. Since then, it has become a nationally-famous landmark, with people travelling across the Indian subcontinent to leave offerings, and drape ribbons over the tree that killed Banna.
But this is more than just the story of one man killed in a tragic accident. India has one of the highest road-accident rates in the world. The Bullet Baba Motorcycle Shrine now acts as a kind of memorial to them all, and a warning to the living against the dangers of drink driving.
Långholmen Crash Site, Sweden
In another world, the people of Stockholm know 1993 as a day of unparalleled tragedy. On August 8, an air show pilot lost control of his plane above crowded Långholmen island. Above 500,000 spectators, the pilot ejected, and watched helplessly as his plane plunged to earth, crashing with a deafening explosion. At that moment, casualty figures in the hundreds would not have been unthinkable.
Yet, instead, the opposite happened. By sheer fluke, the plane landed on the one part of the island where nobody was. Although one man was injured by the blast, nobody died. It was an unexpected miracle.
Since then, this little metal sculpture of a paper aeroplane has marked the spot where a tragedy failed to happen. If only more sad stories ended like this.
The Grand Gathering of the Saint Lawrence, Canada
(Image: Dennis Jarvis)
Looming out of Canada’s freezing Saint-Lawrence River is a scene straight from a nightmare. Over a hundred shambling figures rise slowly out the water; a dreadful army, shuffling towards the shore. But these aren’t zombies or angry Mer-people, determined to wreak havoc. They’re the work of a single, determined artist. And they stand today as a crazy monument to the power of a unique artistic vision.
Many moons ago, Canadian sculptor Marcel Gagnon began carving these wooden figures as studies for his paintings. As time went by and more and more figures accumulated, Gagnon took to leaving them half-submerged in the river, or standing forlornly on the nearby shoreline. Rather than complain, people seemed to like them. So Gagnon turned his curious hobby into a full-blown art project. Fast forward to today, and there are now over a hundred of these figures, each individually carved into a fascinating pose.
The Abandoned Busts of Presidents Park, USA
It’s the budget Mount Rushmore. A strange collection of giant, forbidding faces of US Presidents, forged in stone and sternly watching over the unchanging Virginian landscape. Created in 2004 by sculptor David Adickes, and placed on the land of Everette “Haley” Newman, Presidents Park was meant to become a national landmark. Instead, it spiraled into debt and eventual collapse. With nowhere to go, the heads of the bygone presidents were hauled off to a nearby field, to slowly decay in depressing ignominy.
Although the site is currently off-limits to curious visitors, the glimpses that can be snatched of it leave a bizarre impression. The crumbling heads of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln stand side-by-side with William Taft, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon. Andrew Jackson jostles for space alongside Millard Fillmore. The effect of all these (mostly) dead presidents staring emptily at you becomes a surprisingly-effective reminder of times gone by, and the men who once led the most-powerful nation on Earth.
The Earhart Light of Howland Island, Phoenix Islands
It’s likely that you have probably never heard of Howland Island. An uninhabited stretch of land lost in the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean, the tiny landmass lies almost equidistant between Hawaii and Australia. A minor outlying territory of the United States, the desolate island has almost nothing to distinguish it from any other empty atoll. Except, that is, for a structure that has become an unusual monument over the years: the Earhart Light.
Named after aviator Emilia Earhart, who disappeared while trying to find Howland Island, the crumbling day beacon was constructed mainly to give the US a legitimate reason for claiming the territory as its own. Now a de-facto monument to the pioneering female pilot, it is one of the least-visited structures in the world. Damaged by Japanese bombing during World War Two, neglected for decades, and crumbling away, the ruin hasn’t seen much human intervention over the years. With Howland Island itself almost impossible to visit, the unusual monument seems likely to remain equally undisturbed for many years more.
(Image: Joann94024; Plane wreckage on Howland Island)
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