Do those little white crosses give you a chill?
Constructed by members of the Montana American Legion, the stark roadside signposts mark human fatalities on many Big Sky byways. The Legion launched the cross campaign when a Missoula member suggested something be done after six people lost their lives in area wrecks during the 1952 Labor Day weekend.
Since then, more than 2,000 of the crosses—designed to promote driver safety—have been erected across the state. The memorials are tolerated in most rights of way, but federal law prohibits their placement along Interstate highways.
Following the Legion’s lead, a Hot Springs man, the former Robert Craft, started Hearts Across America in 1997. Craft, who later changed his legal name to Jack Ass, wanted to place red “healing heart” signs at crash sites across the nation to remind travelers of suffering. Ass died this summer, and his program’s future is uncertain.
Meanwhile, the Missoula-based Great Bear Foundation proposes to start a similar project to mark fatal bruin-motorist collisions in Montana. Chuck Jonkel, the group’s president and co-founder, says a variety of designs are being considered. Preliminary work on the silhouettes is being done by Glenn Aragon, a metal-sculpting instructor at Salish Kootenai College.
Jonkel says the program’s initial focus will be on locations where grizzly bears have been killed. At least eight sites in the Flathead and Mission valleys and near Glacier and Yellowstone national parks have been identified. The first signs could be erected later this year.
“We thought it would be another way for people to think about wildlife,” Jonkel explains. “It would be to commemorate the place, and warn people it’s a dangerous road.”
Group leaders are consulting with members of the Salish and Kootenai Tribes and others to solicit ideas about the project.
“It has human interest,” Jonkel says. “It has an education role, as well as an honor role. We want to make sure it doesn’t get under anybody’s skin or offend anyone.”