Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Psychology

Degree Type

Master of Science


Roadside memorials commemorating the death of automobile crash victims are scattered throughout the Kentucky landscape. This persistent cultural practice contains symbolic elements oftentimes indicative of religious connotations. Because there is a constitutional separation of church and government in the United States, these memorials can prelude controversy if located on state-maintained rights-of-way. This study examines Warren County, Kentucky, and analyzes the spatial distribution of these memorials on the landscape and the cultural implications to society because of their ties to death and dying. Scientific research in various fields of psychology, sociology, folk studies, geoscience, and religious studies was analyzed, including religious census information. Additionally, state departments of transportation were queried on policies relating to roadside memorials to develop a foundation for research in Warren County. A GPS unit was utilized to develop a roadside memorial database, and GIS was used to map the locations of these memorials in relation to the Bowling Green urban area, road types, and other factors. A typology based on the symbolic elements composing the memorials was constructed to analyze the database further. Qualitative information was also gathered while performing fieldwork to gain some insight into people's perceptions about roadside memorials. This study concludes that roadside memorial construction is a persistent cultural practice, is a controversyal issue shaped by local policies and social influences, and is not necessarily restricted to one road type. In terms of Warren County, Kentucky, roadside memorials exist throughout the county, typically on state-maintained, heavier-traveled roadways. They are found in rural areas along two-lane highways, but also exist in urban areas. Roadside memorials reflect the region's tie to Christianity, particularly the Southern Baptist denomination of the Protestant faith, and they are not encouraged, discouraged, or prohibited by local, state, or federal policies.


Folklore | Geography | Sociology