A couple random things from today's media--the Times has an article on the military leaving Camp Victory in Iraq. Part of the process is dismantling the memorials erected to remember various deaths, one of which was going to be transported back to the states. Meanwhile Ann Althouse notes a Tampa Bay piece on memorials: apparently they already have 500 and are looking at more.
Also, when we come back from Herndon from our regular weekend visit to The Tortilla Factory, there's a wooden cross erected by the on-ramp to the Fairfax Parkway. I assume it commemorates some teenager who lost control there and died in the accident.
Finally, there's the famous factoid about Reston: it has no cemeteries.
Discussion: in the old days when I was young, people would gather on Memorial Day at the cemetery to cleanup damage and remember the dead. Commemorating death was a communal activity because the tombstones represented people were ancestors and relatives of the people living in the community. As a little kid you'd go around and see the names on the big family stones: Thompson, Kittle, whatever, and be able to connect them to the farms and houses you saw along the roads.
Today we no longer have that community, that communal knowledge, and we likely no longer have that cemetery. Hence the individualistic drive to commemorate a death, a tragedy, with something along the roadside.
My memories of course evoke a rural/small town atmosphere. I'm sure in the big cities cemeteries were very different, particularly as regards class. But my memories were/are in stone; the inscriptions on the stones gradually fade and erode, but my great great grandmother's grave stone, who emigrated from Ireland and died in 1850, is still legible. For better or worse, the more individualistic monuments of today don't have that enduring power.