Temporary memorials


Temporary memorials are the seemingly spontaneous, temporary shrines that appear following crisis events, such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings, transport and industrial accidents among others. These memorials usually occur at or near the site of death, or at locations or landmarks associated with the event or the people who died (1). Temporary memorials are a product of communal expression of grief, shock, sadness etc after sudden, tragic death.

This spontaneous expression of grief after disasters is predictable post disaster behaviour(2). As such, large- scale temporary memoials are not uncommon after crisis events. In fact, they are seen as the rule rather than the exception following events that cause sudden and tragic death (3). By way of example:

  • following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 approximately 50,000 mementos were left along the ‘Memory Fence’ surrounding the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building (4),
  • over 50 million bouquets of flowers were laid outside Buckingham Palace and Princess Diana’s London residence after her death in 1997 (5),
  • and more than 200,000 items were collected after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre (6).

Further reading

The Story of Stuff by Ashley Maynor
ABC News 2018, What should happened to makeshift memorials at terror attack sites?Whitton, S 2018, Post disaster temporary memorialising: psychosocial considerations for disaster managers (pgs 11-15).
Australian Red Cross 2017, Psychosocial Guidelines for temporary memorial management
Whitton, S 2016, Exploring the role of memorialising in disaster recovery
Maynor, A 2016, Response to the Unthinkable: Collecting and Archiving Condolence and Temporary Memorial Materials following Public Tragedies


  1. Whitton, S 2015, Adaptive approaches to disaster response and recovery viewed through a psychosocial lens: Sydney Siege Case Study. National Emergency Response, vol. 28 no. 4.
  2. Eyre, A 1999, In remembrance: Post disaster rituals and symbols, Australian Journal of Emergency Management, Spring 1999.
  3. Eyre, A 2007, Community commemoration after disaster. In Rodriguez, H, Quarantelli EL & Dynes RR (Eds.), Handbook of Disaster Research (pp441-455) New York.
  4. Doss, E 2002, Death, art and memory in the public sphere: the visual and material culture of grief in contemporary America, Mortality, vol. 7, no. 1, pp.63-82.
  5. Brennen 2008, Condolence books: Language and meaning in the mourning for Hillsborough and Diana, Death Studies, vol. 32, pp.326-251.
  6. Graham 2013, Boston’s Marathon memorial: How much should we save? Boston Globe http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/05/25/boston-marathon-memorial-how-much-should- save/105FovJLefBTekWMzViUlK/story.html last accessed, 27 Mar. 2015

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