Thursday, July 20, 2006

My Laramie Project

"Perhaps the first thing to know about Laramie, Wyoming, is that it is beautiful."

This is the first sentence of the first chapter of Losing Matt Shepard by University of Wyoming English Professor Beth Loffreda. And perhaps the first thing you should know about Loffreda's book is that it, too, is beautiful. The book is a remarkable achievement--Loffreda manages to complicate all of the simple assumptions that people (including myself) made about Laramie and Wyoming in the wake of Matt Shepard's death (since most people know the story of Matt Shepard's murder, I won't describe it here). I return to this book every year or so, despite the emotional pain that it revives in me. Whether you are queer or not-queer, this is a necessary book to read--it demonstrates the ways in which a critically-trained mind can come to terms with something that is truly horrible.

So naturally, when I realized that my drive would take me through Laramie, I wanted to find a way to act on my feelings of anger, fear, and loss. In the absence of any real memorial to Matt, there is really only one place that makes sense to visit. I mean, of course, "The Fence"--the one to which Matt was tied overnight, left to die.

It turns out that the location of the fence is not very well-publicized. Luckily, blogger David Lohman recently made a similar pilgrimage and was able to provide directions to the site. In case his site disappears at some point in the future, I have reproduced his directions here:

All I would add to David's directions is that, as you head onto the open prairie, you should walk toward the large, expensive-looking brown wood house with the numerous picture windows. The fence is on a straight line between that house and Quarter Horse Drive (N.B.: it appears that they are adding another street or two perpendicular to Quarter Horse Drive--this will shorten the distance you will need to walk onto the prairie). Also: wear hiking boots.

This is the fence. As many commentators have suggested, it is not really as far from civilization as the pictures make it seem. However, it's still far enough.

There is a small gathering of stones in the shape of an arrow, pointing from the fence toward Laramie. Although this makes for an extremely understated memorial, I think it is perfect for several reasons:

  • It is not a cross; a cross would be too easy, and in light of Christian condemnations of homosexuality, a tasteless joke.
  • One way of reading the arrow is as an accusation: it points toward Laramie, the town that, at least in some ways, shares in the blame for his death.
  • A second way of reading the arrow is as a command to the visitor: go back into the world and try to change it. Try to stop this from happening again.

I added a rock to the arrow and another "ghost" joined me on my journey


Anonymous said...

Sir -

I am a writer and am doing a book on the EXACT sites of significant tragedies in American history ... events such as the McDonald's massacre in San Diego, Mann Gulch Fire, St. Valentine's Day Massacre, SL-1 Reactor Explosion (Idaho), Hamilton-Burr duel, Karen Silkwood auto crash, Holly-Valens plane crash site and about 130 others.

Among the sites I wish to include because of its significance is the exact location where Matthew Shepard was tied to the buck fence and beaten and the horrible story of what happened there. I understand that you have visited that site.

I have Google Earth coordinates which, from your description and that of Mr. Lohman's blog, I believe to be correct. I would like to e-mail those coordinates to you and ask you to check them on Google Earth and let me know if I have the exact location.

Plesae contact me using my old hotmail account:

I will then respond to you using my current AOL e-mail which I prefer not have published here. Thank you for your help.

Seth said...

I recently read the the owner of the property got fed up with people coming to the site, and actually removed the fence?

Unknown said...

I used the directions you posted and found the site with no problem on 7/22/10. Teh fence is still there as is the arrow, though slightly morphed. a Laramie Police officer lives at the dead end road on the right and an elderly couple were looking at their house that was being built on the left. I wonder if the realtor had to disclose the site and the impacts it would have. A very large Baptist church sits at the foot of the road in a cul de sac. Interstate 80 is visible from the fence to the southeast.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little bit confused by the above statement from Mark claiming he visted the Matthew Shepard fence on July 22nd of 2010. He writes that the fence still stands yet a number of reliable websites such as Newsweek, ABC, DenverPost and many more state the fence was completely dismantled and torn down years ago, about 2004, and nothing remains there.

Anonymous said...

hello, thank you for posting the location. i found another site with different coordinates. I am just curious if this is because of new roads, or new road names since..

Anonymous said...

I know the owner of the property. It Has been removed since 2004

Anonymous said...

I'm at the site described above, the fence is still there, the arrow although covered in snow and flowers and a card that someone before me left. It is possible that its not the exact site but at least people can see the area.