Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

This is the Place
by Zoellner, Tom, M.A.L.S., Dartmouth College, 2011, 66; 10184276
Abstract (Summary)

Anglo, Latino and indigenous cultures in the American Southwest have a tendency to mark or commemorate the spots where a person has died, either through oral legend or an actual physical marker. I have long been fascinated with the ceremonial aspects of this tradition and the particular psychological motivations for marking the scene of a violent passage. The problem took on a new dimension for me in an unexpected way in April of 2001 when I was working as a newspaper reporter at The Arizona Republic. An unhappy husband named Robert Fisher killed his wife and two children and then disappeared. His truck was found parked in a spot in a National Forest not far from a wilderness are called Hells Gate. The FBI considers him still a fugitive, but I was always convinced that he killed himself in those woods. And hence the fundamental problem of how one acknowledges the spot where a person has died when that spot cannot be located, and may not even exist. This thesis is an attempt to draw literary value from the gap in between these two very different mysteries: where did Robert Fisher go, and why do human beings feel a strange attachment to the places where human being were "last seen" in corporeal form. I made multiple trips to the National Forest near where Fisher was last seen, as well as two separate journeys into the Hells Gate wilderness itself, and wrote down my thoughts about the problem. I explored the tradition of erecting roadside crosses and other, more secular, forms of veneration at the spots of human disappearance. I cannot claim to have found any revolutionary insights on a question that tugs at one of the central mysteries of our existence - a simple question usually first asked in childhood: "what happened when we die" - but I have concluded that the asking of the question and the pilgrimages to these sites where, as I put it, "the where meets the nowhere", is one was of putting concrete expression to the ungraspable.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kreiger, Barbara
Commitee: Foote, Kenneth, Wren, Christopher
School: Dartmouth College
Department: Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
School Location: United States -- New Hampshire
Source: MAI 57/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Geography
Keywords: Arizona, Commemoration, Death, Robert fisher
Publication Number: 10184276
ISBN: 978-0-355-39944-8
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