John Canzano a columnist for the Portland Oregonian has written a column today about those that make the pilgrimage to the rock in Eugene Oregon where the great Oregon distance runner, Steve Prefontaine, died. My family made our pilgrimage while they were filing the movie "Without Limits." We had driven from Medford to Eugene to be extras in the crowd scenes at Hayward Field. On the second day on our way to Hayward Field we drove up to the residential neighborhood on a hill near Hayward Field to see the place Pre died. Today's column is as follows:
Decades pass, but legacy doesn't
Monday, May 29, 2006
EUGENE The street signs on "Skyline Blvd." are gone now. Neighbors say they were so regularly ripped off the tops of their posts by souvenir hunters desperate to take anything to do with Pre's Rock home with them that the city gave up and stopped replacing them.
Hundreds of people come here while Sunday's Prefontaine Classic meet is going on at Hayward Field. Some take things, and others leave things. It's why I'm sitting here, observing, waiting, wondering. And in some way, this street, and this spot, has become a cosmic trading junction where Prefontaine memories and artifacts change hands.
Someone left a pile of pink roses here. And some plastic flowers. And late in the day, a young boy dropped off a pair of old running shoes. And in the morning, a man in a blue hooded sweatshirt ran up the street in the rain, bowed his head, and dropped a tiny plastic bag with a piece of paper inside it at the foot of the headstone that commemorates the loss of Prefontaine in 1975.
The note read: "I have traveled across the country to see the place where you breathed your last breath. . . . You will always be with me."
Turns out, the man is a college runner from The Citadel, born more than a decade after Prefontaine's death. And he's followed in the procession by fathers and sons. And daughters and fathers. And around the time someone was singing the national anthem at Hayward Field, signaling the start of the meet, an 84-year-old retired physics professor named Bernd Crasemann came wandering up the mossy street holding a 4-foot aluminum hiking pole with a giant spike on the end of it.
"It's not such a safe street to walk on," he says.
Skyline Boulevard is 10 yards across at its widest point. It's damp and slippery in patches. And there is a thick film of mulch on the pavement from the canopy of trees and vegetation that towers above this all. Crasemann is more worried about the cars, though.
Drivers sometimes misjudge the curves and, when it rains, the visibility can be poor, and also, neighbors don't like it when visitors park near the rock because there is little room to pass.
A white-haired man who lives three houses from Pre's Rock has erected a sign in his front yard that reads, "Wage Peace." And by the late afternoon, weary and disgusted from watching visitors utilize his driveway to make three-point turns with their automobiles, he's moved three giant potted plants from his garage to the edge of the driveway, blocking it.
The cars continue to come up the street. A green Mustang with a couple inside. A black Jeep with a college student and his visiting girlfriend. A van. A station wagon. Too many others to mention. They roll down the windows, crawl to a stop. And they gaze. Some hold out cameras and take photographs. Others drive past Pre's Rock, park, get out, and look around.
A man named John, who moved to Eugene a year ago with his wife and newborn child, has promised a friend in Florida, a marathon runner, that he will send her a photograph of Pre's Rock.
Mike Galligan, an insurance broker from California, has brought his 13-year-old daughter, Lauren, who just graduated middle school. He was a sophomore in high school when Prefontaine died, and he has a "Go Pre" poster hanging on the wall of his office at work.
"I thought it was important for my daughter to see this," he says.
Prefontaine, who held eight U.S. running records, died May 30, 1975. The date is painted in white on the large rock that took his life.
Dan Brekke and Kate Gallagher have come here with their dog and their son, Thom, who is a freshman at the University of Oregon.
"This is our sixth trip to Eugene, but our first here," Dan says. "We figured it was time."
There is also Aaron Cherrington, who ran track at DePaul, who says, "I've watched both Prefontaine films; not everyone knows there are two." And Elizabeth Uhlig, an educator, who walked up the road, she says, "just by chance," and suddenly remembered that this was an important day in Prefontaine's memory.
Some people come here looking for answers. They want to know where the headstone came from (it was donated by Eugene Granite and Marble). They want to know if it's true that state prisoners who rooted boisterously for Prefontaine in the 1972 Olympics donated the $1,000 for the concrete base (it's true). And they want to know what happens to all of the medals, bibs, shoes, flowers and notes left here (a man in his 70s from Pleasant Hill collects the stuff).
I learn this by calling Linda Prefontaine, Steve's sister. She says: "People leave things there, and they do it for a reason. I wish they'd just leave it there."
Linda does not come here. It's too painful. But she appreciates that others can find a sense of spirit on Skyline Boulevard.
A man pushing a stroller runs past Pre's Rock and lets go of the handle to point a finger toward the sky. And two competitive runners, on a morning training run, pause momentarily from their blistering pace at the foot of the rock, look around, and when they think nobody is watching, shout, "Preeeeeeeeeeeee!!"
On this day, they could have shouted for us all.
(For a link to Canzano's column click on the title above)(photo courtesy of www.zeisler.org)