MARK GILLESPIE/Livingston County News
On Friday, members of the Kappa Sigma Epsilon Fraternity had repainted the boulder on I-390 in West Sparta to approximate the original mural.
Between a rock and a sacred place
I was angry that anyone would paint over the words “R.I.P. Devin Snyder” along with her face and the American flag.
I remember the hundreds of people who descended on her hometown of Cohocton last summer to solemnly pay their final respects. I was offended for their sake — and can’t even imagine how her family and friends might feel.
But of course, this boulder in a wide spot of the Interstate is state property. It does not belong to Cohocton, or to Devin Snyder’s family, to the people who painted her face on the rock in the first place. Neither did it belong to the dozens of others who have tagged the boulder with other sentiments over the years.
What the fraternity brothers from Alfred State College did was graffiti, pure and simple. In the eyes of the law, it was no better than a gang sign spray painted on the side of a dumpster.
The Associated Press story in the Democrat and Chronicle used the word “defaced” to describe what the fraternity did, and the word “restore” for their attempt to repaint the flag and message. The fraternity even plan to hire an artist to paint Devin’s face in the center of the flag as it was before.
But what made the original tribute to Devin Snyder any different? It was still an unauthorized personal expression on public property. When her friends decided to paint the original flag and “R.I.P.,” whose message were they in turn “defacing?”
The answer is in the way the rock made us feel as we drove by on the highway. We saw her name and her youthful smile looking back at us, and thought about all the boundless potential she represented cut short. The rock made us sad, and made us feel humble.
No shout out to someone’s fraternity brothers or Marine Corps cry of “Semper Fi!” had ever touched our heart in quite the same way. It was a spontaneous outpouring of grief frozen in time.
There are plenty of memorials to fallen veterans in every community in the county, and Devin’s name will certainly be etched in marble to be remembered for hundreds of years. However, these markers are usually in the middle of villages and — for most people — not remembered until someone calls attention to them.
The Devin Snyder rock becomes visible when we least expect it and catches us off guard. The rock would be less effective if it were made official or moved to a rest area or village park.
Authorized or not, I hope Devin’s face will be there to stay for a while longer. The fraternity is doing the right thing to show her memory the respect it deserves. It’s unsafe to park on the shoulder of an Interstate highway, and illegal to continue painting that boulder. Still, I wish there were a way others could return to the site — to freshen up the paint and make sure this homegrown monument doesn’t fade.