Buddy Holly's Glasses Were Found In Iowa 21 Years After His Death
Buddy Holly's glasses are now on display in Lubbock. (en.wikipedia.org)
In the wee hours of the morning on February 3, 1959, an airplane carrying three of the hottest entertainers of the day crashed into a snowy cornfield just outside Clear Lake, Iowa. The Beechcraft Bonanza, piloted by Roger Patterson, slammed into the ground so hard that all three passengers—Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens—as well as the pilot were killed on impact. The force was so powerful that debris and wreckage was scattered over a 300-yard area, and some items weren't recovered until after the spring thaw. That included Buddy Holly's glasses, which were quickly lost again until they were found 21 years later. Let's look at this iconic pair of lost and found glasses, the role they played in the making of Buddy Holly, and what happened the day the music died.
The day the music died: The plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. (independent.co.uk)
Buddy Holly's Eyes
Born Charles Hardin Holley in 1936, Buddy Holly grew up in a musical family. The Lubbock, Texas native learned to play the guitar as a child and loved to sing country, gospel, and the blues, but by the time he reached adolescence, a new style of music had emerged. He formed his first rock and roll act with some friends from high school and played gigs across Texas, but he had a secret that he didn't want his growing legion of fans to know: He had terrible eyesight. Those eye charts in optometrists' offices? He couldn't even read the top line. He needed outrageously thick glasses to make out even the crudest shapes, but he was afraid the nerdy eyewear would cramp the band's style, so he often performed without them.
Holly made his eyewear his signature statement. (radiotimes.com)
A Style Makeover
Glasses aside, Buddy Holly and his bandmates needed some style help. Typically, they wore what every clean-cut American lad was expected to wear onstage at the time: a suit and tie. They may have looked dapper, but "dapper" wasn't rock and roll. Fortunately, Holly's fashion guardian angel descended from the heavens in the form of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers, who took Holly and his bandmates shopping for properly improper clothing. Next, the sibling duo addressed Holly's eyewear situation. They urged his to wear glasses during performances but replace his old-fashioned frames with the trendy new horn-rimmed style that Steve Allen had recently made popular. Instead, Holly turned to his hometown eye doctor, J. Davis Armistead, for help.
Buddy Holly helped launch the geek chic look. (sundayport.com)
Geek Chic Style
Dr. J. Davis Armistead had been Buddy Holly's eye doctor for years. He later recalled that Holly's approach to eyewear was to find the least conspicuous pair of glasses possible, but Dr. Armistead encouraged Holly to make a bold statement. When the doctor visited Mexico City, he found what he believed to be the perfect pair of glasses with heavy black frames and brought two of them back for Holly. They were distinctive and stylish, and combined with his new wardrobe, they formed a geek chic look that was a fun and funky alternative to the conventional rock and roll style. Soon, teens across the country were aping the getup, including the thick eyeglasses.
When Holly's body was recovered from the wreckage, his glasses were nowhere to be found. (nbcwashington.com)
The Case Of The Missing Glasses
When Buddy Holly's plane crashed on that fateful day, parts of the plane and the personal belongings of the passengers were strewn across the cornfield. Salvage crews recovered as much as they could, but the snow was thick, and they couldn't find everything. The list compiled by the local coroner's office of clothing Holly was wearing and items that were on his person when his body was recovered included two jeweled cuff links, part of an ink pen, and $193 in cash, less $11.65 for a coroner fee. His glasses were not on the list. They weren't found in the field, either.
After 21 years, Holly's glasses were found in a basement filing cabinet in Iowa. (primaryfusionproductions.com)
Found And Lost
By April 7, 1959, the snow had melted enough for the farmer who owned the field to start working the ground. Once he got down to business, however, he discovered some items left from the plane crash, including a cigarette lighter, a watch engraved with the Big Bopper's initials, and Buddy Holly's glasses. He promptly called in the authorities to retrieve the items, all of which were then placed in an envelope that was marked "Charles Hardin Holley, rec'd April 7, 1959" and filed away in a drawer, where they gathered dust for 21 years.
A giant pair of Buddy Holly-esque glasses mark the site of the 1959 plane crash. (traveliowa.com)
Lost And Found
Finally, on February 29, 1980, Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Jerry Allen was rummaging through some old filing cabinets in the basement of the county courthouse when he came upon an envelope with a familiar name written on it. There, inside the envelope, were the famous spectacles.
Studio portrait of Buddy Holly. (RB/Redferns)
The Battle For The Glasses
After the plane crash in 1959, the personal effects that were found were returned to the family members of the victims, and Sheriff Allen planned to do the same with Buddy Holly's glasses. He reached out to Holly's parents, but Holly's widow, Maria Elena Holly Diaz, claimed ownership of them. The case went to court in the same courthouse where the glasses were found, and on March 20, 1981, the judge ruled in favor of Diaz. She held onto the famous glasses for a number of years, but she sold them in 1998 for $80,000 to the organization that built Lubbock's Buddy Holly Center, where the glasses are on display today.