GILLSBURG, Miss. – On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in rural Mississippi, hundreds turned out to witness rock 'n' roll history.
A seven-ton black granite monument was unveiled, dedicated to the memory of those who died and those who lived through the crash 42 years ago of Jacksonville's own Southern rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant's widow, Judy, her daughter, Melody, and grandchildren traveled from Jacksonville for the occasion. Guitarist Steve Gaines' daughter, Corrina, and grandchildren also made the trip to take part in the ceremony.
Fans pooled donations for the monument, which is the brainchild of neighbors who became rescuers Oct. 20, 1977, when the band's plane went down while traveling to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The idea quickly got backing from the remaining members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
"Gillsburg has a connection to Lynyrd Skynyrd that this community didn't ask for but has embraced with open arms," said lead organizer Bobby McDaniel, a lifelong local resident and one of the neighbors who stepped up to help when the plane crashed.
The monument stands 8 feet tall and 14 feet wide. Six steps lead up to the monument, one for every person who died in the crash. The monument is about 400 yards from the crash site and details the plane's ill-fated flight, as well as the heroic efforts of neighbors who came to the survivors' rescue.
Among other things, the monument tells the story of the band's humble beginnings in Jacksonville and its ascension to worldwide fame. In one corner on the front of the monument is a quote from keyboardist Billy Powell that he gave in an interview shortly after the crash 42 years ago.
"All I saw was treetops," Powell said.
After the unveiling, fans -- some of whom traveled from as far away as Alaska -- got to walk up to the monument and take pictures with Judy Van Zant. Van Zant told the crowd how thankful she is to the community and first responders who treated everyone injured in the crash.
"Our family would like to thank you, all of you, for everything you've done to make this project and make this day happen," she said. "A lot of the local people are here, and we really appreciate everything that you've ever done for our family and for Lynyrd Skynyrd."
If you want to see the monument, it's free of charge and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's located at 7364 Easley Road off State Highway 568 in Gillsburg, Mississippi.
Lynyrd Skynyrd was flying to Baton Rouge Oct. 20, 1977, for a concert at Louisiana State University when their leased plane ran out of fuel and plunged into the dense piney woods near Gillsburg. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister, Cassie, road manager, Dean Kilpatrick, the pilot, and co-pilot were killed in the wreck that left 20 others hurt.