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September 8, 2023

Buddy Holly’s Lost and Found Glasses

When seminal rock star Buddy Holly’s possessions were collected from the wreckage of the plane crash that killed him on February 3, 1959, his trademark black glasses were not among them. At the time, no one noticed that they were missing from his personal effects. It took 21 years for them to resurface.

Studio portrait of Buddy Holly.

Holly had at first resisted wearing glasses after a school vision test indicated impaired vision. He tried early contact lenses that were uncomfortable, and finally gave in to glasses. Yet he remained reluctant to wear them onstage and was concerned about how they affected his image. But fellow performer Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers encouraged Holly to embrace his specs as emblematic of who he was.

When 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.

Photo of the aviation accident that occurred on February 3, 1959, near Clear Lake, Iowa, where rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson perished. The photo was taken by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) in the course of their investigation of the crash.

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 apparently turned in to Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s department and 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.

Finally, on February 29, 1980, 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. He returned the glasses to Holly’s widow, Maria Elena. She subsequently sold them to Civic Lubbock, Inc., a city booster organization, for $80,000. They were then donated to the City of Lubbock, and can be seen at its Buddy Holly Center.

After 21 years, Holly’s glasses were found in a basement filing cabinet in Iowa.


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