Doc Ricketts Memorial – Monterey, California - Atlas Obscura
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Monterey, California

Doc Ricketts Memorial

Fake rail crossings mark the site of an influential doctor's demise. 

A collision at this site took the life of a reluctant celebrity.

Ed Ricketts was a marine biologist, the owner of Pacific Biological Laboratories and a pioneering ecologist. He is known to most people as the inspiration for the charater of “Doc” Ricketts in John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row, but Ricketts was actually a published author in his own right, having written two books on marine biology: Between Pacific Tides and Sea of Cortez. A deeply contemplative and intellectual individual, Ricketts also wrote several treatises on philosophy, although only one of these was published during his lifetime. His lab was often a gathering place for writers, artists and musicians, counting among its guests Joseph Campbell, Henry Miller, and of course Steinbeck himself.

On May 8, 1948, Ricketts was driving home for dinner after a day’s work at the lab. His car was old and noisy and he didn’t hear the passenger train, the Del Monte Express, as it approached from behind the adjacent warehouses. As he crossed the railroad tracks at Drake Street his car was struck by the train. Ricketts lived for three more days in the hospital and died on May 11, three days short of his 51st birthday.

Today the railroad tracks are long gone, replaced by a pedestrian walking trail. A bust of Ricketts stands at the site together with a railroad crossing signal (repurposed from elsewhere) as a memorial to the man who inspired Steinbeck and so many others. A grassroots tradition has arisen of passersby putting fresh wildflowers in the statue’s hand.

Know Before You Go

The Ricketts memorial is at the western corner of Wave St. and Drake Ave.