Buddy and Maria Elena Holly married 50 years ago
Fifty years after Maria Elena Santiago flew from New York City to Lubbock to marry musician Buddy Holly, she continues a tradition each year on her wedding anniversary.
She will light a separate candle, say another prayer, order two dozen red roses – and ask, again and again, why.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Buddy and Maria Holly’s wedding, and the woman who was transformed from wife to widow in less than six months, said, “I know I shouldn’t keep asking after 50 years, but I do. I ask why, why, why he had to die.”
Holly, 22, died in the crash of a private plane near Clear Lake, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959.
“In a way, I blame myself,” said Maria. “I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane.”
(She would miscarry and lose the baby shortly after the death of her husband.)
Maria, born in 1935 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, also recalls that her future husband warned her in advance of their 1958 wedding that some citizens in Lubbock were prejudiced “against Mexicans as lower-class citizens.”
She said that she witnessed one blatant act of racism, and it frightened her as much as the massive dust storm that turned the sky brown on her second day in Lubbock.
Music historians have reported that Holly was planning to build a new home and recording studio in his hometown, but Maria said Thursday she had told Buddy that she never would feel comfortable living in Lubbock.
He assured her that the home would be occupied only by his parents, she said.
Maria also said that, in the years following Holly’s death, she consistently tried to help Lubbock officials prepare a tribute to Holly that would increase tourism and town growth in the process.
Instead, she feels that she has been molded into “the bad person” by city officials.
“I’m the scapegoat,” she said.
Travis Holley, one of Buddy’s two older brothers, prefers to call her a mercenary.
(Buddy was born Holley, but dropped the e in his last name to match a typo in his first recording contract.)
Presently confined to her home in the Turtle Creek division of Dallas so she can recuperate from surgery on her Achilles tendon, Maria recalled Holly’s proposal.
“I’d never had a boyfriend in my life,” she said. “I’d never been on a date before. But when I saw Buddy, it was like magic. We had something special: love at first sight.”
Holly had met her in the lobby of a record label in New York City; she was a receptionist, and Holly flirted and invited her out to dinner.
On that first date, he proposed, said Maria.
Holly’s parents, Lawrence and Ella, flew to New York to meet Maria. “We went out to dinner,” said Maria. “And we went to Radio City. I think the movie was Mr. Roberts’ with Henry Fonda. Buddy’s parents liked me; they said I was like a little doll, so small and skinny.”
Travis Holley agreed, saying, “I admit I was surprised to hear Buddy was getting married. I didn’t think he was stupid enough to fall into a trap like that so early in life. But I could understand when I met Maria. She was a little beauty, and very charming.
“She was very doll-like; she reminded me of a porcelain toy in a store. She was very beautiful, and Buddy was an adult and making his own living. I think Mom and Dad were skeptical because of her not being the same religion. But I just figured he would change her, or she would change him.”
The wedding took place on Aug. 15, 1958, at the Holley family home at 1606 39th St.
Family pastor Ben Johnson presided over the ceremony.
Holly’s funeral took place at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, 1911 34th St., four days after the Feb. 3, 1959, crash.
Maria would not attend.
Fans from across the globe have visited the rock ‘n’ roll innovator’s grave at City of Lubbock Cemetery on East 34th Street. His widow never has seen the tombstone bearing the musician’s original name (Holley) and the carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.
When she orders red roses on their wedding anniversary, they are delivered to her home, not to Holly’s grave.
“I’ve never been to the grave site,” said Maria. “I refused to believe he was buried. I remembered him just as he was when he left our apartment in Greenwich Village. To be honest, I never have been to a cemetery since my mother died when I was 6 years old. I try to remember people alive – like the last time I saw them – alive. People go to Buddy’s grave to pay homage.
“I’ll never think of Buddy as being six feet under.”
Maria said she has nurtured a “growing belief in spirituality by reading many books on the subject.”
Earlier this year, she visited the apartment building where she and Holly lived. She saw musicians singing in nearby Washington Square Park, the same place where Holly used to “go to listen to people play and show them guitar chords,” said Maria. “And I gave one musician $9 because 9 was Buddy’s favorite number.”
By the time she returned to Dallas, said Maria, “I’d brought Buddy’s spirit home with me. Now I feel he is here with me. I know some people do not believe in spirituality, but I do.”
Years have passed since she made a stop in Lubbock.
It was 50 years ago when, Maria said, “A waitress at a five and dime in Lubbock ignored me when I repeatedly tried to buy an ice cream cone for a crying child, who happened to be Mexican. Buddy tried to explain it to me, but I come from Puerto Rico, where we don’t see (skin) color.
“Then I moved to New York, another melting pot.
“I’ve met so many nice people in Lubbock, but I never experienced racism before. Lubbock also did not care for rock ‘n’ roll; the churches called it the devil’s music.”
Maria Holly has been involved with several music festivals and the construction of the Buddy Holly Center.
She said Thursday, “Now some people there call me the Yoko Ono of Lubbock; they blame me for everything.”
She recalled past Lubbock Mayors Windy Sitton and David Langston as allies. She said she has not worked well with Lubbock businessman Don Caldwell or past Lubbock Mayor Marc McDougal.
“And I have not even received a phone call from the new Lubbock mayor or anyone in the City Council. … I’ve tried to help with an annual festival and symposium and concert. Lubbock officials had gold in their hands, and they didn’t know how to sift it.”
Travis Holley said, “I don’t think Lubbock likes her. She puts too many restrictions on using Buddy’s name, whereas the family considers it an honor that the city wants to pay tribute to Buddy.
“That is the reason I don’t like Maria. I don’t like the way she’s been so mercenary for so long about Buddy’s name.”
Maria, however, has remained firm for 50 years, stating that she is protecting her late husband’s reputation.
“They say I am taking advantage,” said Maria. “They say I was only married to Buddy for six months. Well, I’ll tell you something: Even if I was married to Buddy for only one second before he died, I am his widow and I have rights.”
‘I’d never been on a date before. But when I saw Buddy, it was like magic. We had something special: love at first sight.’
Maria Elena Holly
Widow of Buddy Holly