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Empty Chair Memorial

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"We shall meet, but we shall miss him;
There will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him
When we breathe our evening prayer."
— "The Vacant Chair"

Say you have a longtime member of a group, who always sat at a particular chair when the group was doing its thing. Now say that member dies bravely in battle, goes missing, or is otherwise prevented from returning to the group. The group then honors his memory by making sure the chair he sat in for so long remains empty. Usually, this is revealed to the Naïve Newcomer or someone who doesn't yet know the history behind the chair and goes to sit down in it, unintentionally pressing the group's Berserk Button.

Compare This Is My Chair, Empty Bedroom Grieving, and Missing Man Formation. Sub-trope of Shrine to the Fallen as the chair can serve as one. When it's only two characters, the absence of one of them is signalled by a Half Empty Two Shot like in the page image.

As this can be a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Referenced by the chairs in Bokurano. Each one is associated with a particular character, and they one by one become empty.
  • In the first episode of FLCL Naota initially tells Haruko that she's not to sleep on the top bunk, as it belongs to his brother (who is in America playing baseball).
  • There was a tradition at the bar frequented by the Uruz team on Meridia Base in Full Metal Panic! that each member of the team had a reserved seat. Lt. Clouseaux manages to (intentionally) offend the entire team when he sat in the seat reserved for the recently deceased Uruz 1.
  • Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing: Dio flies his vanship by himself, leaving the navigator's seat empty as a memorial for his co-pilot and best friend Lucciola. He's okay with having passengers sit there as long as they don't touch the controls.
  • One Piece adheres to the spirit of the trope if not the letter: Big Mom's Tea Party always leaves an empty seat opposite of her for Mother Carmel. Big Mom held her in high regard, followed her dream, and gets annoyed every time someone mentioned her.
  • In Space Battleship Yamato installments following The Quest for Iscandar, Susumu Kodai (Derek Wildsar) consistently refuses to sit in The Captain's chair left vacant by the death of Captain Okita (Avatar). He retains this aversion to the chair even when he is officially made captain during in the Bolar Wars. He prefers his usual battle station position. He does not object, however, to Yamamani (or Hijikata in an alternate timeline) taking the chair as he acknowledges their experience as Okita's former colleagues.

    Comic Books 
  • After the Fantastic Four retool FF, Spider-Man has joined the team to replace the (at the time) deceased Johnny. As he sits down to dinner, Franklin tells him that he's in the wrong chair, and Sue explains that that's where Johnny always sat.
  • Right before the start of the JLA: Obsidian Age storyline, there is a page-long sequence showing fish placing shells and other shiny things on Aquaman's empty throne, just to highlight that he's missing, as that fact hadn't been mentioned in that particular series previously. A few issues later, the league finds that he's been transported back in time and enslaved by his ancestors.

    Fan Works 
  • Danganronpa 52: Despair From the Heart: A crossed-out portrait of each dead student is placed in their podium in the trial room, just like in the source material.
  • Fashion Upgrade: After Marinette transfers into Ms. Mendeleiev's class, Adrien sets up some fake candles at her desk, along with a sign declaring the seat reserved for her. Lila seethes over the memorial since it's taking attention away from her and because she wanted to claim that seat for herself.
  • In the Total Drama story Legacy, the deceased is twice honored in this way:
    • One of the seats at the elimination ceremony venue is draped in the dead girl's nightgown and is not used for the rest of the competition.
    • When the previously eliminated contestants return for the final challenge, her boyfriend and her unsuccessful suitor keep an empty space between them when they approach the bleachers and when they take their seats.
  • In The Owl House fanfic Odaliaverse, the first thing Odalia notices when she goes to sit down at the dining table of the Blight Manor is an empty chair next to hers, with the name "Animalia" added to it. A few seconds later, she recognizes this as being the chair of her mother, who walked out of the family after giving birth to her.
  • The Red vs. Blue fanfic Phase Two: Betrayal has York getting his team tickets to a live Grifball match. He buys sixteen, even though only seven are still living together at the time.
  • In the Naruto fanfic Second Bloom, a few years after Daisuke Haruno's "death", his traditional seat at the kitchen table is the only thing unchanged in the room. It also appears to have been specially taken care of.
  • The title character in Thanks Kyubey gives one in memory of the late Charlotte in one strip. Note that the original source material has no such thing happen because Kyubey has no emotion.

    Films — Animated 
  • In the 2001 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge sees Tiny Tim's empty chair at the Cratchits' table in his vision of the future.
  • In Up Carl's house has two large armchairs in its living room. One is for him, and the other is for his wife Ellie. It's been empty ever since she died, several years before the start of the story. By the end of the movie, Russell and Dug (and his puppies) have taken over the chair, in a sign that Carl has found a new reason to live.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 5 Card Stud, a Serial Killer is murdering everyone who was involved in a poker game that ended in a man's death. After each player is killed, those remaining tip their seat at the poker table forward so it leans against the table. When Van Morgan, the last survivor, goes to confront the killer, he says:
    Van Morgan: Wanna do me a favor Mama?
    Mama Malone: Depends.
    Van Morgan: If I'm not back by dark, will you flip that last chair up?
  • In Battle of Britain, after a particularly bad day for the Luftwaffe, German pilots sit glumly eating in silence at a dining table with half its chairs empty.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve's final assault on HYDRA is planned around a table, with all the Howling Commandos present - except Bucky, whose chair directly to Steve's right remains empty.
  • Dead Poets Society: After Neil commits suicide and Charlie gets expelled for refusing to sell out Mr. Keating, their desks stay empty in the classroom during the last scene, when the remaining members of the society (except Cameron), as well as a few other students, stand on their desks to salute Mr. Keating.
  • The ending of My First Mister has one of these.
  • In Nanny McPhee, the mother's chair in the study is a constant symbol of her. The film even begins with a speech about how the chair is empty, and if it were not, there would not be a story.
  • Invoked in The Raid Redemption, when Sgt. Jaka tells the rookie SWAT team he doesn't want to see any empty seats in the van on the way home from the eponymous raid. Technically, he gets his wish, since the van is destroyed and Jaka never makes it out of the building.
  • In the film adaptation of RENT, the "Without You" scene features random members of the support group disappearing from their chairs as they've presumably succumbed to their illness.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock opens with Kirk giving a log entry, pacing the bridge, stopping to touch the empty science station chair previously held by Spock, who had died in the previous film. Chekov is clearly reluctant to sit there when Kirk orders him to.
    • Non-death example: At the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, one of the final shots is of just the Original Series cast on the bridge of the Enterprise-A. Conspicuously, the helmsman's station is not manned (as Sulu is now a captain himself and in his own ship at this moment).
  • Thunderball. During the meeting of SPECTRE one of the chairs is empty, James Bond having killed its usual occupant in the Action Prologue.
    Blofeld: I regret to inform you all of the death of SPECTRE Number Six. Colonel Jacques Bouvar was killed by an unknown assassin. His services will be greatly missed.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: For Eddie Valiant, the death of his brother Teddy is a sore subject. A scene in his office reveals that since Teddy's passing, Eddie has left Teddy's side of the desk they shared completely untouched. When Roger goes to sit in Teddy's chair, only to be yelled at by Eddie, he leaves his handprint on the chair as it was covered in dust and cobwebs.
  • Wing Commander: Lieutenant Blair mistakenly sits in Lt. Commander "Bossman" Chen's Rapier and then follows up by mistaking his new Wing Commander for a grease monkey. He does not make a good first impression.
  • X-Men: The Last Stand shows Professor Xavier's wheelchair, now empty.

  • In A Christmas Carol and its many adaptations, the Ghost of Christmas Present foresees Tiny Tim's empty chair and his crutch tucked into a corner by next year's Christmas if things do not change from their current course of events. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come does him one better and shows Scrooge the empty chair, along with Tim's grieving family.
  • Discworld has a similar tradition, where the throne of Ankh-Morpork remains vacant. Since this is Discworld we're talking about, only the truly deranged mourn the passing of the royal line, and the golden throne itself is mostly gold foil over rotten wood.
  • In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, for the remainder of the term after Dumbledore's death, his seat at the high table is left empty.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Guide editor Lig Lury Jr. vanished on a lunch break. Because the Editorial Lunch Break had become the stuff of legend for the Guide's workforce and because Lig was already renowned for his epic lunch breaks, he's assumed to have never handed in his editorship and, in spite of the fact that he must be long dead by now, all subsequent editors of the Guide hold the title of "acting editor". Some staff still maintain the romantic notion that Lig will return one day to put in a solid afternoon's work. His office and desk have been preserved in the Guide's head office just as he left them, with the exception of an additional sign: "Lig Lury Jr, Editor (Missing, presumed fed)"
  • The ending of His Dark Materials has Lyra propose that she and Will sit at a bench that exists both in their Oxfords for an hour each year to reminisce on their relationship.
  • Horus Heresy: One book features a grand table set out with twenty-one chairs, one for the God-Emperor and the twenty Primarchs, with the banners of their respective Primarchs draped over them, save the two reserved for the Lost Primarchs. Everyone knows those two are never coming, on account of whatever it was that happened to them, but decorum must still be followed.
    Roboute Guilliam: Their absence must be marked. Places must be left for them. That is simply honor.
  • In Little Women, the March family keeps Beth's favorite chair empty as a memorial to her after she dies, along with her piano and her sewing basket with the work she left unfinished in it.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the kingdom of Gondor has had no king for generations, and the steward has been ruling in the king's place. Even after the line of stewards have given up on the king ever returning, the king's throne remains empty and the steward sits on a smaller throne to the side.
  • In the Spud Sweetgrass novels, the seat at the local diner where Spud's dead father always used to sit is always kept empty. In his role as narrator, Spud mentions that sometimes a customer won't realize this and will try to move that chair to another table, but his mother and her friends always politely explain the tradition.
  • Star Trek Expanded Universe
    • The Romulan Way states that upon learning of the death of his mentor Surak (a.k.a. Vulcan Confucius), S'task, leader of the proto-Romulans searching for a new homeworld and a former follower of Surak, placed a sword across an empty chair in the Travelers' council chamber in his memory. The chair was eventually placed in the Romulan Senate and remained empty but for the sword into the present day. The last book of the series is named for the chair, and after becoming Empress of the Rihannsu, Ael t'Rllaillieu orders a new chair brought in for her throne because she will not sit in the Empty Chair.
    • In the Star Trek: New Frontier novel "Requiem", the first set after the original Excalibur blew up, the crew takes a post-mortem at a bar, and Shelby insists on keeping a seat free for the missing and presumed dead Captain Calhoun. At the end of the scene, someone asks to take it, and Shelby, now alone, says "Take it. It's just an empty chair."
  • The same happens as well in The Wheel of Time after Rand liberates Andor from one of the Forsaken. Rather than sit on the throne, which he has no claim to, he sits on a (very fancy) chair in front of it. His intention is to show that he's preserving the country until its rightful royalty can return, but Elayne, the heiress, sees it as him holding the throne as a Battle Trophy.
  • In the last epilogue chapter of Worm, Tattletale arranges the seating at the meeting to include extra chairs for Alec, Brian, and Taylor.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • Subverted: After the death of Emperor Cartagia, Londo ends up temporarily at the head of government in the middle of a crisis. As he is issuing orders to the various members of the court, he takes a seat in the Emperor's throne, to the horror and protest of the others present. He quickly jumps out and apologizes. Then turns to Vir and quips about how it felt very natural to him. Unbeknownst to anyone else in the Court, Londo and Vir were behind Cartagia's death, somewhat adding to their lack of decorum and mourning.
    • Also played straight, with Minbari dining rituals. An extra table setting is laid out for Valen, a historical figure and religious leader for the Minbari. Before eating, each person at the table places a piece of food on Valen's plate. A bit Hilarious in Hindsight when a season later, it is revealed that Valen is actually a time-traveling Commander Sinclair, meaning they were actually leaving a place at the table for the station's previous commander.
    • Just an episode after they are all but wiped out by a plague, the seat of the Markab ambassador is still in the council chambers, still labeled, only it now sits empty.
  • Blackadder: In the first series, Richard the Third's chair is left vacant.
    Edmund: So sorry I'm late. (tries to sit in the empty chair)
    King: Hold it! You dare sit there, boy? That was King Richard's seat — would you insult his ghost?
    Richard the Third: (materialising in the chair as a ghost) Yes, find your own chair, you smelly little dog's pizzle.
  • Castle, "The Dead Pool": Castle invites his protege (a newly published crime novelist) to come to the authors' poker game, and he tries to sit down in a particular chair. The group warns him off, saying "That's Cannell's chair." He then gets a lecture that the group keeps the chair of a dead player empty for a year. This aired after Stephen Cannell's actual death.
  • Community: The members of the study group always sit at the same positions around the table. When Pierce — and later, Troy — leave Greendale, their absence is felt, and the others give Meaningful Looks at the vacant chairs. It takes a while before anyone else is allowed to sit there.
  • Criminal Minds: In the backstory of "A Place at the Table," a single mother always set an extra place for her deceased war hero husband so that his son would never forget him. Unfortunately, the son found out that this was all a lie. His father was actually a wealthy man from the same town who had a family and was keeping his mother as a mistress. A combination of discovering this and his father cutting his mother off financially led him to snap and recreate the empty-chair holiday meal by murdering every member of his father's family except the father himself and sitting their bodies up at the dinner table, so that he and his father would be the only ones actually sitting together.
  • In the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019), Barry Allen reveals the round table for the not-yet-named Justice League, along with chairs for each of the seven founding members with their symbols emblazoned on them. There was an eighth chair with a green arrowhead, honoring the deceased Green Arrow.
  • On the December 7, 2015, episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart, who had stepped down as host of The Daily Show in August, came back to criticize Congress for allowing healthcare for 9/11 first responders to expire. On one memorable 2010 episode, he had four first responders there to talk about what they've endured since then. In 2015, he had one (Two of the men are now too ill to appear. One of them has passed away from his cancer).
  • On After the Catch (a segment of Deadliest Catch), after Phil died, they left his chair empty and hung a picture of him on a column behind it.
  • In Degrassi: The Next Generation after Adam's funeral, Becky plans a bonfire reception and places an empty chair near the firepit to represent his presence. Her friends initially think it's weird, but it later turns into a memorial as the night goes on.
  • In a season three episode of The Golden Girls, Sophia befriends an elderly gentleman named Alvin on the boardwalk who always sits on the same park bench every day, and the two become inseparable. It turns out Alvin has Alzheimer's disease and is to be moved to New York where he can receive proper care. At the end of the episode, sometime after Alvin has already moved away, Sophia sits on the bench alone reminiscing about him, and she scolds someone who tries to sit in Alvin's place, screaming "Hey! Someone's sittin' there!". The episode closes on the empty park bench as she and Dorothy make their way home.
  • Grey's Anatomy had a variation. After George's death, the residents kept the locker he used empty to show respect. When new residents from Mercy West show up, one of them tries to use the empty locker, which becomes the last straw for George's friend Izzie.
  • Several days after Matt Devlin was gunned down on Law & Order: UK, his partner Ronnie and junior CP Alesha Phillips commiserate back at the police station. After Ronnie walked away, Alesha took a moment to sadly gaze at Matt's now deserted chair and desk.
  • Leverage: "The Bottle Job" opens with Cora McRory moving through a wake at her late father's bar and finds some of his poker buddies in the back playing a game. They honor their late friend by keeping a chair open for him.
  • Midnight Caller: Months after Rusty Collins is shot, his chair sits empty at the dining room table.
  • In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Goes to Group Therapy," when Monk has his first group therapy session with Dr. Bell, he notices an empty seat and learns that it belonged to a young woman who used to be in the sessions until she apparently drowned in her swimming pool. That death is later proven to be murder.
  • After Kate dies on NCIS, the other characters insist on giving her an 'empty desk' memorial. Ultimately, their new teammate is allowed to sit there, either signifying their acceptance of Kate's death and their new teammate or that having Ziva sit off at a lonely desk would be awkward for group shots. Either way.
  • After Phil Hartman died, NewsRadio did an episode acknowledging the death of his character, Bill McNeal. In the end, the others take various items including his desk, until only his empty chair is left.
  • After Dick Clark died in 2012, his hosting booth in Times Square was not used for New Year's Rockin' Eve 2013.
  • After Quentin Fields' death in One Tree Hill, Haley prevents anybody from sitting at his desk and later, she and her students proceed to write goodbye messages on his desk in his honor.
  • In the series finale of Roseanne, as she's waxing rhapsodic about her family and how she changed things, the camera circles around the kitchen, pans past a smiling, laughing Dan... then pans back to an empty chair as we get the Wham Line of "I lost Dan after his heart attack last year."
  • The episode My Five Stages of Scrubs deals with J.D. and Dr. Cox working to try and make a terminally ill patient as comfortable as possible, and dealing with grief as they watch her go. The show opens with them making her a fake beach on the roof of the hospital and relaxing with deck chairs and trying to avoid talking about what's coming. The bittersweet ending has J.D. and Dr. Cox sitting there again, smiling after accepting that she's gone, but still looking sadly at the empty chair she occupied.
  • Star Trek:
    • Inverted in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine "Who Mourns for Morn". Quark has just explained to Odo, that regular bar-fly Morn is an unofficial mascot (sales go up when he's around, and plummet when he's not), when a report comes in that Morn's ship has been destroyed. At the memorial (thrown by Quark with an admission price), Odo teases Quark that all his grief and sympathy is really just about how he's going to start losing money now. Quark just gives him a knowing smile, and grabs a passing customer to sit down in Morn's now empty chair, launching into a speech for the gathered mourners about how the best way to honor their missing friend is to always keep his seat at the bar occupied, "keep it warm, for Morn". The ploy totally works, and the rest of the episode always has somebody in the seat. In a Casting Gag, the initial passing customer is actually the actor who played Morn, out of the heavy makeup.
    • And played straight in TNG's "The Best Of Both Worlds, Part 2", where Riker's refusal to sit in Picard's chair shows both his refusal to acknowledge the loss of Picard and his reluctance to take on the position of Captain that he held. Guinan eventually kicks his arse into sorting himself out.
      • Before Guinan does so there's even a scene where Riker issues commands to the crew in Picard's ready-room, with no one even walking around to Picard's side of the desk. When everyone's been given their orders and Riker is left alone, he looks to the chair and forlornly asks the absent Picard, "What would you do?"
    • An internet meme in the wake of Leonard Nimoy's passing has two images from The Original Series: One has Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty sitting around a conference table smiling. The other has Kirk sitting alone at the same table, visibly sad (DeForest Kelley and James Doohan having died in previous years).
  • On The Vampire Diaries, after the death of his best friend & drinking buddy Alaric, Damon is shown several times leaving him an empty barstool (and pouring him a drink) at the Mystic Grill.

  • After Bon Scott's death in 1980, the other members of AC/DC went back to Australia to visit Bon's parents, who got out some chairs for them to sit down. They got out one extra by accident, and the sight of the empty chair caused Bon's mother to break down crying.
  • The video for Avenged Sevenfold's "Nightmare" ends with a shot of The Rev's unoccupied drum kit. The booklet with the album features a picture of the four remaining members drinking at a bar with The Rev's coat lying on an empty stool.
  • The music video of Chester Bennington's posthumous song "Cross Off" in collaboration with Mark Morton features a lone microphone.
  • Kate Bush covered "Rocket Man" by Elton John for a tribute album in 1991. This happened to be one of the last tracks that session guitarist Alan Murphy got to play on before he died of AIDS in October 1989, and so there's a chair occupied by a guitar and a candle in the video.
  • The live choreography for Hiragana Keyakizaka46's "Soredemo Aruiteru" prominently features an empty chair, symbolizing Neru Nagahama's departure from the group in 2017.
  • The music video for Lagwagon's "Heartbreaking Music" ends on a shot of an empty drumkit, as the song and album center around the death of founding drummer Derrick Plourde.
  • Manic Street Preachers traditionally leave an empty microphone on-stage during live performances as a tribute to their original rhythm guitarist and lyricist, Richey Edwards, who disappeared (and is presumed to have committed suicide given the available evidence) in 1995.
  • In-song, Willie Nelson's "Red-Headed Stranger" has one in the bay pony that accompanies the Stranger. It was his deceased wife's horse. He shoots and kills a woman who tries to steal it, and went free, because "you can't hang a man for killing a woman who's trying to steal his horse."
  • Referenced in "Sonny" by New Found Glory:
    An empty chair at all the tables,
    but I'll be seeing you when all my days boil down
  • Paul and Storm left out a chair for David Bowie during their PAX South 2016 show, before performing a cover of "Space Oddity".
  • After The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts passed away in August 2021, Keith Richards honored him with a photograph of his empty drumset that included a "Closed" sign on it.
  • The Traveling Wilburys' music video for "End of the Line" cuts to an empty rocking chair during Roy Orbison's verse, as Orbison died prior to shooting the video.
  • The page quote comes from the poem "The Vacant Chair" by Henry S. Washburn, which was later set to music by George Frederick Root and became a popular song during the American Civil War. It was written in the memory of John William Grout who was killed in the Battle of Ball's Bluff at the age of 18.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • A major feature of the August 25, 2023, episode of WWE SmackDown—dedicated to honoring the memory of Bray Wyatt, who passed away the previous day—was a tribute of shining a spotlight on Bray's trademark rocking chair in the middle of the stage.

  • When I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue panellist Willie Rushton passed away after over 20 years regularly appearing on the show, the show realised he could never truly be replaced and all the possible substitutes were younger, "alternative" comedians with very different styles to him. Hence, his seat was turned into a permanent guest spot.

  • In the comedy sketch Dinner for One (later famously performed for West German television by British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden), the aging socialite Miss Sophie keeps four empty places at her birthday dinner in honour of her gentleman friends, but her butler James has to impersonate each of them and take their toasts after each course, causing him to become increasingly inebriated as the evening progresses.
  • The idea is touched upon in the chorus of the song 'One More Angel' from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with the line "There's one less place at our table." However, Joseph isn't actually dead; the brothers secretly sold him into slavery, and are merely pretending to be sorrowful for his 'passing'.
  • In Journey's End, Stanhope chews out Raleigh for sitting on Osbourne's bed after he dies in a raid on the enemy trenches.
  • This trope is invoked in Les Misérables with "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", as Marius, the Sole Survivor, remembers the rest of his comrades who died in the uprising.

    Video Games 
  • In Beacon Pines, Luka's deceased father's old fishing chair still stands by Old Pickler's Pound, where the two of them used to fish. Jetson, the local angler, offers Luka to bring it home with him since he does most of his fishing standing up anyway, but Luka doesn't like the idea.
  • In Dian Wei's ending of Dynasty Warriors 9, Cao Cao, Xiahou Dun, Xiahou Yuan, and Xu Zhu are drinking and mourning his death. There's an empty chair beside Cao Cao who suddenly stood up and looked at the starry night, commemorating that he would never forget Dian Wei's Heroic Sacrifice at Wan Castle.
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Castle Cheydinhal has an empty throne where the late countess once sat.
  • Shows up in Guilty Gear among The Conclave with the three remaining members keeping the seat of their fallen comrade empty and even keep a cup of tea ready at his seat.
  • In Super Robot Wars: Original Generation 2, Tetsuya Onodera refuses to take Captain Daitetsu's seat after his death, carrying on as Acting Captain.note  Lee Linjun mocks this after his Face–Heel Turn, which makes him losing to Tetsuya all the more satisfying to watch.
  • In Tales from the Borderlands Fiona impersonates a tour guide and shows some people around Handsome Jack's office, a member of the tour group will notice an empty chair and Fiona can pass it off as one of these, left empty to remind people that Jack is dead. It turns out it was just a guard's chair left empty because he had to leave his post to go to the bathroom.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa:
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc's trial room has a place for everyone to stand. After someone dies, a crossed-out monochrome portrait on a simple stand is set up there. Monokuma even makes sure to adjust it to the proper height, so that the picture's right where their face would've been were they still alive...
    • The sequel Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair takes this a step further. Some of the crosses on the portraits are customised (mostly) in a manner relevant to the deceased. For example, Peko Pekoyama's cross is a shinai and sheath (she was the Ultimate Swordswoman) and Nagito Komaeda's cross is dripping with blood (in reference to his gruesome suicide).

    Web Original 
  • hololive:
    • After Aloe Mano departed a mere two weeks after debuting note , when her Genmates built their own tower in Minecraft they left one room empty for her. Similarly, other Hololive members sometimes make it a point to leave 5 gifts for the members of Generation 5 (e.g. Akai Haato once left 4 cakes for the Generation 5 members, then turned back and placed a fifth in the box).
    • Averted when Rushia Uruha's contract was unfortunately terminated on the 24th of February, 2022.note  Rather than leave Rushia's house on the Hololive JP server empty and a depressing reminder of how she would never return to it, Akai Haato lay claim to it and began making repairs.

    Real Life 
  • The Trope Namer is the Empty Chair Memorial in Juneau, Alaska, United States, dedicated to the 53 Japanese-Americans then living there who were forcibly relocated to internment camps during World War II. The name refers to high schooler John Tanaka who was relocated a month before his graduation, and whose classmates left him an empty chair during said graduation.
  • Many Christian churches have a chair for Jesus, which is otherwise unused.
  • A similar custom occurs in Judaism: the door is left open during the Passover Seder to invite in "the stranger" (partly a token of Sacred Hospitality, partly an expectation that the Prophet Elijah might show up at any moment). A cup is also left for Elijah, and a seat is sometimes left for him/the stranger as well.
    • There's a short story by Harry Turtledove in which "the stranger" does arrive in the shape of a Golem who rescues the Jewish family in question from the Nazi occupation of Poland.
    • During the 1970s and 1980s, to indicate solidarity with Soviet Jews who were barred from practicing their religion, many a bar and bat mitzvah in the United States featured an empty chair on the pulpit with the name of a Soviet Jewish child who was unable to have a bar/bat mitzvah celebration.
  • In the Amish community, whenever someone leaves the community, from then on their family keeps setting them a place at the dinner table. Apparently, them knowing that this is occurring is supposed to try to guilt them into coming back.
  • Many formal dinners in the Canadian military (and others) have an empty chair in memory of fallen members of the military.
    • For the American military, the custom is to include a military cap with the table setting, especially for tables set for fallen members of the various branches, as if they had simply walked away and would be back any moment.
  • Common in military memorials, in both the Missing Man Formation and the tradition of riderless horses during funeral processions.
  • The Toast To Fallen Comrades, given during Mess Dinners in the Canadian Armed Forces, will call attention to the round white table in the corner set with specific items and an empty chair. After listing off what each of the items represents, the PMC will point out "The chair is empty because they are no longer with us."
  • Auto racing has a version where pole position on the starting grid is left empty in respect of a driver who recently died. At the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix both front-row positions were left empty in memory of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, who both died during the previous race weekend.
    • Another variation is the standard practice of owners and drivers of historic race cars to leave the original driver's name tag (usually on the side of the cockpit) on the car when competing, even though that driver may be long gone.
  • Conservative commentator Barbara Olson was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77, en route to participate in a taping of the television show Politically Incorrect in Los Angeles, when the plane was flown into the Pentagon in the September 11 terrorist attacks. When the show resumed taping after a brief hiatus, host Bill Maher left an empty seat on the panel for a week in Olson's honor.
    • To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attacks, 2977 chairs were placed on the lawn in New York City's Bryant Park in memory of all killed.
    • The Pentagon memorial features 184 chairs, representing those who died there, each inscribed with a victim's name.
  • The "Field of Empty Chairs" at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. 168 empty chairs sitting in a park where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood, each chair representing an individual who died in the 1995 bombing attack that destroyed it. This includes 19 smaller chairs to represent the children who died that day.
  • To prove that this trope isn't necessarily a Death Trope, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony kept a chair empty for that year's winner, Liu Xiaobo, who was being held as a political prisoner in China at the time. The prize was placed on his empty chair.
  • At many high school and college graduation ceremonies, if a member of the class died before graduating, a seat is sometimes left empty to mark where they would have sat.
    • It's not usually an official practice, but in many schools, if a student dies during the year for any number of reasons, many times, any seats they claimed in a classroom may remain empty for the rest of the school year, whether said classes had official seating charts or no. For example, Katherine Hruby was a high schooler when her brother killed her and her parents, and her classmates left her seat empty for the rest of the school year.
  • For the Sons of the American Legion meetings, it is required to set out a separate chair draped with the flag for the Prisoners of War and Missing In Action as a visible reminder of those who have yet to return to American soil.
  • The Russian Imperial throne was recently restored and put in the halls of Kremlin to serve as one of these. Russia isn't a monarchy anymore and won't be anytime soon, but the empty throne stands there, exactly like in Gondor and Ankh-Morpork.
  • The "Speechless" lithograph created in memoriam for Mel Blanc is a variation on this (it's a microphone instead of a chair).
  • A similar lithograph was created to memorialize Chuck Jones.
  • Peter Jennings' chair on ABC's World News Tonight has remained vacant since his death in 2005.
  • This cartoon, published shortly after the death of Christopher Reeve.
  • The three remaining members of The Firesign Theatre did this at the end of their memorial performance for Peter Bergman.
  • Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz built and owned the Redwood Empire Ice Arena (aka Snoopy's Home Ice) in his home of Santa Rosa, California. The arena has a small restaurant called The Warm Puppy Cafe, where Schulz would eat daily at the same table. While he was alive, the cafe kept a RESERVED sign on the table when he wasn't there. Since he passed away the sign has been left on the table permanently.
  • The first edition of Meet the Press after longtime moderator Tim Russert's death from a heart attack in June 2008 had the seat Russert used on the show left vacant.
  • There are proposals to install 185 empty chairs in Christchurch, New Zealand, to remember the victims of the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.
  • Many bus companies did this in 2005 after Rosa Parks died.
    • In Sacramento, California, the Regional Transit system has an annual day in which one seat near the front of each bus in service that day is labeled as reserved in Ms. Parks' honor, typically on her birthday (February 4).
  • The Gene Siskel memorial episode of Siskel & Ebert had Roger Ebert sitting across from Siskel's empty theater seat.
    • Ebert's traditional seat at the Lake Street Screening Room (a small private theater that is used to screen films for Chicago-area critics, among other things) was decorated with flowers after his death and has not been used since.
  • Many twelve-step groups (like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) have a tradition of laying out an extra chair to represent those who died from addiction or those who've yet to seek help.
    • When New York magazine featured 35 women who'd been sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby on its cover, an empty seat was left to represent those still too afraid to come forward.
  • Anytime the English Football Association (or any of their teams) shows tribute to the fallen 96 in the Hillsborough Disaster, their go-to tributes are either a moment of silence or 96 reserved and empty chairs with Liverpool scarves draped across them. Many players often wear black bands around their arms for such matches, and if they score, most of them will kiss the band while standing in front of said chairs as their goal celebration. At Hillsborough itself, there are 96 seats on the first two rows of the Leppings Lane stand (where the disaster happened) that are white instead of blue and are covered with a rose during memorial events.
  • Since 1873, the United States Supreme Court has commemorated the death of a Justice by draping black cloth over their chair in the courtroom.
  • The first church service after the Sutherland Springs massacre featured 26 empty chairs representing the victims.
  • After the 2018 death of chef, author, and CNN correspondent Anthony Bourdain, local New York deli Barney Greengrass set out his usual breakfast order at an empty table.
  • According to legend, Alexander the Great's generals would set up the throne for him when they met to strategize during their ill-fated attempt to rule his Empire after his death through his mentally disabled brother Philip. That didn't last very long, and they were soon at war with each other over possession of Alexander's body (and other things). Only one of the ancient sources for Alexander's life mentions this though, so it's unclear how true this is.
  • Rugby union player Keith Murdoch, to date the only All Black to ever be sent home from a tour after an incident in Cardiff where he punched a security guard, never made it back to New Zealand, instead disappearing in Australia, where he spent much of the rest of his life, keeping a low profile. The team manager would regret reversing his initial decision to let Murdoch stay, and several of his teammates would regret failing to support him. Until his death, there would always be an empty chair reserved for him at All Black reunions in case he chose to turn up (he never did), and even now the team would hold a memorial whenever they visit Cardiff.
  • At the premiere screening of Good Omens, the seat beside Neil Gaiman was reserved for his co-author, the late Terry Pratchett, as it had been their dream (and Sir Terry's dying wish) to see Good Omens adapted for the screen. Sir Terry's seat was occupied instead by his trademark hat and scarf, and a packet of popcornnote .
  • A Starbucks in Rio Grande, New Jersey retired the regular chair of Jim Brannan, a regular customer, after his death in 2017.
  • Literally in Juneau, Alaska, in tribute to the 53 Japanese residents displaced into internment camps.
  • Families will often do this at functions like Christmas or Thanksgiving for family members who have died, especially if it's the first holiday without them.
  • In October 2020, a group of people who had been touched by the COVID-19 Pandemic (either by being infected themselves or losing a loved one) set out 20,000 empty chairs on the lawn across from the White House as a tribute to the 200,000 people who had died in the epidemic up to that point. Despite the scaled-down nature of it (which was necessary in order to make the project feasible), they were able to use this as a tool to further drive their point home, pointing out the vast expanse of chairs before reminding onlookers that each chair in that expanse represented ten people.
  • Multiple street parties and lunches were planned as part of the celebrations of Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee, but one neighborhood set up a table with 72 empty seats to commemorate those killed in the Grenfell Tower Fire five years prior.
  • Following the Uvalde, Texas shooting in which 19 children and two teachers were killed, students at high schools in New Jersey and Staten Island set up an empty classroom in protest of gun violence.
  • On Veteran's Day (formerly Armistice Day, i.e. 11th Day of the 11th Month), many table service restaurants will have a single table set in remembrance of the fallen similar to the military custom described above. Texas Roadhouse in particular is known for observing this tradition.
  • In the United States Navy, lost and sunk submarines are symbolically considered "Still on Patrol" (since by definition, their patrol only ends when they return to port), even if they're eventually found.
  • After King of the Hill actor Johnny Hardwick, who voiced Dale Gribble, passed away in August 2023, many KOTH fans paid tribute to him through art showing Hank Hill, Bill Dauterive, and Boomhauer in the alley with Dale's spot empty (with his hat, sunglasses, and/or cigarettes situated where he'd stand), such as this.
  • After Matthew Perry passed away in October 2023, many Friends fans paid tribute to him by sharing a screencap from the episode "The One Where Joey Moves Out", where Joey turns to talk to Chandler, but notices his La-Z-Boy chair is empty.
  • Jaime Guttenberg was an avid dancer who was killed in the Parkland shooting. Shortly after her death, her dance team performed their routine—which already incorporated chairs, and indeed, left hers empty as a tribute to her.


Video Example(s):


Bray Wyatt's Rocking Chair

After the 10 bell salute and the video tribute to the recently departed Bray Wyatt, the crowd sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," and the camera points to Bray Wyatt's rocking chair from his Wyatt Family days.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / EmptyChairMemorial

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