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Klingenberg’s Shrine Has Been Removed; Friends Want a Permanent Memorial

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Friends and bike advocates hope to install a permanent memorial for fallen courier Blaine Klingenberg near this gazebo by the intersection where he was struck. Image: Google Street View

Recently, for the second time, someone took away the flowers, candles, messages, drawings, and white-painted bike wheel that were placed at Oak and Michigan as a tribute to bike courier Blaine Klingenberg, who was fatally struck by a bus driver at the intersection on June 15. His friends and members of the cycling community say they want to install a permanent memorial nearby that won’t be at risk of being removed again.

According to Klingenberg’s friends, he was on his way to meet up with colleagues at Oak Street Beach after work when the collision occurred. He was bicycling north on Michigan through the intersection when he was run over and dragged by double-decker tour bus driver Charla Henry, who was driving westbound.

The original memorial at the southwest corner of Oak/Michigan was removed about a week after installation. Photo: John Greenfield

Although some witnesses said Klingenberg ran a red light prior to the collision, two witnesses told me they were convinced Henry was at least partly responsible for the messenger’s death because she also entered the intersection after her light turned red. In August Klingenberg’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Henry and her employer Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Company.

Soon after the crash, couriers gathered at the southwest corner of Oak and Michigan to offer a makeshift memorial, including candles, flowers, and a placard signed by dozens of Klingenberg's friends and colleagues.

The sign includes the epitaph "RIP RYB"—short for the hashtag #RideYourBike. Maja Perez, who was dating Klingenberg at the time of his death, taped to the pole a single-serving container of Frosted Flakes, one of Klingenberg's favorite prework meals, and wrote on the box, "For you my love—Sorry I didn't bring the milk."

Not long afterward, the memorial was taken down, and its contents placed by a nearby recycling bin. But afterwards someone locked the white-painted bicycle wheel to the pole with Klingenberg's nickname, "Beezy," written on the hub. The placard was soon reinstalled and new tributes were added.

But when I stopped by yesterday, all of those items were gone. The pole had been repainted, and its only decoration was a sticker with an image of Klingenberg’s cargo bike.

Staff from the adjacent One Magnificent Mile building and CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey told me they didn’t know who took down the second shrine. Local alderman Brendan Reilly and the Magnificent Mile Association didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about the removal.

The second memorial was taken down in mid-September. Photo: John Greenfield

Kristen Green from Chicago Ghost Bikes, which arranges the installation of white painted bikes as memorials to crash victims, directed me to a discussion on the group’s Facebook page from late September. Members noted that the most recent version of the memorial had been removed in mid-September.

“It makes me very sad,” wrote courier Jonathan Loïc Rogers. "We all had so many personal connections, memories, mementos left there." Others condemned the removal and expressed hope that the lost items could be recovered. While there was some interest in creating a third memorial at the same site, some members argued it would probably be taken down once again because of aesthetic objections from merchants and neighbors.

Rogers noted that there had previously been some discussion of installing a custom-made bike rack with the letters “RYB” at the northeast corner of the intersection, near the beach underpass and a gazebo. Mag Mile decision makers are less likely to have a problem with that location.

Today Kristen Green told me the group is currently hoping to install another white-painted wheel by the gazebo. She said she had so far had no luck getting in touch with Reilly to ask permission.

It was predictable that some people on North Michigan would object to the appearance of the shrine on the light pole. But removing, and possibly discarding, Klingenberg’s memorial without prior notice was disrespectful to his grieving family and friends. Hopefully Reilly and other local leaders will work with the family and Chicago Ghost Bikes in the near future so that a permanent memorial can be installed.

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