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.

  • Combin8tion

    Why is this person entitled to a permanent memorial beyond that which exists at his place of burial? Is everyone who dies in a traffic accident entitled to one or only those who die on their bicycle? How about we create permanent memorials for each person shot and killed in Chicago? Or how about we create permanent memorials for each person who succumbs to cancer?

    Yes, it is sad and unfortunate that this bicyclist perished going about his daily life. Yes, family and friends have a right to grieve his loss. But individual memorials to the deceased are generally limited to burial places and rarely in public spaces.

  • David Henri

    What a horrible thing to say. And to hide behind a name like Combin8tion,

  • Jeff Gio

    He is not trying to be callous.

  • Actually a “permanent” memorial would defeat the purpose of a memorial at that location which is to warn and remind people of the dangers at that corner, dangers especially for bikers and pedestrians. A permanent memorial tucked away on a stone near the gazebo would not be nearly so forceful a message as a white bike or even just a white wheel on a post immediately next to the street.

  • Pat

    I don’t agree with having a “traditional” permanent memorial, but the way the current one was removed is just heartless and the fact that no one will own up to is shows how gutless it was. And I don’t think Blaine’s loved ones are calling for a bronze statue at the site.

    While you can debate if a ghost bike qualifies as a memorial, I don’t see anything wrong with having them place one at the site, should the family endorse it. We can litter our sidewalks with newspaper boxes, but but having something meaningful, that might make people reflect, is too much? I’ve seen many memorial crosses on highways and I doubt many people find them controversial.

    I endorse the idea of a memorialized bike rack. Very in the same vein as memorial benches and something encourages cycling, which Blaine clearly loved.

  • Dan Ciskey

    Roadside memorials are actually incredibly common. In the rural areas surrounding my hometown of Bloomington-Normal there are numerous intersections where crosses have been placed to memorialize people who’ve died there over the years. I’ve seen them in the suburbs around here as well.

  • Paul Harris

    He is being callous whether or not he’s trying and callousness is one of several reasons a man is dead.

  • hopeyglass

    Yeah, but that’s certainly never been the point of ghost bikes up until recently (apparently?). Why on earth would a memento mori exist to WARN people as though it’s some sort of piece of infrastructure? Politicizing and publicizing highly personal expressions of grief and memory is pretty complicated and subject to emotion. We all need to be very careful about taking other people’s grief and memory for causes and a bike rack is certainly a hopeful message for everyone to #RYB, not warn or frighten others. Turning someone’s tragic death into a message isn’t a great way to build a movement or grieve.

  • hopeyglass

    do you mean carelessness, perhaps?

  • undercover epicurean

    That triangle is a part of Lincoln Park, it was likely removed by a park district crew. They’ve got pretty stringent rules about monuments and objects in parks, for actually good reasons of liability & maintenance issues.

  • When I am a driver I always notice the white bikes and am reminded with strong emotions about how vulnerable bikers can be sometimes. They are are way more than a message, they are effective agents for cultural change.

  • So where does the park begin and the street end. Seems to me that the sidewalk belongs to the street rather than the park. But it could be the other way round I suppose, the street belonging to the park.

    Both actions are appropriate in my view. It is appropriate for the mourners to place objects in memorium and appropriate for the park district (or streets and san) to remove them. I bet the removers wait some decent amount of time before removing them and as long as the mourners are grieving and feel it healing will continue to place them.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The memorial was on a light pole on city right-of-way at the southwest corner of the intersection. The gazebo is at the northeast corner. A CDOT official has previously said the city does not remove ghost bikes. It’s likely that’s the general rule towards other kinds of crash memorials on city property.

  • undercover epicurean

    Ah, my mistake. I’m sure it was the Drake then.

  • hopeyglass

    While I’m glad that’s true for you, I’m going to respectfully continue to disagree about a memorial and testament of grief as being wholly a “message” or “warning” and continue to be wary about this concept as useful for political or systemic change. Stay safe out there!

  • UptownArtsCouncil

    That is the Gold Coast for ya…more concerned about the quality of gelato readily available.

  • Kareem O’Wheat

    I take them down because cemeteries are where memorials should be. N

  • Kareem O’Wheat

    Lighten up, Susie. Your entitlement attitude is raging.

  • Personally I think those ghost bike installations should be temporary. Long-term I find it an imposition on the public space without public approval.

  • Wherever you come out on this, should the use of the public space be subject to debate and decision through our political process? It’s the unilateral aspect of the placement that bothers me. I am ok with it on a temporary basis.

  • Shouldn’t we remember the people lost to accidents?

    Do you want to run around and rip up crosses on the side of highways as well just so they don’t ruin your day?

  • I think we should have public memorials to those lost. Something small and simple. Maybe just a park bench with their name on it.

  • Or maybe an honorary intersection name for that individual.

  • Or plant a tree with a plaque at its base.