Sunrise and sunset: the ghost bike for William Daniel Rodriguez
A little while ago, I was walking with some friends from Greenpoint to the Brooklyn Bridge. About halfway through the walk we neared the Williamsburg Bridge. The East River was to our right and a strong wind was blowing down Kent Avenue. Chained to a signpost near a Jewish community center was a small, spray-painted white bike with flat tires.
I recognized it as a ghost bike, or a memorial bicycle placed at the site where a cyclist was killed, usually by another vehicle. The first time I saw a ghost bike was in Amsterdam. It was surrounded by flowers and stood out bright against the sea of bikes that continuously travel through the city. This particular bike is quite small–it looks like it is meant for a child.
The writing on the post behind the bike reads:
You will always
Be in our
The writing on the bike itself reads:
Your welcome to take a balloon and let it go in his name.
The writing is done in black permanent marker. The bike is adorned with blue and white ribbons. Above the bike, attached to the post is a set of large fake flower hearts, one white and one red. In front of the tires are a set of four votive candles, one of which has a pair of cigarette lighters in it. In front of the bike, there is an old, water-stained copy of the children’s book When Sheep Sleep, which has “for Danny” written on the cover.
From the writing, it appears that William Daniel Rodriguez, perhaps known as “Danny” died when he was 18 years old. I’m guessing he may have been a smoker because of the cigarette lighters, but it is equally possible that the lighters have been left there for people to use for the votive candles. Although I believe he was 18 when he died, the kid’s book and kid’s bike lead me to believe that his parents and other family members are the ones who set up the memorial. He is remembered in his role as a child in a family, rather than as a friend or lover.
After returning home, I went onto the Ghost Bikes website to see if I could find out any additional information about this particular bike. There is a page for William Rodriguez, but the information does not closely match the bike I saw. The location is correct, but the date of death does not seem to be correct. The page says: “A ghost bike appeared on Kent Avenue on October 8, 2009 to remember William Rodriguez, killed by the drunk driver of a truck in 2002.” While it may be true that the bike appeared in 2009, the bike itself refers to William’s “sunset” as happening in 2007, not 2002. The page also lists his age at death as 19 years old, whereas if the bike is correct, he would have died about a week before his 19th birthday.
This leaves me wondering if the information for the other bikes in New York City is correct. Of course, I can’t be sure whether the bike or the page is correct, but I’m inclined to trust the shrine itself. Therefore, I’ve decided to do a bit of traveling. I am going to visit each of the 80 ghost bikes listed for NYC (and any I pass along the way) and record the information I find on and around the bikes. I’ll photograph the bikes as well. I’m not sure what I’ll do once I’ve visited them all, but I feel like I should take a look at these memorials myself to see what I can learn about each individual.
Now– to the streets of New York I go in search of the white bikes…