Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics…They are, I believe, the voice of the people." –Jack Santino

Archive for the tag “ghost bikes”

San Onofre Ghost Bike

Just wanted to share a photo sent to me by my good friend, Ashley Cooper.  She snapped this photo near the San Onofre power plant in southern California.  It shows a ghost bike and accompanying shrine on the fence behind it.  Thanks for sharing the picture!

The ghost bike for Liz Byrne

For the next few days, I’ll be posting photographs from the 7th Annual Ghost Bikes Memorial Walk and Ride.  I participated in the walk, so the photos will be primarily of that portion of the event.  This first set is of the ghost bike for Liz Byrne.  It is located on the corner of McGuinness Boulevard and Kent Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn:

Liz Byrne, age 44, was killed while bicycling on the busy street on Friday, September 23, 2005.  Her sister, Annie Byrne, requested that a ghost bike be installed in her honor.  You can read more about this particular memorial on the ghost bikes website.

Here are pictures of Liz Byrne’s ghost bike taken on Sunday, March 18, 2012:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

NYC Ghost Bikes – 7th Annual Memorial Ride and Walk on 3/18

For people living in the New York City area who are interested in spontaneous shrines or ghost bikes, here is the latest information about the New York City ghost bike memorial ride and walk happening this Sunday, March 18th.  See you there!  The itinerary below is from the ghost bikes website:

The NYC Street Memorial Project will hold the 7th Annual Memorial Ride and Walk on Sunday, March 18, 2012. Together we will ride to the locations where cyclists have lost their lives in the past year. Bring flowers and other items to honor those we have lost.

We invite other locations to ride with us by scheduling their own memorial rides and events on that day. Please contact us to let us know about your ride or to help out on ours.

The Ride/Walk schedule is subject to change – for updates on the day of the ride follow us at www.twitter.com/nycstreetmem or #memride2012.


If you plan to take the subway to meet up with the ride, we suggest you check the MTA Planned Service Changes for 3/18.

Please RSVP to our Facebook event.

Staten Island Ride

12:00 Meet-up: Everything Goes Book Cafe, 208 Bay St (between Victory and Hannah)
12:30 Sutter Oval (Howard Ave end), Wagner College, across from Main Hall

12:45 RJ Tillman, Howard Ave between Highland and Grand
2:00 SI Ferry, St. George Terminal, Staten Island

2:30 SI Ferry, South Ferry Terminal, Manhattan

3:10 Jeffrey Axelrod, Chrystie & Delancey [Convergence with Bronx-Manhattan ride]

Bronx-Manhattan Ride

11:30 Meet-up: La Finca Del Sur Community Garden, E138th & Grand Concourse (4 or 5 to E138th St, Bronx)

11:50 Unnamed memorial, E141st St. & Bruckner Expwy
12:30 Unnamed memorial, W125th St. & 5th Ave
1:00 Qi Yu Weng, E96th St. & 2nd Ave
1:40 Meet-up: Central Park South & 7th Ave.
2:00 Marilyn Dershowitz, W29th & 9th Ave
2:45 Ray Deter, Canal & West Broadway
3:10 Jeffrey Axelrod, Christie & Delancey
3:45 Nicolas Djandji, Borinquen Pl & Rodney St. [Convergence with Brooklyn  Ride]

Queens-Brooklyn Ride

11:30 Meet-up: Cross Bay Pkwy & Beach Channel Dr. (A to Beach 90 or Beach 98)
11:45 Andrzei Wiesniuk, Cross Bay Pkwy & Beach Channel Dr.
1:45 James Pierre, E53rd St & Linden Boulevard

2:45 Chris Doyle, Metropolitan Ave. & Gardner Ave. [Convergence with Brooklyn ride]

Brooklyn Ride

12:30 Meet-up: Avenue T & West 9th St. – map (D to 25th Ave. or N to Avenue U)
1:00 Joseph Granati, Avenue T & West 9th St.
1:20 Aileen Chen, 62nd St. & 21st Ave.
1:40 Luis Torres, Fort Hamilton Pkwy & 59th St.
2:45 Chris Doyle, Metropolitan Ave. & Gardner Ave. [Convergence with Queens ride]

3:00 Mathieu LeFevre, Morgan Ave. & Meserole Ave.
3:20 Erica Abbott, Bushwick Ave. & Powers St.
3:45 Nicolas Djandji, Borinquen Pl. & Rodney St. [Convergence with Manhattan ride]

4:00 Unnamed memorial, Union Ave. & S5th St. [Convergence with Memorial Walk]

Memorial Walk

1:45-2pm: Gather @ Manhattan Ave & Green St (G Train to Greenpoint Ave)

2:05 Unnamed Memorial, Green St & McGuinness Blvd
2:15 Liz Byrne, Kent St & McGuinness Blvd
2:25 Unnamed Memorial, Greenpoint Ave & McGuinness Blvd
2:35 Neil Chamberlain & Unnamed Memorial, Calyer & McGuinness Blvd
2;45 Unnamed Memorial, Norman & McGuinness Blvd
2:55 Unnamed Memorial, Nassau & McGuinness Blvd
3:40 Leopoldo Hernandez, Borinquen Pl & S2nd
4:00 Unnamed Memorial, Union Ave & S5th [Convergence with Memorial Ride]

Rain date: Sunday, March 25

The vanished ghost bikes of Harlem

I’m looking for ghost bikes near Harlem.  I take the subway to 145th Street and St. Nicholas, in an area known as Hamilton Heights.  When I leave the station, I walk east on 145th, past Edgecombe and Bradhurst.  The sidewalk is crowded with people.  It smells like incense and Christmas trees from the pirated CD and holiday vendors lined up along the curb.  At the corner of W. 145th and Frederick Douglass, I start my search for the ghost bike of Jamel Lewis, who was hit and killed by a sanitation truck on November 30, 2006, at age 21.  According to the ghost bikes website, his death was not reported in the news despite the fact that there were journalists called to the scene.  A local photographer told the ghost bikes organization about Jamel Lewis, not wanting his death to be forgotten.  I walk south on F.D. to 144th, cross to the west side of 145 near the cigarette shop with the old men outside, go north on F.D. to 146th, cross and head back down the intersection.  On the southwest corner, there is a halal food cart with a man scraping meat off the hot cooking shelf.  I ask him if he’s ever seen a spray-painted white bicycle chained up in the neighborhood–a memorial for a young man killed in an accident a few years ago.  He thinks about it for a few moments and says he’s sorry but he can’t help.  I do one final sweep of the area and find nothing.

I decide to move on to the second bike on my list, a Manhattanville memorial located on W. 133rd and Amsterdam, for 21 year old Juan Espinoza-Navarette, who died when his bike was pushed into traffic by a stranger who had been chasing him.  I walk west on 145th and turn south on Amsterdam.  The turn takes me from a bustling shopping area to more sparsely populated avenue, wide and empty.  There are very few shops lining the sidewalk, and no street vendors.  Elderly men sit smoking and chatting in groups on the stoops of the immense apartments on either side of the road.  To my right is one of the city’s housing projects, a collection of towering red brick buildings with rows of tiny windows.  The projects fill an entire city block and are completely encircled by a short, black wrought iron fence.  I walk past a park, with men playing chess in the middle of a curious crowd, and a large soccer field filled with CUNY students playing football.  After the parks the street becomes very still; the few people standing on the corners watch me as I pass.  P.S. 161 is on the corner of 133rd and Amsterdam, along with a few parked cars and short, scrawny trees supported by stakes shoved in the dry dirt.  A teenage boy with baggy pants and a sideways baseball cap has been staring at me for a while.  He yells something unpleasant in my direction as he watches me circle around the block in search of the bike.  Once again, there is nothing to be found.

A few days go, I read a comment left on the blog of a photographer friend of mine, A. Jesse Jiryu Davis, who had posted a bit about shrines.  The commenter says, “In fact, our culture seems rife with memorials, and I often wonder if it’s not healthier to let our disasters recede into the mists of time rather than erect monuments to them.”  I went in search of ghost bikes that had vanished like ghosts.  I began to think about the temporality of these spontaneous shrines.

The words used to describe these shrines allude to their impermanence–they are “spontaneous” and “makeshift.”  They seem to stand as the grassroots memorials within a much larger culture of memorialization that includes such monumental structures as the markers of Gettysburg and the new 9/11 Memorial.  These massive, permanent, and often stone monuments honor those who died as heroes of/for their country.  They are memorialized as such, which sets their deaths, the reasons for their deaths, and the way in which their deaths are remembered/placed in the national psyche, likewise in stone.  These heroes died for a reason, a country, and a cause.  They did not die in vain–they died necessary deaths–either on the battlefield fighting for freedom, or because they stood in the way of another who would take that freedom, so to speak.

Spontaneous shrines, as memorials erected by a community for a loved one it has lost, stand in contrast to the memorials of the state.  They commemorate the unnecessary deaths–the deaths of people who should not have died.  By focusing on the death of an individual, rather than a death [or several deaths] and its place within a larger national/political narrative, spontaneous shrines serve to de-heroicize the story of death, not out of disrespect, but to challenge the status quo in a way that rigid stone monoliths cannot.  When a death is memorialized as not heroic, not for a cause, not for a state, and not for any reason other than drunk driver/unsafe road conditions/high gang activity, etc, it allows room for individuality, dialogue, and change.  When a death is trapped and sealed by stone into an unbending narrative of heroism and purpose, the individuality of the person is overshadowed, there is no room for a different story to be told, and it is fixed firmly in a time and place.  When deaths are remembered as unnecessary, they can be seen as preventable, and steps can be taken to stop the same kind of thing from happening again.

Because spontaneous shrines tend not to be so fixed, they may disappear over time, like the bikes I tried to find.  By continuously disappearing and popping up across the landscape in locations they should not be and are not expected, they de-stabilize the way things normally are–thereby challenging those who see them to stop and think.  Especially in cases of organized makeshift memorialization, such as the ghost bike movement, viewers are familiarized with an image (the white bicycle) that becomes easily recognizable, but they are surprised by the unpredictability of the bikes’ locations.  Unlike with stone monuments in fixed positions, people do not know when or where they will pass a ghost bike–unless they frequently pass a single bike, in which case they do not know when they will stop seeing it there.  The ghost bikes, while still conveying a sense of connectedness among bicycle fatalities (as a type of preventable death), the important thing is that they stand as markers for unique people and respect the need to recognize each death individually.

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



Big Will

The writing on the bike itself reads:





10:39 pm

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.

The list can be found here.  To see a map of the bikes, look here.

Now– to the streets of New York I go in search of the white bikes…

Post Navigation


Charting the borderlands between religion and pop culture

Cemeteries and Cemetery Symbols

Exploring the meaning of cemetery symbols and other graveyard mysteries. For genealogy sleuths, taphophiles and goth kids.

Miss Tanya Jean

Just a girl and her superlative words.

The Object Ethnography Project

Creative Experiments in Critical Practice: Art, Anthropology, and Economy



Rousing Departures

'Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.' – Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness, 1930.

The Mouth of The Kenai

The Mouth of The Kenai

Looking at the West

A personal blog of photography and commentary by Andrew McAllister.

Religion, Secularism, & Civil Societies

in the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States

The Lonely Walkers Blog

Challenging the idea of distance


I eat cheese, I run from zombies, and I do therapy


Just another WordPress.com site

Death Be Not Proud

American deathways exlored

Next Gen Memorials

Ideas for planning a funeral, memorial or celebration of life

War Memorials Archive Blog

Features and news about war memorials in the UK

Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics...They are, I believe, the voice of the people." --Jack Santino


...of the one of a kind

Religion, Secularism, & Civil Societies

in the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States