#31: Liza’s Ghost Bike

July 9th, 2012

Men play basketball across the park and children splash in the pool, but someone remembers Liza Whitacre.

Many someones, it seems. They remember this young woman — killed at 20 in 2009 — through what’s known as a ghost bike. That’s a bicycle painted white and left as a memorial near the spot a cyclist was killed in a crash.

Liza’s bike is covered in flowers. It sits on the corner of Wellington and Damen, a spot I’ve gone by hundreds of times. It has angel wings on the back. It has a replica Eiffel Tower — Liza studied French at Loyola, a quick Google tells.

I never knew Liza, of course. I can’t speak to the loss of someone so young, so happy and vibrant from all the accounts I’ve found. She had family and friends — has family and friends. I can imagine their loss the same way I can imagine walking on Mars. I can’t.

I’ve lost people, of course. We all have. But implying any pain is the same or talking about the human condition always seemed a bit cruel to me, like the priest who just talks about the Resurrection in a eulogy because he barely knew the person in the casket.

Death isn’t universal. I’ve never lost a Liza.

So this is a story about Liza’s bike.

It’s beautiful. Some ghost bikes — they exist here and there — fall into disrepair. The tires go flat, the sign giving the name gets dingy. Not Liza’s. It seems eternally fresh.

I like the bike because it reminds me and the rest of the cyclists on the road to be safe. I don’t mean Liza wasn’t, but sometimes I zig when I should zag, look at a pretty tree when I should keep eyes glued. Liza’s bike reminds me horrible things can happen to the best biker. I’m not that person, so I should watch the road all the more.

I like it because it’s simple. All the best tributes are.

But mostly I like Liza Whitacre’s ghost bike because it made me wonder about this name on a sign on the side of a white-painted bike and the two dates that subtracted made 20. It made me do a quick Google and find out about this happy, vibrant person I would otherwise have never heard of. Bits of trivia, but bits that made me happy this person was alive.

I’ve gotten maudlin. Now I’m the stranger priest.

I wish the bike didn’t exist. I wish it didn’t have to. But I’m glad the people who did know and love this person created a place where they could share their memories.

And as a person who passes that memorial relatively often, I’m glad the form they chose is as beautiful as the night sky.

Talk about this story

Read about Liza Whitacre

Read more stories of Chicago

What's this?

You are currently reading #31: Liza’s Ghost Bike by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.