Boston’s ghost bike tradition hinges on one man, who transformed one more to honor Clemmer

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Peter Cheung with George Clemmer’s ghost bike. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

A ghost bike ceremony is held Saturday in Boston in honor of Cambridge’s George Clemmer, who was run over by the driver of a dump truck on July 13 on Huntington and Massachusetts avenues in the shadow of Symphony Hall . He was taken to hospital, where he died.

There are no protected bike lanes on the stretch of Massachusetts Avenue where Clemmer was hit, although they were considered part of a Symphony station improvement project.

They will be preceded by a ghost bike, a commemorative roadside marking where a cyclist has been killed, usually by the driver of a motor vehicle. These are pristine white memorials to chain forever to the place of a death – this one is a former brown model from the non-profit Bikes Not Bombs. It’s stripped of its brakes, handles, cables, gears – anything that rusts quickly or could be stolen – and spray painted. Now the manufacturer, Peter Cheung, has made it a science.

Clemmer was the 18th person killed since 2016 while riding a bicycle in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville, according to data from MassBike and other safety advocates. Nine of those crashes involved a truck and five occurred along a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue.

Cheung prepares to paint a bike brown on July 20 at Jamaica Plain. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

Friends and family of Clemmer describe the 71-year-old as inextinguishably curious, bright and environmentally conscious. Most of the time, he cycled a 12-mile loop between his home in Cambridgeport and Jamaica Plain and back. He rode a recumbent bike, which puts the rider in a reclined position, as he felt more comfortable for his commute to Harvard Medical School, where he worked as a bioinformatician.

“He loved that bike,” said close friend Robin Peters.

A graduate in naval architecture, electrical engineering, and business from MIT, he worked on many projects throughout his life, from renovating wooden boats to developing a high-tech lamp.

“He had a lot of interests, Peters said, “but he was quite a solitary person. He liked to ride his bike. He felt it gave him energy.

Connection with the artist

When Peters learned of Clemmer’s passing, she knew she wanted him to have a ghost bike.

“I remember seeing these bikes and thinking it was an interesting art installation in Boston,” she said. “I was told by George that these are memorials for people killed on bicycles.”

Through friends, she met Cheung, a Jamaica Plain bike advocate known for leading events such as the Boston Bike Party and Ride for Black Lives, and used her skills as a videographer to document bike trails. newly installed. In 2020, he was recognized as MassBike’s Lawyer of the Year.

He is also the maker of most Boston-area ghost bikes.

“It’s my contribution to public art,” he says. “It’s a way of transforming a tragic area where something violent happened into something more serene.”

A “unique thing”

The first ghost bike Cheung created was for another Cambridge resident – ​​Marcia Deihl, 65 – who was hit by a truck in 2015 as she left a Whole Foods Market car park. Cheung had heard of ghost bikes, a ritual that began in 2003 in St. Louis when Patrick Van Der Tuin saw a car drift over the line of a bike path and hit a woman. He placed a white bicycle where she was nearly killed to remind people of what happened. Ceremonies are now observed across the country.

After Deihl’s death, Cheung created a private Facebook group to connect with other cyclists, including the Reverend Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, who agreed to preside over Deihl’s ceremony.

He thought it would be a unique thing.

But a few months later, on Massachusetts Avenue, a truck driver kills Anita Kurrman, a 38-year-old endocrinologist, on her way to work. A year later, Amanda Phillips was killed in Inman Square.

“A very sacred moment”

Cheung painted George Clemmer’s ghost bike on July 20. (Photo: Emily Piper-Vallillo)

Over the years, Cheung and Everett have become more and more organized. They created a ceremony plan and checklist for the Ghost Bike Ceremony that includes a list of suggested materials such as tealights, a microphone, and tissues. They have become so adept at these ceremonies that cyclists in other urban centers have asked for advice on how to hold their own ghost bike ceremonies.

But the work can be grueling. During the pandemic, Cheung made six ghost bikes, holding small ceremonies that only Everett and the riders’ families attended.

In total, Cheung made 20 ghost bikes, including four at Cambridge. Clemmer’s will be his 21st and first public ghost bike ceremony since the pandemic began.

“The moment when a normal bike becomes a ghost bike,” he said, “is a very sacred moment. I’m not a very religious person, but it’s someone’s life.

Peters, who will attend the ghost bike ceremony on Saturday, thought Clemmer would be hit.

“George would be very moved by the support his death garners. He’s often spoken about this type of activism as making a difference. I feel like it’s happening around him,” Peters said.

  • George Clemmer’s Ghost Bike Ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday on Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues in Boston, organized by the Boston Cyclists Union and chaired by the Reverend Lindsay Popperson.
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