In the run-up to this year’s Boston Marathon, commemorations of last year's bombings and tributes to the survivors have been plentiful — and a new exhibit at the Boston Public Library may be the most dramatic memorial yet. But plans for a permanent memorial remain unclear.
Battered old running shoes, handwritten notes of support and sympathy from around the globe, heartrending photos of Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, Krystle Campbell, and Sean Collier — these mementos were left by well-wishers after the Boston Marathon bombings, and spent the past few months in the Boston City Archives, shielded from the city’s brutal winter. But now they’re back in the public eye thanks to a new exhibit at the library entitled Dear Boston — and Mayor Marty Walsh says it serves an important purpose.
"Last year we were tested, and we this year we still feel grief," Walsh said. "But what we see here is a tribute to how as a community we come through these tragedies. We turn to each other and offer whatever we have to give — a helping hand, a word of comfort, a token of hope."
At Monday’s opening, Walsh described the exhibit as a crucial part of Boston’s healing process.
"These tokens of compassion bear witness to something special," he said. " … They remind us that by coming together, we have the strength to persevere. Seeing them here, preserved in such a beautiful form, we receive their healing powers all over again with witness to our source of strength. The strength is the spirit of Boston."
But while Dear Boston may be powerful, it’s only temporary: the exhibit ends on May 11. Going forward, the question is whether there’s going to be a permanent marathon bombing memorial — one people can visit any month of any year — and if so, what shape it’s going to take.
The obvious possibility is building something at the Marathon finish line — a spot that’s become a thriving commercial destination once again, and where evidence of last year’s trauma is hard to find.
But Tom Derderian has another idea. He’s the president of USA Track and Field New England, and wants to commemorate the bombings with a footbridge in Allston.
"It would arch high over the Mass. Pike and the railway," he Derderian said.
On the face of it, there’s no obvious reason a memorial should go in Derderian’s preferred spot — at least, until you hear him make his case.
"Well, this is a gateway, so people coming to Boston for the marathon have to pass under this, almost all of them," he said. "The buses taking the runners out to the start pass under this. So most people pass by this spot on their way to and from Boston."
Derderian isn’t the only citizen championing a proposal. New Bedford artist Keith Francis has designed a 10-foot stainless steel portal, titled Perseverance, that he’d like to place in Copley Square. Then again, when it comes to commemorating the bombings, the focus could be virtual, like Our Marathon, an online archive that’s housed at Northeastern University. That crowdsourced project, which includes WBUR and WCVB, has already gathered nearly 3,000 submissions. For its part, the city has also placed photos of the items left at Copley Square online. But Derderian thinks Boston needs something tangible.
"Point to the past and point to the future and say, 'We remember,'" he said. "It’s really a key here, that Boston is strong, and Boston remembers. And here would be a big, lasting, useful physical thing."
It’s too soon to say when or how the final decision on a marathon-bombing memorial will be made. While then-mayor Tom Menino announced the formation of a Remembrance Committee last year, the status of that body is unclear. So is the role that the One Fund might play in the selection process. That’s bad news for anyone who wants a memorial built quickly — but good news if you happen to have an idea of your own.
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