When Boston Marathon finishers run their final yards down Boylston Street on Monday, they will not only be crossing the world’s oldest road race finish line but also hallowed ground.
Two years after the bombs exploded, the famous final stretch of the marathon has become a place of mourning and renewal. It’s both shrine to victims and memorial to heroes.
Finishing the Boston Marathon has become an emotional experience of multiple dimensions.
On April 15, 2013, buildings shook, smoke billowed and suddenly the pavement was strewn with bodies, severed legs and blood. Two blasts killed three spectators and wounded 264. Seventeen people lost limbs.
“I saw most of the blood coming out of my left leg,” Jeffrey Bauman testified at the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Bauman lost both legs. “I still had my knee but nothing beyond it. There was a stream of blood coming out.”
Tsarnaev was convicted April 8 of all 30 counts against him in the terrorism trial. On Tuesday, the day after 30,000 entrants will participate in the 119th running of the Boston Marathon, the sentencing phase of his trial begins. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
On Wednesday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh commemorated the second anniversary of the bombing, unveiling banners on Boylston Street. In a city full of historical plaques and markers, the banners represent another chapter in American history. Visitors snap photos of Boston’s finish area just as they do at New York’s 9/11 memorial site.
At 2:49 p.m., the time when the first bomb went off, church bells throughout Boston tolled and people paused for a moment of silence.
“April 15 is a date that has come to stand for our city’s deepest values,” Walsh said, declaring it will be known henceforth as One Boston Day, a day to remember victims, survivors and those who rushed in to help, a day to celebrate the city’s resilience.
Standing with Walsh was the Richard family. Martin Richard, 8, died in the bombing as he and his parents and siblings cheered the runners. His sister Jane, then 7, lost her left leg. Mother Denise is blind in her right eye. Father Bill was injured by shrapnel and lost most of his hearing. Henry, then 9, witnessed the death and carnage.
The family is resigned to the fact that Martin has become the face of the tragedy and they must relive it in the public eye each year.
Bill Richard testified at trial, as did the medical examiner who gave a graphic description of what the explosion did to 69-pound Martin. The jury was shown autopsy photos of the boy’s burned and broken body. The jury also saw a photo of the Richard family on the sidelines of Boylston, with Tsarnaev lurking behind them in a baseball cap.
Polls show Bostonians favor life in prison for Tsarnaev, 21, who was a failing college student and son of immigrants from the Chechnya region of Russia. Defense lawyers said he was manipulated by older brother and fellow bomber Tamerlan, 26, who sought revenge against the United States for Muslim deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq. He died after a shootout with police. Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984 and has not executed anyone since 1947, but Tsarnaev was convicted in federal court.
In an open letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Richard family said it favors life rather than the drawn-out appeals a death sentence would bring.
“As long as the defendant is in the spotlight we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours,” they wrote. “The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family.”
South Florida runners and husband and wife Peter and Sandy Quinter were inspired to run their first marathon by what happened to their home city in 2013. Peter, who grew up in Wellesley, watched from the finish area last year and was so moved that he persuaded Sandy to do the race this year. They earned entries by raising money for Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the hospital where they were born and where some bombing victims were treated.
“I expect that we’ll see victims at the race and we want to give them a hug,” said Peter, an attorney who lives in Boca Raton. “The bombings and the chase of the bombers brought the whole city together. I think what came out of it was the sense that Boston doesn’t give up, just like runners don’t give up.”
Quinter used to run from the Hopkinton start to Wellesley as a teenager. Now he’s ready to do the whole thing. He met Sandy, who grew up in Marblehead, after watching the race in 1989; she was working at a business near the finish area and rooming with his cousin.
“The Boston Marathon has personal meaning to us,” she said. “And it has a larger meaning for everyone.”
Boston is more than a race, now and forever. Thousands of runners — some of them bombing survivors with prosthetic legs — will cross the finish line on Patriots’ Day. So too will perseverance and grace.