“There is a lot of divorcing yourself from the emotional aspect. You just tell yourself, ‘You have to get through this,’” said Anne Starr, one of the people who spent recent months sifting through thousands of objects left at the original Boston Marathon bombing memorial.
“That being said, there is something in every box that brings tears to your eyes.”
Starr worked as Project Manager on “Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial,” an exhibition of memorabilia on display at the Boston Public Library.
In the days and weeks following the fatal terror attack, thousands of people left a piece of their condolences in Copley Square. Teddy bears, tattered running shoes, flowers and letters revealed the sheer sadness that visitors collectively felt as they passed near the now notorious finish line.
The development team started moving full steam ahead on the exhibit in January, which meant the team had to be decisive on which of the thousands of items would be selected.
“So in a matter of two-and-a-half months, we went from very beginning stages of the exhibit to opening it to the public. Museums usually take a year or two to do that, so we didn’t have a whole lot of time to pour over the objects,” said Starr.
The objects that most spoke to her were related to people who were there on that fateful day, like running shoes, some bearing poignant notes written in marker.
Marathon spectators Martin Richard, 8, Lu Lingzi, 23 and Krystle Campbell, 29, were killed and more than 260 others were injured when two bombs exploded at the Boylston Street finish line on April 15, 2013. Days later, MIT Officer Sean Collier, 26, was shot and killed, allegedly by the bombing suspects as they attempted to flee the Boston-area.
“There was a note from Martin Richard’s teacher that stopped all of us in our tracks. It’s really kind of unpredictable which things will grab hold of you,” said Starr.
The centerpiece of the exhibit; 150 pairs of colorful running shares arranged in a large square shape. Things made by children, photographs of the victims, marathon bibs, and hand-made signs were also among the items selected for Dear Boston, though Star said the display represents only a small percent of the objects left at the memorial.
Visitors walk through three sections of the exhibit. The first area includes objects that represent the first minutes, hours and days after the attack. The second features objects related to a little later, like vigils, fundraisers, and group runs.
The final stage of the exhibit bears a message of hope, and even includes a “hope for the future” tree that allows visitors to write down their hope and string it on a branch.
“People are still trying to make meaning out of what happened. Those objects offer much more reflection on what this means, and how we can move forward as a community,” said Starr. “Our goal is to help facilitate some healing.”
“We were looking at things that would show the world wide support for Boston, the runners, those injured and the friends and families of those who were killed.”
The exhibit is free and open to the public, and will remain in place until mid-May, at which point the items will be returned to the Boston City Archives for safekeeping.