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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Boston’s Marathon memorial: How much should we save?

As shrines to public tragedies proliferate, they force the difficult question of what’s important to preserve.

More than a month after bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the spontaneous public memorial is still growing in Copley Square: ribbons, baseball hats, American flags, Irish flags, flowers, homemade “Boston strong” banners, crosses, and piles and piles of running shoes, which have become the dominant icon of grief after an event that cut down runners on their own turf. “It’s like this big huge outdoor cathedral,” a Dorchester woman told the Globe a few weeks ago. “I’m just drawn here.”

In commemorating such an important event to the life of the city, the memorial feels like more than just a temporary outpouring of sorrow: It’s also a part of history. Within two weeks of the bombings, Mayor Thomas M. Menino gave the city archives the task of preserving and archiving the memorial materials, and archivists began to remove the most fragile paper items in early May. Sturdier items will remain until the mayor’s office decides otherwise.

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