THEY COME IN PAIRS AND THEY COME IN SMALL GROUPS. Many come alone. They come in blue windbreakers and they come in work clothes. Some come in yesterday’s running shorts.
All day long, they file past a formation of reporters and TV cameras camped outside the granite fortress, past the police officers defending the door, and into the cavernous high-ceilinged hall that Guardsmen once used for drills and that the Boston Park Plaza Hotel across the street now uses as overflow function space.
The former armory, better known as “the Castle,” sits at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Arlington Street. That puts it just a few blocks from the stretch of Boylston Street where madness had struck.
The building’s assigned function on April 16, this sad day after the Marathon bombings, is of the unemotional type, as a depot. When thousands of runners had been hurried off the course after the twin blasts, they were prevented from receiving their medals and collecting the bright yellow bags, marked with their bib numbers, that stored their phones, wallets, and change of clothes. Now they are showing up to reclaim what is theirs. This should be a straightforward transaction conducted inside a cold gray building made more imposing by the menacing dragon carved into its granite tower. There is no indication that the place will turn into a house of healing.
This same armory had played an important role a century earlier, when terror in Boston had also commanded the attention of a horrified nation. During the police strike of 1919, Boston descended into darkness, with widespread looting, mob violence, and a heavy-handed military response that led to nine deaths in two days. Governor Calvin Coolidge had called in the State Guard, using the armory as headquarters for machine gun-armed motor units.
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