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Boston’s Back Bay is left changed after bombings

A bicyclist looked down Boylston Street in the Back Bay Tuesday, toward the finish line of the Boston Marathon and the site of the bombings a day earlier.

MATTHEW CAVANAUGH/EPA

A bicyclist looked down Boylston Street in the Back Bay Tuesday, toward the finish line of the Boston Marathon and the site of the bombings a day earlier.

“Run the Good Race,” proclaimed a sign at the Church of the Covenant on Tuesday, only blocks from the deadly explosions of the day before. Inside, subdued marathoners drifted in and out, seeking a few moments of solace in quiet pews half-lit by rows of Tiffany windows.

Outside the calm of this 19th-century church at Newbury and Berkeley streets, the Back Bay was a neighborhood transformed.

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Grim-faced soldiers patrolled past the Swan Boats in the Public Garden. Stiff-legged marathoners posed for pictures near a fleet of National Guard Humvees. Bomb-sniffing dogs scoured parked cars for evidence of explosives.

But despite the trappings of a war zone, residents and workers in this affluent neighborhood answered the bombings with a deep sorrow coupled with stubborn defiance to live as before.

“It’s been really heartbreaking to see, but I wonder if this will be one of those events that will bring people together,” said Julie Rogers, administrative assistant at the Church of the Covenant.

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The explosions at the Boston Marathon marked the second time in a year that the Back Bay had been rocked by a massive disruption. In March 2012, an NStar transformer explosion sent black clouds sweeping through the neighborhood and cut power to 21,000 businesses and homes, including the Prudential Tower.

Kathryn Talanian, who lives on Hereford Street, said she flashed back to that event when she heard the initial explosion Monday.

‘I have never been so proud of Boston. People were literally risking their lives for each other.’

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“At first, it sounded like when the transformer blew, a very similar noise,” said Talanian, 40, as she walked Tuesday near Newbury Street with Lisa Barth, 42, and Barth’s 2-year-old daughter, Madison. “When I heard the second explosion, I thought ‘bomb,’ but that’s not where your mind wants to be.”

Talanian said she headed to Hereford Street, the last piece of the marathon course before it turns to the finish, to warn runners to stop.

That kind of connection to the bombings has become both binding and unnerving to the neighborhood. Even a chore as routine as buying milk at the corner store has reminded residents just how personal the experience has been.

On Monday night, Barth said, she looked up to suddenly, startlingly, see a soldier with an assault rifle standing near the store.

For some residents, the investigation has disrupted their lives with little notice and little information about when life will return to normal.

Stephanie Vo, who lives on Exeter Street, expressed frustration that she had not been allowed into her unit since being evacuated about 4 p.m. Monday.

“We aren’t even allowed in to get essentials,” Vo wrote in an e-mail to the Globe. “There is no estimated time when we can return, and we have all been forced to find alternate housing without any notice — no opportunity to pack, etc. I have a cat that hasn’t been fed.

“Residents have medications they need, not to mention a change of clothes. . . . While businesses may be trying to get back to normal, many residents have been forced out of their homes with essentially no notice.”

Mostly, however, the reaction in the Back Bay was one of perseverance.

“This will make us want to come back stronger next year,” said Michael Groffenberger, vice president of Shreve, Crump, & Low on Newbury Street. Above the door of the jeweler, staff members unfurled a large US flag and attached it to a second-floor balcony.

“It’s insane. It’s such a happy event for so many people,” Groffenberger said with a sigh, adding that he decided to open Tuesday as a sign of continuity and reassurance. “We’ve been a part of Boston for 200 years, and we couldn’t let this stop us from doing what we do every day.”

Jen Stafford, an Emerson College senior, also went right back to work Tuesday, revising a broadcast feature on the 2013 Boston Marathon that she had thought would end happily.

Stafford, who lives on Boylston Street and ran from near the bombings on Monday, said she foresees a changed Back Bay, “but not necessarily in a negative sense. I have never been so proud of Boston. People were literally risking their lives for each other.”

Shelly Centis, 45, a marathoner from San Carlos, Calif., saw that heroism firsthand as police raced past her toward the smoke and fire of one of the explosions. Her husband, 13-year-old son, and a friend’s husband had left that bombing site minutes earlier, Centis said.

A day later, the group stood in the budding sweetness of the Public Garden, a beautiful post-marathon moment that had been robbed of much of its joy.

Still, like many, Centis and her group were determined to savor what they could.

“We’re doing the Freedom Trail — in defiance. We’re going to do what we’re supposed to do,” Centis said.

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.
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