They started arriving late Friday night, planting lawn chairs, wrapping themselves in blankets, staking out spaces near the yellow and blue stripe across Boylston Street. By dawn, they were a throng, and people were still streaming toward the place where seemingly everyone wanted to be: the Boston Marathon finish line.
For them, the rolling rally was about more than a celebration of a World Series victory. They had come to cheer the Red Sox, sure, but they had also come to celebrate something larger — a community joining together to lay down a new, happy memory on the site of one of Boston’s worst.
“Look at how many people have come here,” said Deb Gustafson, a longtime Marathon volunteer who was near the finish line when the bombs went off on April 15. Saturday, she wore her blue and yellow Marathon jacket and gazed at the cheering multitudes. “This shows that we can celebrate here.”
Long before the duck boats had even emerged from Fenway Park, a boisterous crowd six deep on either side of the street had formed a canyon of red-and-blue jerseys. Arms strained skyward, reaching with cameras or cheering practically anything that moved — a ball that bounced through the crowd, a truck delivering restaurant supplies, runners with Marathon bibs, police on bikes. Sometimes one cheer was enough to provoke another.
It was like Marathon Day before the bombs, said Erin Megan, who finished the race in April and left before the explosions.
For a spot right at the finish line, David Caracciolo rousted his three children after midnight and drove from Providence to arrive at 3 a.m. “This is history in the making,” he said. “Everyone’s together; everyone’s here for each other.”
Across the street, Joseph Santiago and Quiana Wilson, Bridgewater State University students, arrived at 11:30 p.m. Friday.
“This is the most memorable spot to show our respect for people,” Santiago said. “We thought being on the finish line would be the best spot to show our respect for the Marathon victims, and for the Red Sox.”
The crowd was unusually polite. People with the best spots willingly made room for latecomers who wanted to take a picture of the finish line stripe. When, at one point, a woman launched into a foul-mouthed tirade, 10 people nearby hushed her. That kind of speech was not appropriate, not here, not on this day.
“It was remarkable how well-behaved this crowd was,” said a Transit Police officer at nearby Copley station.
Several watchful special operations police stood by, but there were no security gates, body pat-downs, or bag searches. Nor was there obvious fear.
“It kind of shocked me, after what happened here. I didn’t think so many people would come,” said Kimberly Valdez, who sells chocolates and hard candies at Sugar Heaven, next door to Marathon Sports, where the first bomb went off. “I’m glad we can come together as a community.”
From blocks away, deafening cheers heralded the parade’s arrival. The throb of music and confetti filled the air. The crowd went wild. Then the duck boats and the music stopped.
Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes dismounted with the World Series trophy, set it on the finish line, and covered it with a jersey emblazoned with “617 Boston Strong,” a design he and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia dreamed up the day after the bombings.
The crowd sang along with “God Bless America.” Shane O’Hara, manager of Marathon Sports, fought back tears as he accepted one of the jerseys.
People shouted “Boston Strong, Boston Strong,” and “USA, USA!” They screamed “Lackey Lackey Lackey” in appreciation of John Lackey, the winning pitcher of the Game 6 clincher.
Then the parade moved on, but the crowd lingered, finding new things to cheer. A group of runners in Marathon jackets trotting. A Marathon victim wheeled over the finish line in a wheelchair. A man kneeling and making the sign of the cross.
“This is about camaraderie,” said Philip Hillman of Lincoln, who took pictures at the finish line with his brother, Peter. “We’re mesmerized. Just to be a part of it, this is about love.”
O’Hara watched all this from Marathon Sports. His voice was shaking, his hands were trembling, and he struggled a bit to find the words.
“We’re still a beautiful country,” he said. “That’s what it meant to me, to have that many people out here.”