Thursday was not business as usual in the Back Bay. A pall hung over the neighborhood that lost two firefighters in a blaze that gutted a four-story apartment building and choked the streets in thick black smoke, the smell of which lingered in homes a day later.
Yes, people walked their dogs, headed to work, and went for morning runs. But they also stopped in front of the 127-year-old firehouse on Boylston Street to pay homage to Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy.
This, 11 months after alleged terrorists detonated twin bombs mere blocks from the firehouse door. This, two years after an electrical transformer exploded, plunging the neighborhood into darkness, for days in some homes. And while residents say they are not shaking their fists at the sky — this is Boston, after all — they did say, enough already.
“I think it’s time for our neighborhood to get a break,” 25-year-old Laura Marquart said Thursday afternoon while walking Sanders, a 6-month-old lab mix.
A resident of Beacon Street, Marquart said that in spite “of those horrible events,” the community has rallied.
“People I see every day that before I didn’t really talk to, I find myself asking are they OK,” she said.
That empathy permeated the streets of one of the city’s most fashionable and historic neighborhoods, which sits along the Charles River, adjacent to the Public Garden.
Centuries-old Victorian brownstones stand sentinel along tree-lined streets as national historic landmarks dot Copley Square, and high-end shops populate its commercial corridors. The neighborhood is, in a sense, a bridge between the past and the present, and for Kaleigh Cordeira, a freshman at Fisher College, which sits on Beacon Street, the neighborhood’s recent history was omnipresent as she stood at the corner of Exeter Street as 298 Beacon St. burned.
“It’s just horrible that so close to the Marathon something else happened; that’s what I thought yesterday standing there,” Cordeira said Thursday. “It’s like the city can’t get a break from tragedy.”
But the 18-year-old also got a chance to see the city come together. Neighbors were a little kinder to one another. They opened their doors to one another. Fisher College fed first responders in its cafeteria on Wednesday and again Thursday from morning till night. McGreevy’s on Boylston Street hung a huge hand-written sign, urging passersby to “Remember Our Heroes.”
But the epicenter of that compassion was the home of Engine 33 and Ladder 15, where firefighters draped black bunting beneath an American flag lowered to half-mast. People brought flowers. They genuflected. They crossed themselves. Students from Berklee College of Music inspired with a rendition of the Beatles’ “Let it Be.”
“These are our neighbors,’’ said Gary Harding, an accountant whose office is around the corner from the firehouse. “We don’t take them for granted. We see these boys drive by all the time, and it’s just unfortunate that this has to happen.’’
Michael Rose, 23, stopped to say a prayer at the station during his morning run. He ran last year’s Marathon, and said his mother on Thursday morning sent a picture of him crossing the finish line with Engine 33 in the background.
“I was just offering a prayer to the fallen,” said Rose, whose uncle is a firefighter. “Definitely heroes.”
Looking at the firehouse, Lauren Canepa, 24, said news of the tragic fire “was just so surreal for me.”
Canepa lives in South Boston but works in the Back Bay. She had just finished running her first Marathon last year when the bombs went off.
“These firefighters were there when everything happened, so it’s like two in a year,” she said after adding a bouquet to the expanding memorial.
She said she will draw on the firefighters’ resilience and the city’s outpouring of support to carry her to the finish line during her second Marathon this year.
Visiting the neighborhood firehouse has always been a family affair for Jamie Gemelli and her two children, who love climbing on the trucks and meeting the firefighters.
“My daughter has been obsessed,” Gemelli said of the girl, who turned 5 recently and had a firefighter-themed birthday. “We’ve come to this fire station many, many times.”
And so it seemed fitting that laying flowers at the foot of the memorial be a family affair, too.
“It hit home that these guys leave home every morning to protect our neighborhoods,” she said. But, she said, the waves of tragedy and grief are “getting old. It’s one thing after another.”
Andrew Ferrante had a similar thought Thursday as he walked home through Public Alley 417.
“I’m not shaking my fist at the sky in anger,” the therapist and combat veteran said. “But it’s frustrating.”
A Back Bay resident for almost four years, Ferrante altered his route home from work because of a tragedy on Boylston Street — again.