Memorializing the Marathon in permanent ink

Photographer Chris Padgett documents Marathon tribute tattoos and the stories behind them.
Photographer Chris Padgett documents Marathon tribute tattoos and the stories behind them.
Photographer Chris Padgett.
Photographer Chris Padgett. Christopher Padgett/Handout photo by Christopher Padgett

Krista Perry was at mile 18 of the Boston Marathon when she heard the murmurs that something was wrong. By mile 20, she and her fellow runners were corralled onto a side street in Newton and told that the remainder of the marathon route was closed.

In the days following the attacks, her shock turned to anger and devastation. And then the 25-year-old did what hundreds of other people did to work through their grief and remember that day: She got a tattoo.

In the wake of the April 15 tragedy, tattoo parlors in the Boston area were swamped with customers asking to get inked with blue and yellow ribbons, the words “Boston Strong,” and city landmarks. Lines snaked out of doors as parlors throughout the region offered these tattoos at discount prices with proceeds going to the One Fund.


“I talked to my artists, and we said we’d do a weekend event for Marathon-related tattoos,” said Mulysa Mayhem, owner of Good Mojo Tattoos in Beverly. Her shop raised $4,000 to help victims. “The response was phenomenal. A weekend turned into a week, which turned into two weeks.”

One of the people who crowded into Good Mojo was Chris Padgett, a former radio DJ who works in technology and teaches photography. He was getting a tattoo of the Boston skyline on his forearm when he was struck by the idea that he should document these tributes with photos.

The idea grew into a project called Bled for Boston , a photography show set for April 2014 featuring Marathon-related tattoos. The show, to be held at the Boston Center for Adult Education, will mark one year since the bombings.

Last weekend, Padgett was at the center on Arlington Street taking photos of more people and their tattoos for the project. The center is donating all materials for the exhibition, and proceeds will go to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. He is looking for more people who have been tattooed to be photographed for the project, and he can be contacted through his website (www.bledforboston.com).


In addition to photos, Padgett is also gathering the stories behind the ink. They are as varied as the designs themselves.

Perry, of Dracut, who was stopped at the 20-mile mark, now has a tattoo of the word “Strong” in cursive script on her wrist. The top of the “t” and the bottom of the “g” come together to form the shape of the state of Massachusetts.

“It brings it back every time I go for a run,” said Perry, who works in marketing. “I’m a sentimental person. It was only a matter of time before I did this.”

Christiana Gallagher, 24, and her mother, Jennifer, 50, had never thought about getting tattoos before the Marathon. But they were watching the race at Forum restaurant when the second bomb went off in front of them.

“Since then we both felt lost and confused on what we had been through,” the younger Gallagher said. “Our tattoos are an excerpt from Obama’s speech in reference to Boston — ‘This special place. This state of grace.’ I have mine written in script on my forearm and she has it on her ribs.”

Sarah-Jean Greaves and her “Hearts Over Boston” tattoo.
Sarah-Jean Greaves and her “Hearts Over Boston” tattoo.Christopher Padgett/Handout photo by Christopher Padgett

Jon Saxton had the words “Boston Strong” tattooed on his bicep. It is not only a tribute to the city’s resiliency, but it’s also a way for the 30-year-old Charlestown resident to remember the events leading up to his April 20 wedding. The ceremony took place the day after residents were ordered to shelter in place while law enforcement combed the area for alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.


“We had no idea if we should cancel the wedding,” Saxton said. “Even the morning of the wedding we didn’t know if anything would be open.”

The wedding did take place and passersby applauded at the sight of life going on and starting slowly to return to normal.

Tattoos of city pride were plentiful at the Boston Tattoo Convention, which took place over Labor Day weekend. There was a contest for Marathon-related tattoos, and Boston artists at the convention said they experienced heavy demand immediately following the Marathon.

Many of those participating in Padgett’s photography project had no direct connection to the Marathon, but got tattooed in solidarity. Good Mojo’s Mayhem, who decided to get a Boston-related tattoo, said the response to the bombings was similar to the reaction after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

“I was working in New York City at the time,” she recalled. “It was almost immediate. We had people calling about tattoos. It was the same in Boston. There is so much hometown pride here, and people really wanted to show that.”

Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.