Copley Square a place to mourn, heal after bombings

Brianna Flynn (left) stopped to reflect at the ever-expanding Marthon memorial at Copley Square.
Brianna Flynn (left) stopped to reflect at the ever-expanding Marthon memorial at Copley Square.

Kevin Brown sees the same faces again and again: Pilgrims come to Copley Square to pray, to light candles, to sing in English and in languages he does not understand.

Brown, 59, has tended the Boston Marathon bombing memorial since Boylston Street reopened last week, and even as he meets hundreds of new visitors every day, he takes special comfort in shaking hands and sharing a few words with a returning cast of mourners who come regularly to pay their respects.

“It’s quite a sight,” said Brown, clad in an American flag shirt on a recent day.


He said he arrives at the site around 10 a.m. every morning from his home in Brockton to water the mountains of flowers and refresh the poster boards left out for people to write messages.

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“I never thought it would be as big as it is, and it’s still growing, after all this time.”

Matthew Kelvey and Jessica Rego came from Rhode Island to visit the makeshift shrine.

The memorial, which began as many makeshift shrines scattered across the city just after the April 15 bombings, has grown steadily since city workers relocated it to Copley early last week. While city officials say it is still too soon to talk about any plans for a permanent memorial, the temporary Copley location shows no signs of fading.

The air is fragrant with thousands of flowers. Running shoes, stuffed animals, candles, crosses, sports caps, and pinwheels spinning red, white, and blue were piled at the center of the memorial and stacked along its perimeter. Handmade signs — “Istanbul stands with Boston,” “Nashville Believes in Boston” — ­offered prayers and solidarity. The trees within the plaza were draped with rosaries and paper cranes.

“It’s like this big huge outdoor cathedral,” said Sally Graham, of Dorchester, who fought back tears as she spoke. “I’m just drawn here. ... In some ways it says to me good does outweigh evil.”


Graham said she had come to a smaller memorial at ­Boylston and Berkeley Street the Sunday after the explosions; she is hoping the city erects something permanent, but she was not sure what it should be.

Since the bombing, she said, Bostonians seem gentler to one another.

“I mean, the drivers are back to driving the way they usually do,” she said, smiling. “But it feels kinder.”

As people wound their way through the memorial, Jimmy Costigan, 59, played “Amazing Grace” on his harmonica from the sidewalk.

Costigan, whose lap was covered with booklets of Bible verses, said he was just behind the Boston Public Library when the bombs went off, and as he watched people flee, he saw a man running with an American flag covered in blood.


Like Brown, Costigan said he has been to the memorial every day since it opened to the public.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Scott MacGregor (above) of Boston stopped to pray at the memorial set up in Copley Square.

Amazing Grace “is one of my favorite songs. I tried so long to learn how to play it," he said. “Up there, at the bomb site, it just came to me. Weird, huh?”

Many, however, are still coming to visit the memorial for the first time.

Al Chase, a Marathon volunteer of 15 years, arrived Thursday evening wearing his bright yellow Marathon volunteer jacket; he tried to visit the day the memorial opened, he said, but was overwhelmed by the crowds.

He spent 15 minutes Thursday reading the messages people have left.

“The whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts,” he said.

Around the two bombing sites blocks away from the Copley memorial, life has largely returned to normal, and restaurant patios were packed this week with people enjoying the sunshine. On Monday night, the Marathon finish line was quietly repainted, as it is every year after the Marathon, according to a spokesman for the Boston Athletic Association.

It is partly the solace of the Copley memorial that has helped the city heal, Brown said.

“They say this is needed for Boston,” he said. “Who knows how long it’ll be here? I guess until people stop coming. But they’re not.”

Correspondent Gal Tziperman Lotan contributed to this report. Evan Allen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.