The bell in Boston’s Old South Church, where Ben Franklin and Paul Revere were once parishioners, will ring out a darker bit of history today from its vantage point above the Boston Marathon finish line.
It was a year ago that two pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the marathon’s end point, killing three people and injuring 264. Families of the victims will observe a moment of silence at the Boylston Street site at 2:49 p.m., the time of the first blast. A minute later, Old South’s 2,020-pound tower bell will peal, signaling grief as well as rebirth for Bostonians, said Nancy Taylor, the church’s senior minister.
“We’re going to reclaim the finish line and take our race back,” she said.
Leading up to the observance, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and newly elected Boston Mayor Martin Walsh will hold an invitation-only tribute with Vice President Joe Biden scheduled to attend. The 3,000 who gather at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center will hear from families of the victims as well as first responders.
In the painful and productive year after the first large-scale terror attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, Boston has rallied to the cry “Boston Strong.” That we-will-overcome spirit has dominated planning for this year’s running of the 118th Marathon next Monday, April 21.
An expanded field of 36,000 runners will step off in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, an increase of 9,000 spots. Spectators will see more police and tighter restrictions around the finish, Patrick and race officials said.
More than 100 cameras have been installed along the Boston portion of the 26.2-mile race, with 50 observation points set up near the finish line to monitor the crowd, according to a safety plan released by Walsh’s office. Vehicle traffic will be prohibited and parking restricted on many city streets in the days leading to the Marathon and on race day.
The bombs, packed with black powder, nails, bolts and BBs, killed Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester; Boston University graduate student Lingzi Lu, 23; and Krystle Campbell, 29, a waitress from Medford. More than a dozen of those injured in the attacks lost limbs.
The explosions caused bloody chaos and set off a frightening week. The city was put on lockdown amid the hunt for two brothers thought to be responsible for the blasts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held at a federal medical prison in central Massachusetts, awaiting a November trial. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if he’s convicted. His older brother, Tamerlan, died in a shootout after the pair allegedly killed Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus officer Sean Collier, 26, in Cambridge and were chased down by police in nearby Watertown.
After the weeklong ordeal, the Boston Red Sox played the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park, where to thunderous applause slugger David Ortiz declared, “This is our f–ing city!” The profanity-fueled rallying cry became one of the catalysts for a yearlong “Boston Strong” campaign of fundraising and other volunteer work that united the city.
“Boston Strong,” emblazoned on caps, signs, shirts and publicized worldwide, also drew a record number of visitors who wanted to help by simply coming to Boston to show their support, according to Pat Moscaritolo, director of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The 78 percent hotel occupancy rate Moscaritolo had set as the 2013 goal seemed unattainable right after the attack, he said. Then business began picking up in June. “As quickly as it stopped, it started again,” he said.
The city’s hotels finished the year with a record 80 percent occupancy rate and record average room price of $223.
“I think people were coming from other places because they wanted to do their part,” he said.
Boston thrives economically a year later, said David Tuerck, director of Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute, which does economic research. Robust biotech, computer software and venture capital activity have all contributed to a vibrant local economy, he said.
“That part of town is back in business,” Tuerck said, referring to the four blocks shut down for 10 days after the bombings.
One hundred and sixty companies near the explosions submitted claims of about $2.5 million for property damage or business losses. Of that amount, $1.9 million has been paid, according to the latest state data.
Today Boylston Street at the site of the explosions shows no signs of the violence. The boarded-up windows and damaged sidewalks have been repaired.
The Old South Church was itself built on adversity. Sometimes known as the “New” Old South Church, it was constructed by parishioners of the Old South Meeting House after the Great Boston Fire of 1872 devastated their neighborhood in what is now Downtown Crossing.
Old South has served marathon runners for decades. It offers an annual blessing of the athletes and tolls the Great Bell for incoming runners. Last week, it rehung the tattered blue and gold 2013 banners that billowed above the finish line last year.
Marathon Sports, a store near one of the blasts that became a medical triage center, has enjoyed a spike in visitors all year, according to Shane O’Hara, store manager.
Not all of them came to shop: some showed up bearing mementos like flowers and ceramic hearts. Workers repaving the street brought in a chunk of the old finish line.
“It was amazing how much support we had,” O’Hara said.