Every street leading to Boylston was blocked with one or more dump trucks parked diagonally across the pavement. Pedestrians were confronted with a police-operated security-and-screening gate on every street, plus two layers of steel barricades. And all the while, helicopters buzzed overhead and foot patrol cops wandered through the crowd. Yikes.
How serious was the security? In recent days, a helicopter flew the race route at low altitudes (warnings were issued to forestall public concern); the copter was mapping natural background radiation so they'd have a baseline in the event someone set off a dirty bomb or other nuclear device. Swell.
There was nothing warm and fuzzy about this year's race.
Most of the spectators were kept well back from Boylston, and the runners; to get through the security gate, (to reach the sidewalk where I was last year, for example), you had to have a security pass; say, as a registered runner's family member.
So, I didn't get to where I wanted to be.
But all's well; it's over, and safely so.
I wonder if the race will ever regain its traditional friendly feeling.
I'm a little apprehensive today. I plan to go back to the spot where I was at 2:49pm last year, when the Marathon bombs went off.
I wasn't physically harmed at all. I was just across the street --- close enough to feel the pressure wave and smell the black-powder smoke, but far enough not to be hit by any shrapnel.
Here's the photo I took a few seconds later. I'd been swept along the sidewalk, away from the bomb, by the panicky crowd; I regained my footing and ducked into a niche in a building's facade, out of the flow, and took this shot.
Again, I wasn't hurt, but the whole experience was deeply affecting.
Part of it is the "what ifs." I'd been working that day, and hadn't planned to watch the Marathon. But I needed to visit my bank, which is located near the Marathon finish line, so I headed out in the afternoon. I knew the Marathon was taking place, so I brought by camera, just for fun.
By sheer bad timing, I happened to be almost exactly opposite the second bomb when it went off.
My bank is on the same side of Boylston Street where the bombs were, but barricades had been set up to prevent pedestrians and watchers from interfering with the runners.
If the barricades hadn't been there, I would have been across the street and virtually next to the second bomb when it detonated, and my life would have taken a very different tack.
As it was, (and although I didn't know it at the time) an 8-year-old child died in the second blast, and several people lost limbs there. Many others were injured.
I didn't find out what had happened until I got home; listened to the news, and really looked at the photos I'd taken, like this; again, literally across the street from where I was:
I escaped injury only though pure, dumb luck. It's a weird feeling.
Another part of what bothers me is my own reaction. I didn't panic, and that was good. I got out of the stampede, and tried to figure out what was happening, and where a safe place would be, rather than letting the herd decide for me. That's all for the good.
I also took some good pictures to document what happened --- I didn't see anyone else with a camera as close as I was to the second blast. And the photos were useful: the FBI even asked me for high-resolution copies of the lower-res photos I posted on this blog. Of course, I provided them with the photos. I was glad I could help in the investigation. That, too, is good.
But I didn't jump over the barricades to assist the injured.
I can make excuses: There were multiple barricades. No one on my side of the street was jumping over. There was plenty of help being given by unhurt people who had been across the street when the blasts went off. The nearest fire station was just down the street; professional help arrived almost immediately; literally before the smoke cleared. And so on.
But I didn't move to help. I just took pictures. And, in retrospect, that bothers me.
The upshot is that I've had trouble with reminders of the bombings in the past year. For example, in the weeks and months after, sirens were upsetting: My apartment at the time was on Boylston Street, near the Longwood Medical Center, and literally hundreds of ambulances, police, fire, bomb squad, FBI (etc etc etc) vehicles passed beneath my windows for hours after the blasts; and over the next few days. It was awful to hear.
I've had trouble with fireworks and celebratory explosions. I couldn't watch last year's July 4th fireworks, for example; and hearing Revolutionary-war re-enactors firing muskets at this year's St Patrick's day parade kind of freaked me out.
Anyway, I'm hoping to exorcise the final ghosts today. I'll head in shortly, and make my way to the exact spot where I was last year.
It should be an entirely different experience, this time. :)
The word “fen,” of course, is an old-English term for a wetland, marsh, or swamp. Boston's Fens were once a tidal marsh, fed by the Muddy River, flowing down from Jamaica Pond (from the left, in the map above) into the Charles (top of the map, above).
When the Charles was dammed, the tidal flow stopped, and the Fens became a stinking mess, filled with the near-stagnant effluent of the area's outhouses. It was incredibly unsanitary. The poor drainage also made it prone to flooding in heavy rains.
Boston hired Frederick Law Olmstead, fresh off his triumph of designing Central Park in New York, to effect repairs. He and the architects and engineers he hired, reworked the Fens to make them an attractive, sanitary and altogether pleasant park, with good drainage; the centerpiece of a connected series of parklands and greenways comprising 1,100 acres (4.5 km2) that start in downtown Boston and sweep around the city in a long chain, now called the Emerald Necklace.
(It's a much better name than what Olmstead wanted: he called it the Emerald Girdle. Really!)
Olmstead's work did pretty well for about a century. But the City filled in parts of the flood-control areas, paved over sections of the river, and allowed invasive plants to take hold; slowing the water and interfering with drainage. By the 1990's, flooding was again a problem.
Now, the Fens are being reworked and rehabbed. The Army Corps of Engineers is currently "daylighting" parts of the Muddy River that were relegated to culverts, restoring its natural course. Funds permitting, the entire length of the Fens and Muddy River will be improved, and restored. http://www.muddyrivermmoc.org/
They hired a local actor Jerry Wright to impersonate Olmstead and provide color commentary to enhance the more formal presentations given by Conservancy docents and National Park Service Rangers.
The walk was pleasant --- it was a superb, early-Spring day --- but for me the best parts were the handouts, which provided a glimpse into the Fens' past --- a past I'd never envisioned.
For example, here's a current Google Street View of the headquarters of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy; a converted gatehouse that used to control the flow of water from the Stony Brook into the Fens. (Google Street View: 125 Fenway)
But here's what it looked like when Olmstead's work on the Fens was just beginning:
Here's the Fens being dredged:
This (below) is across the street from what's now the Museum of Fine Arts, looking towards the Boylston Street bridge.
Olmstead said the bridge was the centerpiece of the Fens.
Today, it's much harder to see.
From above, at street level, it's even harder: half the bridge is now swallowed by the Bowker Overpass. (If you've ever taken the Fenway exit off of Storrow Drive, you've driven over Olmstead's bridge, and probably never knew it!)
Some other views of the Fens and the upstream Riverway in various stages of construction:
When the daylighting and other improvements are done (one section shown below), it's gonna be pretty nice!