Insta-Memory: Dismantling the Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial

July 10, 2013 § 12 Comments

Over at NCPH’s History@Work, I have a piece up today on the dismantling of the Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial a couple of weeks ago by the City of Boston. In it, I explore the meaning of the memorial and what happens to commemorations and memories once a temporary memorial, like this one, is taken down.  Today, incidentally, is the day that the surviving bomber/terrorist makes his first court appearance.


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§ 12 Responses to Insta-Memory: Dismantling the Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial

  • ejensen says:

    Very nice piece. An event this big, I think, would require longer than 3 months of grieving. At least they’re archiving the memorial; it’s not all just lost.

    • John Matthew Barlow says:

      Indeed, it is being archived, but there are, as of yet, no plans to create a display. Personally, I think the Public Library, which has a lot of exhibition space, would be the ideal place to create a semi-permanent exhibition.

  • Brian Bixby says:

    Well, the monument was there because it WAS the place (or near the place) and at a time when people wanted to grieve or think about it. Maybe some memorials really function best when they are temporary. Consider that the objects left behind by people at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in D.C. are also taken up and stored.

    What’s the best way to commemorate a disaster? Kenneth E. Foote wrote a book on the subject back in 1997, “Shadowed Ground,” which argued that Americans have used four different approaches. And note in Boston’s case that ne of the worst man-made disasters in its history, the Cocoanut Grove fire in 1942, had more victims and many more fatalities, but has only a plaque to commemorate it.

    • John Matthew Barlow says:

      Exactly, it was a powerful reminder because it was on the site, or very close to, where it all went down, and those who were there and those of us who were not could commune with the panic and grieving for the bombings. I was thinking about what goes on at the Vietnam Memorial, actually, as I was writing this piece, oddly enough.

      Another blogger brings up similar points in her own piece in response to mine ( (and note how I refer to you in my comment!!!).

      As for the plaque: therein lies the rub. A plaque. How very nice. It’s not very noticeable and people don’t read them. I used to have this sign (I might still, though I haven’t seen it since we left Montréal) that read “On This Site in 1897, Nothing Happened.” Oddly, I’ve seen plaques of that ilk in my travels and they almost always elicit conversation. Real plaques? Not so much.

      • Brian Bixby says:

        Thanks for the reference; I went over to Owls All the Way and read the post and comment.

        Good point about plaques. Another variation captures part of the problem: On this site on some such obscure date, an important person in the eyes of some people did something that deserved to have a plaque put up commemorating it.

        That offers yet another angle on the marathon bombing memorial: not only was it noticeable, as you say, but it was atypical.

  • The way I see it, a memorial has to be at the spot where the event took place. I’m sure all the shoes, etc. left by people can be archived and exhibited elsewhere, but may lose their poignancy, and not serve the purpose of a memorial at all.

    Would a metal sculpture of a runner/runners/running shoes/something more abstract at Copley Square be a good memorial? Or should there be no memorial at all? A terrible thing happened there – why should people be reminded of it every time they pass that way? Even if people had died at Bodh Gaya during the string of terrorist attacks early this week, we wouldn’t want a memorial, we would want the place swept clean of traces of the barbarians’ intrusion, and returned to its original sanctity.

    • John Matthew Barlow says:

      Ah well. this is America, where we commemorate before we’ve even processed what’s happened, sometimes we’re so busy commemorating, recording for posterity, or what have you that we don’t actually get to experience the event. But, in all honesty, I would imagine there will be a formal memorial, if not at the exact location of the bombs, at the finish line of the Marathon or on Copley Square. The real problem, though, is that this happened on one of the biggest days in the Boston sports calendar, and this is a city that takes its sports very seriously. The Boston Marathon has a long history, this year’s running was the 117th, so the very fact that the marathon will carry on is honouring the memory of those killed and honouring those who were hurt.

      • Yes, I do understand why there will be a memorial – thanks for patiently explaining this. I didn’t know the marathon was such an ancient tradition, and I agree that by continuing it we honour the memory of those who were killed or hurt.

  • John Matthew Barlow says:

    @Brian: Can’t reply in the thread. I read another blog today that suggested that all the stuff accumulated on Boylston St. and Copley Square should be displayed in a commemorative exhibition on the first anniversary of the bombing. I’m not sure that’s practical or advisable, given that the anniversary is also the day of the Boston Marathon, a long-standing tradition, and the Red Sox are also playing that morning, as they do every year.

    • Now I understand where we’re missing each other, Matthew–let me clarify. I didn’t mean the exhibition we’re planning would take place for one day only, on the anniversary. Indeed, that would not be practical or advisable. We’re aiming for a one-month exhibition that would open a week or two before the anniversary and extend a week or two after. The goal is to have this exhibition available during the window of time when people are thinking about the anniversary, not to focus on marking the exact day. Now that I’ve clarified, do the rest of our plans make more sense to you? (For everyone else, more background on my discussion with Matthew in the comments on his History@Work post and on my own CityStories post

      • John Matthew Barlow says:

        That’s funny, this discussion has covered ground on three blogs. Anyway. I think a larger exhibit is something worth discussing. I think I’ve mentioned this, whether on History@Work or elsewhere, that I think the Boston Public Library would be the ideal location for an exhibit of the artefacts from the memorial, combined with some deeper contextualisation. I don’t like the decision to clear out the memorial on Copley Square, and I note that the City of Boston did that just before the crush of summer tourists would hit the city. I think it should have been left up until at least the fall. I’d be very curious to see how this all plays out.

  • […] the world through the screens of our iPhones.  What resulted, from the piece on history@work, as a notification here on this site, as well as Rainy Tisdale’s blog, was a rather robust discussion, […]

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