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Boston Takes Steps To Preserve Marathon Memorial Items

BOSTON — One month after the Boston Marathon bombings, the memorial near the site of the blasts continues to grow. People add more flowers, signs, shoes and teddy bears to the collection at Copley Square every day.

But at some point in the near future, the city will have to dismantle the memorial, and archivists are trying to determine what to do with all the items.

Rainey Tisdale is an independent curator who works with city museums around the country and is helping the City of Boston decide how to preserve the marathon memorial. She joined WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer to talk about the future of the mementos left there.

Rainey Tisdale: It’s clear Bostonians still need to have a place they can go to do the memory work around this event, and they need that memorial to be in place still right now. So I think the city’s really trying to juggle those two issues, and it’s a very thin line and a moving target to come up with the right timeline for what happens.

When to disassemble it, as you say, is something to be figured out. In the meantime, some items have begun to be taken away. Would you tell us what has been removed so far?

I think here we can make the distinction between two different types of items. There are the paper items — so think about the signs and the cards and the posters. And then there are also the 3-D objects. Think T-shirts, think hats and candles and running shoes and crosses.

In advance of the rain that we had in Boston last week, the Boston City Archives did go down to the memorial and collect up all of the paper items. They are particularly susceptible to rain. And, also, because the Boston City Archives really deals in paper all the time, they already know exactly what they need to do to properly preserve those.

So the priority has been to get the paper items preserved. But of course even things like teddy bears and running shoes, once they’ve been rained on, there’s that risk of mildew and pests. So what’s happening on that front?

Historic New England, which is one of the collecting institutions in town — they have a fumigation bubble. Imagine a big plastic bubble that’s about the size of a bedroom, let’s say. And you can put all of the objects in that fumigation bubble, seal it up tight, then they pump in carbon dioxide, which displaces the oxygen inside the bubble. And over time, basically, any pests that have taken up residence in those objects will slowly asphyxiate.

However all these items are eventually preserved, will they be locked away somewhere in City Hall? Or will they be somewhere where the public can go and see them years from now?

First of all, the City Archives is in West Roxbury. They have a facility in West Roxbury. They are planning to take as many items as possible there. Because it’s unclear what the final size of this collection is going to be, they may not be able to house everything at their facility in West Roxbury. They may need to put some of it off site. But that’s certainly their goal. They even now will tell you today, if you wanted to make an appointment to see the items they’ve collected so far, they would want to accommodate you. Eventually, as new items are taken, there will be a larger and larger collection there at the City Archives. But that’s limited to people coming and one by one viewing this material; it has be taken from the shelf and all of that.

One of the things I’m definitely concerned about and that I’m working with other colleagues in Boston to organize is some sort of exhibition, hopefully, to take place at the one-year anniversary of the bombings that would give the people of Boston and the running community a public place to go and see these objects all together and make meaning from them and have a way of processing their emotions and their memories from this event. I think that’s a very important part of this process. It’s not just about making sure that this stuff gets saved, it’s also about what happens with it next. And that’s more of a long-term issue but something we’re still planning for and working towards.

Is there any talk at this point of a permanent memorial, somewhere on Boylston or in Copley Square or near the public library?

I think it’s too early to really say what will happen with that. My understanding is that there have certainly been some conversations but that it’s a little too early still to make any decisions. We’re just one month out, and I think there are lots of complex issues to be weighed. I think certainly that’s on everybody’s minds and something that people want to think through and carefully come up with a plan. The best I can say is let’s all sit tight and see where that goes.

You’ve said in the past that you hoped that not only the memorial items will be saved, but other items related to that day. What else do you hope gets preserved?

We should think about Bill Iffrig’s orange singlet. Carlos Arredondo’s bloodied American flag that showed up in so many photographs from that day.

Bill Iffrig is the older man famously who fell near the finish line as the bombs went off.

Right, and then got back up and finished the race. And he was wearing that bright orange singlet, so he showed up in all of that video. I’m really concerned to collect something from Mayor Menino’s experience of this event. We all know that this has had a dramatic effect on his narrative as mayor of Boston. Think about those international flags that were waving at the bomb site that we all saw in the video. [Slain MIT Police Officer] Sean Collier’s uniform. There are just a lot of different objects that have great meaning for all of us who witnessed and care about this event, and we need to make sure that they find homes, as well.

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