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Wellesley College is 13.1 miles west of the Boston Marathon finish line. Although geographically removed from last April's blasts, reverberations from the bombings can still be felt on Wellesley's campus, which has supported the race since it began in 1897.
The school is famous for what's known as the "scream tunnel." Students line Route 135 along the marathon course, hang off barricades and scream encouragement. Many wave signs that offer kisses to the runners. Runners say they can hear it at least a mile away.
In recent years, Wellesley has offered more than the screams and kisses.
"People have been making signs since women started running the marathon, but the Munger sign making itself really started in the mid 2000s," explained senior Molly Tyler.
Ahead of the marathon, people can request a "Munger sign" to support runners. It's named after a Wellesley dorm that's on the race route. As Munger house president, Tyler is responsible for coordinating the sign making. They made about 300, but this year the volume of requests has skyrocketed.
"We thought we were only going to get 500 for this year. We made the last day that you could request signs Sunday, [April 13,] and by then we had about 800 signs," Tyler said. "Hopefully we can do all the 804 that we got."
"I think that everyone has implicitly and consciously decided to do everything that we can to make this marathon a memorable and happier one.”Wellesley senior Ashley Porras
The signs, made of butcher paper, will be posted on the barricades along both sides of the course. They're big, the size of a window, and often colorful. Tyler and other Wellesley students have been gathering in the dorm's basement every night since April 9 to make a dent in the requests. Tyler says many come with personal notes, such as the one from a runner who didn't finish last year and wants their sign for Monday to be the brightest ever.
"This year is different. The kinds of outpouring of love and support for what we’re doing, both for making these signs and for their friends and family who are running, is just incredible," Tyler said. "A lot of people, even if they can’t be there for friends and family, really want a way to show that they support them."
"I think that everyone is looking towards this marathon with a lot of care and also a lot of expectations and hopes that it will be the happy event that we’ve always had," said senior Ashley Porras, adding that the tragic events of last April have changed the feel this year.
"I think that everyone has implicitly and consciously decided throughout the Boston community, and the Massachusetts community, and specifically the Wellesley community, to do everything that we can to make this marathon a memorable and happier one than the one previous," Porras said.
This will the first Boston Marathon experience for Annie Shen, who just started at Wellesley in September. The freshman will be holding a sign in the "scream tunnel."
"It’s really heartwarming to see everyone so hyped up about it, especially because what happened last year," Shen said. "I guess what I’m looking forward to is just standing out in the scream tunnel and screaming.
"I’m actually not sure how I feel about getting kissed by very, very sweaty strangers, but I heard it’s an experience so I might try it," she added.
Early in the race, when the marathoners are tightly packed and hundreds of students crowd the barricades, most of the runners won't be able to see their customized messages. But that's OK, because they can check them out anytime, any year on a special Facebook page just for the Munger scream tunnel signs.