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After A Tragedy Like The Marathon Bombing, What Do We Do With All The Stuff Left Behind?

Items from a pop-up memorial following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing are arranged on tables in the Boston City Archives reading room five years later. Photo by Elizabeth Gillis for WBUR

Items from a pop-up memorial following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing are arranged on tables in the Boston City Archives reading room five years later. Photo by Elizabeth Gillis for WBUR

As Boston’s Copley Square gets ready for Marathon Monday, there are only a few reminders of the massive outpouring of grief that once stood there. On the sidewalk, someone’s written “Boston Strong” on poster board, along with a pair of sneakers and a few American flags.

It’s a fraction of what was there five years ago. For two months after the bombing in 2013, piles of shoes, race bibs, T-shirts, banners and stuffed animals lined metal barriers. It was an outward expression of the city’s grief.

Today, many of those items sit seven miles away, in a climate-controlled warehouse in West Roxbury, at the Boston City Archives. The shelves are filled with the writings of Paul Revere and Josiah Quincy, alongside old maps and city council agendas on floppy disks.

Every shoe and race bib from the memorial in 2013 was painstakingly collected, cataloged and preserved by Boston archivists. In the city warehouse, there are a few hundred items, from posters to flags, plus 2,000 cards and letters that were mailed to then-Mayor Tom Menino at City Hall. Storage company Iron Mountain donated space to Boston and holds an additional 286 boxes, including 135 boxes of sneakers and 75 boxes of stuffed animals.

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