BOSTON – After the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon last April, mourners began leaving thousands of items at a makeshift memorial near the finish line to honor the victims of the attacks.
Some left teddy bears, signs and marathon bibs while others draped running sneakers to commemorate the three people killed and more than 260 injured during the April 15 attacks. A cross was set up for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer fatally shot three days later amid a search for the bombing suspects.
To mark the anniversary of the bombings, the material will be curated into an exhibit called "Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial." It will be hosted by the Boston Public Library from April 7 to May 11.
Among the numerous heartfelt messages left at Copley Square was one from a Sandy Hook mother that reads, "We understand. Sending love and support." Other notes urged resilience: "Don't let this stop you. Stay Boston Strong" and "We will run again."
One colorful sign had more than 10 towns in Massachusetts forming the shape of a heart, saying "Stands with Boston!!!" underneath. And multiple messages of "I love my city" and "Boston Strong" memorabilia were scattered throughout the square.
Messages were sent from across the world, including Israel, South Korea, Turkey and Venezuela.
But the long-term home for these artifacts is still in flux. Until then, any paper tributes will be held in the Boston archives and the other artifacts will be kept in storage.
An online catalog called "Our Marathon" is hosted by Northeastern University and features 18,000 cards addressed to the mayor's office. Photos of other objects that can't be scanned will also be included. The city has also lent out a few of the items for exhibits at the Cambridge Public Library, Northeastern University and the mayor's office.
John McColgan of the City of Boston Archives said collecting and preserving the material was a collaborative effort. Various companies helped by fumigating, gathering and storing the material at no charge, he said.
One volunteer, Kevin Brown, trekked almost two hours from his home in Brockton to the memorial site for a month to help maintain the grounds and protect the memorabilia by sweeping and putting up tarps when it rained.
"Boston needed a place to heal and someone had to do it," said the 59-year-old Brown, who stayed at the memorial from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. "It just became a piece of me, and I loved to do it."
Brown, a self-employed carpenter, constructed the cross for the fallen MIT police officer.
"I did all this for the people of Boston," he said. "I just love this city."
Rainey Tisdale, an independent curator from Boston, has been in charge of assembling this year's exhibit and selecting which items to choose. She said the experience has been emotional.
"Seeing these objects is a pretty intense experience," Tisdale said. "People poured their hearts out into them."
Her work isn't done yet, but she expects the finished exhibit to feature hundreds of items, including 150 pairs of running shoes.
The centerpiece of the memorial will be four white crosses commemorating those killed: 8-year-old Martin Richard; 23-year-old Lu Lingzi, a Boston University graduate student from China; 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, of Arlington; and 26-year-old MIT officer Sean Collier.
"Working with this collection has taught me that while there's a lot of pain and sadness in this world, there's also a lot of love and hope," Tisdale said. "I'm working hard to focus on the love and hope, and come April I hope my fellow Bostonians will do the same."