Beauty in a Fragile World

April 22, 2013

Inscription at the Boston Marathon Centennial Monument

It has been a week since the Boston Marathon.

I was in the process of writing several posts when, on Monday, the bombings in Boston occurred.  My television was broadcasting the race throughout the day as I tended to mundane household chores after returning late Saturday evening (on a plane filled with runners in race attire) from a conference on “placemaking” in Detroit.

As the horrific extent of the bombing became evident friends from across the country and around the world starting calling and instant messaging.   Was I okay?  Was my husband who has run for Dana Farber the past several years running?  Did I know anyone who was hurt?

I have attended the Boston Marathon many times and stood at the finish line.  When I was the Executive Director of the Esplanade Association we fielded a marathon team, an undertaking that afforded a deep respect for the amateur runners who dedicate months of time to training, in often grueling weather, to provide support for charities of all sizes that depend upon donations from the race to advance their missions.

Several months ago I wrote about the history of Copley Square where the marathon ends.   It is here that two very different monuments commemorating the race are sited.

The Boston Marathon Centennial Monument was dedicated on April 9, 1996.  Donated to the city by the Boston Athletic Association and John Hancock Financial Services, the monument was designed by landscape architect Mark C. Flannery and artists Robert Shure and Robert Lamb.


Located on the Boylston Street side of the square, the monument contains a fifteen foot granite medallion with a profile of the course highlighted by stones representing each of the eight towns along the route.  Around the central medallion the names of champion runners from the open, masters and wheelchair divisions are etched in the surrounding granite.

Four granite posts, bearing the emblem of the Boston Athletic Association and images of diverse runners, frame the monument.  The image below is from the website of the Boston Public Art Commission, founded in 1890.  The Commission has the authority to approve and site new public art on property owned by the city and as part of their mandate oversee a program where the costs of restoring or maintaining a work of art can be adopted by an individual or corporate sponsor.  The Boston Marathon Centennial Monument remains eligible for adoption and for more information on how to do this visit:

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The second monument, Tortoise and Hare, is by local sculptor Nancy Schön and was sponsored by the Friends of Copley Square, a non-profit organization dedicated to “preserve and enhance the park as a recreational resource for residents, workers and visitors to the City of Boston.”  The Friends of Copley Square’s support is essential to maintaining the beauty of the square.


The pair of bronze sculptures celebrate Aesop’s tale of persistence and accomplishment illustrating the adage, slow and steady wins the race.

According to Schön’s website,  the Boston Marathon holds a special meaning for the artist, who from an early age cheered on runners along Commonwealth Avenue’s “Heartbreak Hill.”  She decided to create a sculpture for children that would be a meaningful metaphor for both the race and life  hoping that they “will cherish these animals – pat them, hug them and learn the important lesson that the fable teaches. After all, children are our future and they are the runners and citizens of tomorrow.”

For a complete list of Boston Marathon monuments visit:

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Both the Boston Marathon Centennial Monument and the Tortoise and Hare sculptures commemorate, in wonderfully different fashion, an event that is at the core of  Boston’s identity.  Their symbolism provides a powerful reminder of the role landscape elements play in the creation of an identity of place; the intangible quality that makes it unique.

Monuments can take many forms and whether a park, garden, statue, fountain, plaque or memorial wall all are artifacts within which the narrative of the city resides.  Imbuing the present with the past they offer unique expressions of time and space, demarcating both joyous and tragic events.   If successful they inspire and console, marrying memory and beauty with the passage of time.


“Ibis Ascending by Judy Kensley McKie, who lost her only child in an act of random violence, at Boston’s Garden of Peace”


“A garden dedicated in the memory of the eleven Thomson employees who lost their lives on September 11th”

It is too soon to predict how and if a monument will be considered to commemorate the events of April 15th.  For many, the race itself will be the monument.  However, in the Boston Globe editorial Turn Grief into Charity for the City, published on the day following the bombingScott Lehigh opines that a foundation….”could help improve Boston.  It might for example, build or improve parks or pools or youth centers in the city’s neighborhoods.  It might even offer scholarships to Boston kids.  It could also sponsor events for the community.”   The One Fund Boston has been established to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred during the Boston Marathon.  To contribute visit:

What I do know is that after 9/11 many people sought solace along the Esplanade, a place of great beauty bordering the Charles River.   Conceived in 1893, just four years before the running of the first Boston Marathon, the Esplanade’s handsome promenades were envisioned as a “central court of honor” for a metropolitan park system designed to connect people to each other and the natural world.



In Boston, The People and the Place published in 1903 Mark Antony DeWolfe Howe wrote, “The wit who said,”Boston is not a city, but a state of mind,” may not have realized how much of historic significance was in his remark.  If there ever was a community which did not merely happen, but represented a definite idea, embodied and strengthened through all the life of its formative years, that community was the city – the “state” of  mind – of Boston.”

The state of mind that is Boston is reflected in the exquisite beauty of its parks and open spaces.


“A view of the Public Garden”

Ulysses is compelled to live life to the fullest, wandering a world where in Tennyson’s words,  “Much have I seen and known; cities of men, And manners, climates, councils, governments.” Part of all that he has met, Ulysses further seeks a newer world where, “although much has been taken much abides” and “some work of noble note may yet be done.”

As the noble work of healing begins let us find beauty and solace in the “state of mind” and place that is Boston.


Copyright © 2013  Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved

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  • Reply Judy @ GrandparentsPlus2 April 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Wonderful post for those of us who visit often or those who hope to visit. Boston Strong!

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