BOSTON – At 11:45 on Tuesday morning, Michael Groffenberger, the vice president of the nation's second-oldest jewelry store, Shreve, Crump & Low, was unfurling an American flag from the second-floor balcony of their franchise store at 39 Newbury St. He and two of his employees tried to tie the flag to the railing but the midday breeze kept lifting it from their hands. They brought out a roll of packing tape but the tape didn't hold. Finally, someone gave him a hammer and a handful of nails. He nailed the flag to the balcony's ledge.
Then he stood back.
This was his stand, however small, against the mysterious bomber and the blood and broken metal just one block to the south in the Back Bay neighborhood and less than two blocks to the west.
"I think the flag is a symbol of community," Groffenberger said a few minutes later as he stood in front of his shop. "It's the symbol of who we are. We are part of Boston, of Back Bay. We are part of Boston and the United States."
He asked an employee to find the flag when they arrived to open the shop at 9 on the morning after the darkest Patriots Day. This proved difficult. The hardware store down the road did not have any more flags. Instead, the employee had to go to Charles Street, about a 15-minute walk away before they could finally locate one. That's why it had taken so long after their 10 a.m. opening to get it up.
Now looking at the flag, Groffenberger nodded. All around him the doors to some of Boston's finest shops were locked. Many had signs that explained an abrupt closing the day before referring to "A Situation" or "The incident." One said: "God bless."
Groffenberger had closed his store at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, about a half hour after the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. He did this so his 20 or so employees could get home. But remaining closed on Tuesday was never an option.
Groffenberger had called his workers on the night before asking them to be in at 9. He told them: "I don't care if you don't do a dollar's worth of business. It's not about business."
Instead, he wanted to send a message, a message to the neighborhood, a message to the city and yes a message to the person – who remained unknown – whose bombs had shattered the confidence of a populace allowed to believe terror wouldn't come to them.
"It's about being open," he said.
"In the front of our minds are the victims," he said. "But it's also important to fight. We don't allow things to change the very way we live. If we do, that's when they've won. That's when the evildoers have won."
There is also a history he must honor. Shreve, Crump & Low was founded in 1796 by a watchmaker and silversmith named John McFarlane, who opened his shop in Downtown Crossing, across the street from the home of another renowned silversmith; a gentleman named Revere. That would be the same Paul Revere whose midnight horse ride across Middlesex County 21 years before had became the very reason there is a Patriots Day and a marathon today.
Groffenberger had no choice. The store was opening.
Not that he would have it any other way.
"I know that being part of this city we will come back better than before," he said.
A few minutes before, Tony Blu watched Groffenberger and his workers unfurl the flag. A security guard by day and hip hop artist by night, Blu had not been at work in the Back Bay on Monday. Instead, he was at his home in Dorchester getting ready to meet the other members of D'Cipher Entertainment at the Echo Studio in Brighton. They had planned to finish a track they had started the night before. But then came the explosions and news filled with horrors they couldn't comprehend. Nobody knew what to think anymore.
It took Blu close to two hours to get to Brighton, a drive that normally takes far less than one. The city was chaos. Once in their studio, the four members of D'Cipher quickly recorded the song they began on Sunday and then looked at each other and said: "We have to make something."
"Hip hop is about a feeling," Blu said on Tuesday as he stood on Newbury Street.
He looked around. The sidewalk, normally packed with tourists and shoppers, was almost empty. A woman walked by in a short dress. Two policeman passed the other way. A television reporter stood nearby. Otherwise it was quiet.
In that studio the night before, the men in D'Cipher poured out every emotion that gurgled inside. Blu stepped up to a microphone and began to sing about "the smell of death." Dimi Marc talked about the limbs flying in the air. Will Harv rapped about his wife in the Prudential Building so close to the marathon's end. Leg (lyrical) Engagement told of a world that was going crazy.
Three hours later they had a song without a name. A song that hurt and yet a song that felt so good to write.
They repeated the same words throughout:
"Boston stay strong!"
"Boston stay strong!"
"We knew we had to say something about this," Blu said.
Just as Groffenberger struck the last nail into his flag, a friendly, boisterous young man in a blue baseball cap and matching blue sunglasses came down the sidewalk. Tony Blu's face widened as he saw him.
"D.J. Sterling!" he said.
The men embraced. They know each other from days on this street as D.J. Sterling Golden struts around promoting his shows and radio program. Their interests are similar. They always have something to talk about.
"I wrote about yesterday," Blu said.
Golden said he was there.
He had come to the marathon thinking it the perfect place to promote his new radio show on Unregularradio.com. He circled the end of the race route taping signs to light poles and construction walls. He remembers putting one on the wall next to Marathon Sports at 671 Boylston St. He knows this because it was across from the public library. He even remembers finding the open space next to a flyer mocking Bank of America and another for Firehouse Subs.
An hour later, the first bomb exploded in front of Marathon Sports. This fact seemed to rattle Golden. In fact, he had come back to that location at nearly 2:50, just minutes before the first explosion. He recalls the time because he asked someone to snap a picture of himself holding one of his promotion signs. The flags of the finish line and the Boston library are impossible to miss in the background.
He had just walked away when he heard the booms. At first he thought they were the sounds of a truck rumbling loudly down the road until he heard screaming and saw women crying. That's when he knew something horrible had gone wrong.
"The whole atmosphere just flipped from celebration to a place of mourning," he said.
He looked down at the ground.
Something had been gnawing at him. Something in that photo taken across from the Boston Library. There's a little boy in a man's arms. The boy couldn't be more than 8 or 9. He knew one of the three killed was an 8-year-old boy and he wondered: Was this the one?
Once pictures emerged on Tuesday morning of Martin Richard, Sterling was pretty sure the child in the photo was not the boy who would be killed. But what of those other people in the picture? Were they alive? Were they safe? Were they among the ones now lying in hospitals all over Boston with their legs and feet gone?
Tuesday was an uneasy morning in the Back Bay indeed.
About a 15-minute walk from 39 Newbury St., past the barricades at Boylston and Arlington, past the soldiers toting machine guns in front of hotels, across the public garden with the swan boats tied up in the pond and the two women holding a sign promising "wonderful conversation" for $2, an employee of the Charles Street Supply Company looked at the wall above his cash register. There, next to bags of Bees Wax Lubricating Compound and Jack Link Beef Jerky was an empty spot where several of his 4x6-foot American flags had been earlier that morning. The only thing remaining was the price marker: $39.99.
"Sold three of them today," he said. "Two guys and a woman."
Including one well-dressed employee of Shreve, Crump & Low who had come to buy the most obvious symbol of defiance Michael Groffenberger could imagine.
The flag that would say Boston wasn't going to close on the day after its worst afternoon.
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