-Jon Cotton, Copley Square, Saturday, 8:30am
The FBI has reopened the secured area, and I’m the starting tour guide in Copley Square, the site of last week’s bombing. In my last article I described the tense atmosphere of soldiers and cops with large guns and tanks. Today, cars move as normal, symbols of war and the machinery of a nation in defense have given way to civil society. A makeshift memorial has appeared at ground zero.
A crying woman is being comforted by a Park Ranger. An outpouring of sympathy flows through handwritten notes from visitors throughout the global community. Typical are “We’re with you Boston” and “Stay strong Boston.” Entwined in the same scaffolding as these notes are hundreds of running shoes placed as symbols of solidarity. Enshrined in the center are four faux graves with the names of the dead:
For the size of the crowd, the square is quiet. The hushed reverence and attitude of the people seems to be illustrated by the actions of two nuns in gray habits, picking their way through the site, their faces alive with sorrow and compassion, intelligently leaning in here and there to read a scribble or absorb the meaning of a placed artifact.
The shrine is no more peripheral to the heart of Boston than is the location to the geography of Boston. Copley Square is the center of Boston’s Back Bay, one of Boston’s chief districts. It is named for an artist who himself claims a centrality in the history of portraiture. John Singleton Copley, the greatest American portrait artist of the 18th Century, was a (nearly exact) contemporary of Paul Revere and essayed the sole serious likeness of Paul that exists. During the Revolution he went to England and is therefore often called a “loyalist” (i.e., loyal to England during the American Revolution). Around here, “loyalist” carries the connotation of “traitor.” But I don’t believe the evidence is conclusive that he was a loyalist. Comprising about a half of central Boston, the Back Bay is landfill, used to be water; so the finish line of the oldest annual marathon in the world lies on land that was new when the race began in 1897.
In my last article I ended a serious discussion in a lighter tone, sharing with you something I heard, that some tour guides were using the recent tragedy as an opportunity to trot out a typical litany of American patriotic cliches — “they hate us because we’re free,” etc. — in order to garner tips from sympathetic audiences. I openly toyed with the suggestion that I might try a page from their book to achieve the same result. In reality I’m too serious and open-natured to be so cunning.
But it has been reported that one tour guide, whose name and company bostontourguide.org will not release, untruthfully informed his guests that all his tips would be forwarded directly to organizations aiding the victims. He received a lot of money. Although one may make more tips this way, such practice is entirely against the ethics virtually all tour guides, and all human beings, agree on. As a (trolley) tour guide, some histrionic deception, role play, and pandering to the audience is tantamount to sophistication. And the exact location of the boundary between “histrionic deception” and “honesty” may be debated. But I think truthfulness about where the money goes may be an inviolable principle.