Going to the Boston Marathon is like going to Disney. Everyone is smiling and laughing except maybe the runners till they cool down. I am not going to let the sad events surrounding the 117th running of the Boston Marathon take away from the wonderful memories I have of covering it since 1967.
At the Boston Record American it was huge. There were a lot of photographers assigned. In 1967 women were not allowed to run, nor was there a wheelchair-sanctioned race. The crowds and amount of runners paled to what it has become today.
We covered the beginning, the Wellesley College coeds at their water tables, Heartbreak Hill in Newton, the finish line and the medical tent. One photographer was assigned to the photographer’s truck, which was usually a beat up flat bed truck. At least once the photographers had to get off the truck and push it out of the way. Many runners complained about the fumes from the truck. I never got that assignment.
Back then the Prudential Insurance was the sponsor so the race ended on the strip in front of the Prudential Tower. As the race would come down Commonwealth Avenue the runners would take the right on Gloucester Street and the truck would go straight down Commonwealth Avenue. At the finish line there were several photographers. A Boston motorcycle cop, Gene Lee, a great athlete himself would be assigned to grab our film of the finish and race it to our office in downtown Boston. Page One would be a photo of the winner. I worked the lab for my first Marathon.
The wire services set up a darkroom in a school right near the start of the race, which always began at noon. They would have a photo on the wires within ten minutes for the afternoon papers. I worked the lab for my first race. Katherine Switzer a college student registered for the race as K.V. Switzer and got a number. When Jock Semple a BAA race official saw K.V. was a woman he jumped into the start of the race and tried to wrestle her out. Ms. Switzer had put her hair up to disguise herself. Other runners blocked Semple from throwing her out. Don Robinson of UPI was the only photographer to get the shots. That caused quite a bit of grief for our photographer who was on the truck. Back then we did it ourselves. It was not a good thing to see a credit, which read AP or UPI photo. It would be five more years before woman were sanctioned.
My first outside coverage was in 1968. I was assigned to the starting line. I was given a Polaroid Camera, a stepladder, one of the wire services portable transmitters and instructed to find someone who would let me use their home phone to transmit the start of the race. I would only have one chance to get the photo, as Polaroid’s were not fast. I did get it and it was Page One.
I also had to get some feature photos of runners and bring back some stories to go with the photos. It was a lot of fun. I helped people taking photos of each other sometimes grabbing their cameras to take the photos so both the shooter and subject could be together. One year I met this couple, both UMass Amherst students who were going to run the race together. They told me they were inseparable. Within a year of the race they would be killed in a car crash. Although they were not married they were buried together. Because of my photos we covered the story.
I covered the finish many times. There was no yellow tape and I could roam wherever I wanted. I was at the finish line when the first wheelchair race was sanctioned. I had a shot of two runners racing for the 3rd & 4th position with one of them falling before he crossed the line.
Patty Lyons Catalano, a local favorite who everyone thought would win the Boston Marathon in 1981 was beaten by Alison Roe. It was unexpected. I was at the finish line when Patty was greeted by her sisters and the disappointment of not winning the race.
In 1982 I went into TV. The Boston Marathon was a huge event back then. We arrived in Hopkinton around 6:am the Sunday before the Monday race with thousands of feet of cable. It was at least a 12-hour day with many cameras being set up. We would be live through the early morning show on Monday, then the start and throughout the race. The only time I got in front of the runners is when I rode shotgun while John Premack ran the camera for live coverage of the race from a small pickup truck.
There were some funny times. Bill Rodgers a local race favorite would win the race four times. I went to his Melrose home one race morning then followed him to Hopkinton. There was a crew from Japan doing the same thing. We were driving west on the Mass Pike when the Japanese crew decided to pull up along side the Rodgers’ car to get shots, only problem Rodger’s car got off the ramp at Route 495 and they ended up going further west missing the exit. It was a very funny moment.
Johnny Kelly the elder who won the race twice and finished second seven times ran his 61st and last race in 1992. I was almost home when the phone rang. Joe Roche on the assignment desk for Channel Five realized at 630:pm we had no one at the finish line for Johnny Kelly. I raced back and got Johnny finishing the race and collapsing into his wife’s arms.
After many years of coverage I got some seniority and took the April school vacation week off to spend time with my family. It meant not covering the race but being able to watch it. We went to Newton, at the beginning of Heart Break Hill where a very festive group was watching.
Forty six years after my first Marathon, April 15, 2013 it all changed. I was sitting at the South Bay Mall at 2:50pm when I heard a Boston Police Officer screaming for multiple ambulances to Boylston Street he had 40-50 people injured.
At first I thought he said 71 Boylston Street which is down by the Boston Common. I figured a moving vehicle hit the people. Then it changed to 671 Boylston Street and I knew it was something to do with the Marathon, but I still thought a vehicle had struck the people.
Then it happened, someone said on one of the channels I was listening to it was an explosion, a bomb went off. I was yelling into the two-way radio to the station and trying to get around traffic through the South End of Boston to the explosion area. I got lucky and got behind some fire command cars and police cruisers. I shut the radios off, as I only wanted to concentrate on getting there safely. I knew we had crews at the medical tent. I figured we would be all set where the explosion took place.
I tried to park where I could see the top of the Prudential Tower where one of our receive sites for microwave was anchored. I knew I might have to feed tape or go live with my vehicle. When I finally parked on the island in the middle of Huntington Avenue I was very excited. I opened the trunk area to get my equipment out, had to change mic batteries as I forgot to shut it off the last time I used it and continued to shake. I knew my daughter Hannah was in Boston, but I also knew she should not be in this area.
Then my cell phone rang, it was Hannah and I lost it. I screamed at her “get the fuck out of the City,” and I said it several times. I was so happy to hear her voice.
I got my shit together and started to shoot video. Many were crying, scared and wondering what to do as the police were urging them to keep moving and get out of the area. I talked to some eyewitnesses, got video of lots of people hugging and crying. I got a shot of one injured runner.
I was never able to get into the explosion area. The police shut it down very quickly. I stayed on Huntington Avenue till 8:pm. I heard a call the police were going to a high-rise apartment building two streets form Revere Beach. There were several police departments there including, FBI, ATF, MSP, Homeland Security. They were there because at the Brigham & Woman’s Hospital there was an injured man who became a person of interest. He lives in this building. Finally after 11:pm the investigators left and I got to go home. At 2:30am the phone rang and I was asked to go back to Revere. There were some Tweets the investigation was continuing. I drove back, looked around, nothing and went home. I got another hour of sleep and went back to work.
Two days after the blast, on Wednesday, Jack Harper and I interviewed one of the “heroes” of the blast Tracy Munroe. She tearfully told us how she and her family left the area right after the blast. Then she knew she had to go back to help and ran back. She saw the Richards’ family. Martin Richards an eight year old was dead at the scene. She picked up his six year old sister, Jane and held her in her arms. She asked her name, said comforting words and held her until medical people came to help her. Jane lost one of her legs and her mother has a severe brain injury from the blast.
As Jack and I listened we both became teary eyed. After the interview I told her she reminded me of the teacher from Newtown, Kaitlin Roid who told her students as she hid them and listened to the gunshots, “I need you to know that I love you all very much, I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear. I thought we were all going to die.” She said she did not want the last sounds they heard to be gunfire.
Thursday after the explosion was calm until after ten that night. I received a call saying a police officer had been shot near MIT. I called it in and tried to go back to sleep. Just after 1:am, Nancy Bent on the desk called to get me going yelling cops are being shot at, bombs are being thrown and one of the suspects was dead.
I raced to Watertown where I would spend the next 16 hours. There were thousands of cops racing around from one lead to the next. The area was pretty much shut down and with all the vehicles racing around I decided to pull over so I would not get hit by one of them.
Around 4:pm my eyes were starting to close and I went home. My wife Debbie woke me up when the announcement came the second suspect was trapped in a boat in someone’s backyard. We watched until the press conference and the official announcement he had been captured and transferred to the hospital.
As a professional newsperson I am disappointed I did not get any compelling video but happy to have been a part of the coverage. I sat out Newtown and the Blizzard of 2013, due to an injury. I am glad I got to cover this awful event.
I am proud to say I work for the best local television station in the Country, WCVB-TV. We have a great team who worked many days and long hours together during this tragic event. We shared our grief and anxiety. Only WBZ-TV continues to cover the Boston Marathon locally. Several years ago it was decided not to cover the race live. From a business stand point it did not work anymore. It will be interesting to see what the stations and networks do next year.
Here is a link to compelling audio of the first 20 minutes after the explosion. The commanding office Yankee C2 is Dan Linsky of the Boston Police Department. Notice how calm and organized he is.
Here is the link to Diane Sawyer’s interview with Kaitlin Roig a couple of months after Newtown.