Dirty Old Boston: Marathon Edition!

The Boston Marathon finish line most of us are familiar seeing is a bold blue and yellow banner that crosses the pavement on Boylston Street just before Copley Square. Visible from the line is the John Hancock Tower and the Pru, but that wasn’t always the case. Have you ever thought about how the marathon’s finish line and route has changed since its start in 1897? With the 119th annual race just around the corner, we decided to take a look back with these images from Dirty Old Boston: Four Decades of a City in Transition by James Botticelli.



Image from Public Domain

Believe it or not, there wasn’t always a LINE to mark the end of the 26-mile run. Fred Cameron, shown in this 1910 photograph, was one of many runners to cross the invisible line marked by two small flags held on both sides of the street.


Photo By Leslie Jones of Keizo Yamada, 1953

Photo By Leslie Jones of Keizo Yamada, 1953

By the time Keizo Yamada completed the Boston Marathon in 1953, the flags had been replaced by a thinly painted white line.


Photo Courtesy of City of Boston, 1966.

Photo Courtesy of City of Boston, 1966.

In 1966 the finish line was a hard stop just short of a stage. This was also the first year that a woman, Roberta Gibb Bingay, ran and completed the race. However, according to The Boston Athletic Association, women were not officially recognized in the Marathon until 1972.



Photo By: Matthew Muise of Billy Rodgers, 1981

Completed in 1964, the Prudential Center became visible from the finish line, which was again a simple white painted line with “FINISH” stamped across it. Soon after, in 1975, the Boston Marathon became the first marathon to include a wheelchair division. This year will be the 40th anniversary of disabled athletes participating and crossing the finish line!


Photo By: Matthew Muise, Joan Benoit, 1983.

Photo By: Matthew Muise, Joan Benoit, 1983.

It appears that around 1979 was when the finish line was painted yellow with a blue banner to match the Boston Athletic Association’s logo. The iconic colors have since been used to mark the finish line, running apparel, banners, and more.

In 1983, 84 runners broke 2:20 as they crossed the finish line. Joan Benoit, the first person to win an Olympic marathon, is pictured above racing to the blue and gold finish line in Boston, one year before her historic Olympic win.

This past winter, you may recall a photo going viral of a manChristopher Laudani clearing the finish line of snow in a symbolic act of love for the marathon. Now in April, Boston is (mostly) thawed out and clear of snow, with the blue and gold finish line ready and waiting.


Photo By: Brad Hagan

Dirty Old Boston: Four Decades of a City in Transition is available at through our website; online through Amazon or Barnes & Noble; or, of course, at your favorite local bookstore!

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