By order of the state, a public transit system that serves more than 1.3 million riders a day was padlocked. Amtrak trains were suspended between Boston and New York. Businesses, offices and some of the world’s greatest universities were shut. Taxis were ordered off the streets for part of the day. Residents were instructed to stay inside.
Dutifully but pointlessly, traffic lights clicked from green to yellow to red on the deserted streets of Kenmore Square, in the shadow of the famous Citgo sign just beyond the Green Monster in Fenway Park.
The Red Sox and Bruins postponed their Friday night games.
On a cloudy and warm spring day, even the Charles River was empty of the rowing sculls and puffy white sails that form the Beantown backdrop for millions of charming tourist photos.
At a news conference shortly after 6 p.m., Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D) lifted the lockdown but urged people to “remain vigilant.” Three hours later the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was taken into custody after he was discovered hiding in a boat stored in the driveway of a house in the suburb of Watertown.
But for one long Friday, Boston and its ring of inner suburbs were “a ghost town,” according to Tom LeBlanc, 43, a general contractor from Waltham, a city adjacent to Watertown.
“Even in a big snowstorm, you usually see a plow or a couple of nitwits walking along. Something. But there’s nothing. It’s an eerie sight,” said LeBlanc, who ran the Boston Marathon on Monday and was stopped by police a half-mile before the bombed-out finish line.
John Fox, the official historian of the FBI, said that the shutdown of such a major city was virtually unprecedented in recent U.S. history. He said the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was far bigger, knocking New York and Washington on their heels and clearing the airspace over the entire United States.
But beyond that, Fox said, a city shutdown has “only happened on a smaller scale.”
The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 (which happened on April 19, Friday’s date) was far deadlier and devastated the city center. But the government didn’t order a far-reaching lockdown.
Other manhunts and events have terrorized and paralyzed cities, including in 2002 during the Washington sniper attacks. But rarely, if ever, has a large U.S. urban area come to such a complete and utter halt as happened Friday in Boston.
Fox said the closest recent parallel might be in London after the July 7, 2005, transit system attacks that killed 52 passengers and four bombers, and injured more than 700 others.
London was badly disrupted, with trains and buses out of service, and schools and many businesses were closed. But the city was back on its feet almost immediately, with a sentiment summed up by Ian Blair, then the head of Scotland Yard.