On Sept. 11, 2001, a New Jersey train station became a hallowed structure symbolizing loss and tragedy after terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center, killing almost 3,000 people, including 37 township residents.
“It was so sad and heartbreaking,” Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger told Rare during a recent visit.
“You knew that there were cars parked in the [train station] parking lot that were not moving for several days … so you knew that, that was connected with the attack.”
Fifteen years after the worst foreign attack on American soil, the Middletown train station is still there and still acts as a hub for commuters into the city every single day.
Next door to the train station sits the Middletown Arts Center, a multimedia facility that provides residents with a space to show off their creative side.
Behind that is a winding road, shielded from the sun by long tree branches. This is the location of the World Trade Center Memorial Gardens, where 37 lost lives are memorialized.
“These were folks who got up, went to work one day, and never came home,” the mayor said.
Each Middletown resident who died in the Sept. 11 attacks is remembered in the gardens in the form of a large memorial stone that shows a photo of the person alongside a loving message from the person’s family and friends.
When Mayor Scharfenberger took Rare on a tour of the gardens, it was impossible for him not to stop every few feet to share a memory of someone who was lost. Like many in Middletown, the mayor was deeply impacted by the tragedy and had a personal story about almost every single person who died that day.
At the memorial for Stephen Cangiolosi, the mayor remembered their time together as local little league dads. He smiled with pride as he passed the memorial for Kathleen A. Hunt Casey. Her son, Matt Casey, had recently gotten married and, according to the mayor, had grown into a fine young man.
Scharfenberger’s own daughter had been recently married, and he noted that as he walked through the garden — his mind filled with all the key life moments these mothers, fathers, sons and daughters missed out on.
The memorial, which was opened to the public Sept. 11, 2003, not only serves as a solemn reminder of the tragedy but also a place where the families of the victims can find some peace.
“I had the son of one of the victims tell me that he’d rather come here than go to the cemetery,” Scharfenberger told Rare.
“We made a place where the families can feel some sense of connectivity and relief.”