Photo above: Chris Petraglia of Middletown, New Jersey, puts flowers at the memorial stone of Louis J. Minervino while visiting the World Trade Center Memorial Gardens in Middletown, NJ. (Joe Epstein / Associated Press)
Middletown, New Jersey —
On Sept. 11, 2001, the Middletown, 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,” 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.
These were folks who got up, went to work one day, and never came home.
Next door to the train station sits the Middletown Arts Center, a multimedia facility that provides residents a space to show off their creative side.
And 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.
Michael McKee pauses in Middletown, N.J., as he sits among some of the 37 carved stone memorials in the World Trade Center Memorial Gardens. (Mel Evans / AP)
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.”
This is part of a personal, original Rare series reflecting on a national-turned-hometown tragedy. See the complete series and find full 9/11 anniversary coverage at on.rare.us/911.
The death and life of my hometown | Reflecting on 9/11, a national-turned-hometown tragedy for Middletown, N.J.
A moment in tragedy | How this train station became an unlikely symbol of healing after the 9/11 attacks
A legacy of kindness | After her brother died on 9/11, a woman found this unique way to spread peace
“Get your aircraft to the ground” | 15 years after 9/11, this pilot remembers the day air travel came to a grinding halt
A legacy of bravery, sacrifice | As the towers started to burn on 9/11, this officer rushed from his post to save as many lives as possible
Life’s greatest gift amid heartbreak | With tears in her eyes, she remembers a new mom whose husband didn’t come home on 9/11
A sobering connection | This teacher’s perspective on how many people from her town died on 9/11 will bring you to tears