Middletown, New Jersey —
Tara Nicholas has lived in Middletown, New Jersey, and its surrounding area her whole life. Her father, the late Patrick Houston, was a titan within the local school district and a beloved figure in the town. On Sept. 11, 2001, both Nicholas and her father were teaching in Middletown when terrorists flew two plans into the World Trade Center towers.
Given the number of students with familial ties to the trade center, a decision was made to keep the news from the students as their loved ones tried to figure out who was dead and who was alive.
All told, 37 lives were lost in Middletown that day — second only to New York City in the number of residents killed in the attacks. It became difficult to find someone who wasn’t affected.
Nicholas described to Rare the moments after she learned something had hit the World Trade Center. The principal at Navesink Elementary School, where Nicholas taught at the time, informed teachers that a helicopter had hit one of the towers and to expect panicked parents to pick their kids up from school.
Over time, the full horrors of the day would be revealed.
“There was no computer in my classroom at that time, there were no cellphones,” Nicholas said.
Throughout the morning, children kept getting pulled out of school, and it wasn’t until later that Nicholas realized the extent of what occurred.
“They had wheeled out a very ancient TV, and we all watched the TV — and that time, we knew it was serious,” she said.
When I got to the hospital, it was so crowded, packed with moms in labor. A lot of people who were pregnant were in stress-induced labor.
At the time, Nicholas was also more than eight months pregnant with her first child and had an October due date on the horizon. But her daughter came much earlier.
“I went into labor the night of the 16th,” Nicholas said, almost a month early.
“When I got to the hospital, it was so crowded, packed with moms in labor,” she said. “A lot of people who were pregnant were in stress-induced labor.”
Nicholas had a longer hospital stay than most new mothers because of an early delivery and c-section. At the hospital, she shared a room with a woman who had also given birth right after 9/11 — her husband never made it home.
“It was terrible to see his parents, the baby’s grandparents visiting the nursery,” Nicholas said.
As Nicolas celebrated the birth of her daughter, she also witnessed a family caught in a in the middle of life’s greatest gift and heartbreak.
“It was hard to hear her crying at night,” she adds, with tears welling up in her eyes. “That is something I’ll never forget.”
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