Six Years After Sept. 11, a Town Mourns

Middletown, N.J., remains committed to remembering 37 residents killed on 9/11.


MIDDLETOWN, N.J., Sept. 11, 2007 — -- Many of this town's 37 residents who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 started their morning here at the Middletown train station.

Today, just steps from where they would have awaited their trains to work, their relatives, friends and neighbors will gather at a memorial garden built in their honor, to read their names and remember their lives.

Middletown, N.J., which calls itself the "biggest small town in New Jersey," lost 37 people on Sept. 11, more victims per capita than any other place in the state and the second hardest hit city after New York.

The town, an hour outside of New York City, became the focus of media attention in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Its iconic name and heavy losses made it the center of numerous articles and a book.

Outside of Middletown, some have questioned the usefulness of routinely eulogizing the dead every Sept. 11. The New York Times published a front-page article last Sunday entitled, "As 9/11 Draws Near, a Debate Rises: How Much Tribute Is Enough?"

But here, there is no such debate. Many people in town have petitioned their politicians to make Sept. 11 a national day of mourning. Ceremonies, at which the names of all the town's victims are read, were held over the weekend and will be held Tuesday, Sept. 11.

While a memorial has yet to be erected at ground zero, Middletown has built two memorials to commemorate its dead. Another county memorial is located just a few miles away in West Orange.

"The town is hugely patriotic," Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger told

That patriotism, combined with a sense of personal loss, has led the residents to memorialize their neighbors in an unprecedented way.

"I haven't heard one iota suggesting we not acknowledge the anniversary, or anyone saying it's time to move on," Scharfenberger told

"If anybody would question the enormity of our loss, I'd urge them to walk through our memorial garden. Anyone sick of hearing about it needs a wake-up call. For the relatives, friends and neighbors of the victims, 9/11 is still very much alive. Every time you meet someone new in town, through them you become connected to another victim," he said.

All the focus on Sept. 11 has led the families of some victims to leave town. But Karen Cangialosi, whose husband, Stephen Cangialosi, a trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, has found solace in staying in Middletown.

"The town has been very supportive and very kind," she said. "Our neighbors have been incredibly nice and very helpful. It's a nice community and my kids, now 13 and 16, are doing well. A lot people have moved away on purpose. They wanted to get away, but I think it is good for kids that we stayed."

"At the time we had many support groups, but all that is pretty much over. Catholic Charities was excellent and my church, St. Catherine's, was incredibly helpful," she said.

The town's mayor said today's ceremony would be plaintive and respectful.

"Last year was the fifth anniversary and an important milestone. We had several thousand people in attendance," Scharfenberger said. "This year will be noticeably less elaborate. We didn't want to get into a can-you-top-this situation. We'll read the 37 names and a local pastor and fire chaplain will speak, but there won't be any political speeches."

Everyone here is more aware of the fragility of life since Sept. 11. We know more than a lot of other communities just how precious what we have is. We have a great community spirit."

On Sunday, the members of the Essex County Emerald Society, dressed in their green tartan kilts and spit-shined badges, played "Taps" Sunday at a small memorial overlooking Raritan Bay.

The band, made up of police officers and firefighters, has played at dozens of Sept. 11 memorials throughout New York and New Jersey, but ceremonies held here, they say, even six years since the 2001 attacks, are different -- somehow, more moving.

Sunday's ceremony, attended by some 100 people, took place at a memorial built by the local Elks chapter at Leonardo State Marina. The site was selected for its views of lower Manhattan and Port Monmouth, where reportedly one can see ships being loaded with munitions bound for Iraq.

"As a community it received a bigger hit," Ed McNany, president of the Essex County Emerald Society, said following the ceremony. "Each town has its own emotional connection with 9/11 but you really feel that connection here. They lost 37 people and they feel a bigger impact."

Like many New York suburbs, Middletown has both blue-collar and white-collar communities. On the town's two memorials the names of Cantor Fitzgerald traders are engraved alongside the name of a Port Authority police officer.

The town's wealthy and less wealthy members congregate too in Middletown's many churches and in the Elks lodge. Both institutions were central in helping victims' families in the aftermath of the attacks, and both have remained central to commemorating the anniversary annually.

"Little has changed since 2001," said Ken Massicotte, a lawyer and former Elks exalted ruler. "We're still fighting the same enemy and we still need to remember our murdered citizens. We cannot forget they were murdered."

Another Elk, Randy Smith, also a former exalted ruler and the town's supervisor of public works, said it was difficult for residents not to be reminded of the events of Sept. 11 and also important that members of the town not forget what happened.

"A lot of people were killed. Every day still you hook up with someone who tells you their story about who they knew that was killed…it is important that our kids remember what happened," he said.

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