Eighteen years ago, people came to Eagle Rock Reservation in Essex County, with its commanding view of the New York skyline, to bear witness to the unspeakable horror that was unfolding across the Hudson River.
On Wednesday morning, hundreds gathered again on this West Orange hilltop to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and recite the names of the dead. It was one of many such solemn ceremonies to take place in various locations across the Garden State.
“We made a commitment to the people of Essex County that we will never, ever forget what happened on that day,” said Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo. “And we will continue to do this ceremony as a team.”
Essex County lost 57 residents that terrible day, when 19 terrorists hijacked four airliners and flew them into the two towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth jet crashed in rural Pennsylvania when passengers stormed the cockpit.
There’s a plaque in the shape of a book bearing the names of the Essex victims at Eagle Rock, as well as a larger memorial identifying each of the more than 2,600 people who died in lower Manhattan that day, including nearly 700 from New Jersey.
Among the speakers was former Gov. Jon Corzine, who was one of the Garden State’s two representatives in the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2001.
“I want to say that your vision in building this memorial on this spot, where people came spontaneously on the night of 9/11 to have a perspective on the tragedy that took place was really an expression of love,” he said. “And it is from here that we can draw metaphor and perspectives on many other things.”
In Monmouth County — which lost 147 people in the attacks, more than any other county in the state — a remembrance was held at Monmouth University in conjunction with the National September 11th Memorial and Museum.
All day long, a webcam video from 2001 was screened that had inadvertently captured the scene of the attack as it happened.
“Wolfgang Staehle set up cameras to take pictures of downtown Manhattan at four-second intervals from the Brooklyn side,” said Christopher DeRosa, chair of the department of history and anthropology at Monmouth. “He did this on Sept. 6 with no knowledge that he was going to record the attack on Sept. 11.”
There’s also a photography exhibit at the school in West Long Branch.
“The photographs remind us what the world looked like right after the attack,” said Amy Weinstein, vice president of collections at the national museum. “They remind us of the pain, the grief, the anguish.”
John Comiskey, a former NYPD lieutenant who’s now a Monmouth professor, recalled one of the searing memories of that day.
“We were one of maybe, I don’t know, 30 or 40 teams of 15 or 20 officers and firemen looking for survivors,” said Comiskey, who was scheduled to take part in a panel discussion Wednesday evening along with Virginia Bauer, a Sept. 11 widow who’s been an advocate for victims of the attacks. “And the hard part was, we would come back and pass hospitals, and the doctors and nurses were asking for the wounded, and it was just a really hard thing to say: ‘We don’t have any wounded.’”
Back in Essex, a common thread among the speakers was how unified Americans were in the days right after the attacks, and how divided the nation is today.
“We were together like we have never been before in the history of this country,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura. “I sense — and I’m sure you’ll agree with me — that somehow, 18 years later we have lost that unity. So we’re going to ask all of you to join all of us to bring that spirit back and become one.”
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz echoed the thought: “The same way each one of us found in those moments when we were asked to stand on our porches and light a candle, and every American from every kind of walk of life, in every block, in every community and every state shared a moment in time that needs to resonate again,” she said.
There was praise for law enforcement and first responders — and calls for service.
“Do not take life for granted,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver. “Make certain that you use every one of your God-given talents to make a contribution, not just to this county and this state but to this country and the world and know that that is our purpose for being here.”