Background on Monmouth County's September 11th Memorial
By Gail Hunton, Monmouth County Park System
Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook has always been a special place to view the New York skyline and the Sandy Hook Bay, as well as events such as the tall ships, fireworks over the East River, and sailboat races from this high point on the Atlantic Coast.
With an elevation of 266 feet, Mount Mitchill is the highest natural point along the North Atlantic Coast south of Maine. The site is named for Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchill, a physician, scientist, educator and politician who measured its elevation with a barometer in 1816. Dr. Mitchill lived in New York and served in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
With its majestic view of Raritan Bay, Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Sandy Hook, Mount Mitchill has long been a popular viewing site, and in the 1940s there was an unsuccessful effort to make it a State park. A private refreshment stand and picnic area occupied one of several lots on the site for many years, but the area was mostly barren and unkempt. The sedimentary rock forming the Highlands is prone to slumping on steep slopes, where large blocks of capstone and sand periodically slide down the cliff face, and the lack of controls allowed considerable erosion.
A developer’s proposal in the early 1970s to build two 15-story high rise towers on the site prompted many calls for its preservation. The County tried to buy the entire site but the progress of the developer’s plans raised the cost significantly. A compromise enabled the developer to build one tower (Eastpointe) and the County to preserve eight acres.
The Park System created the Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook in 1973 with parking and viewing areas, drainage and oak and cedar plantings to help control erosion along the steep slopes and to nurture the remnant of old growth chestnut oak forest that survives there. In 1995, the Park System upgraded the Overlook with redesigned parking, viewing areas, interpretive panels and landscaping.
Mount Mitchill first became a commemorative site in 1980 when the Park System installed flagpoles and a plaque paying homage to the eight soldiers who died during the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis in Iran.
Genesis of Memorial
In 2001 the park took on a new meaning for many in Monmouth County. On September 11th the smoke from the attack on the World Trade Center was dramatically visible from Mount Mitchill Overlook. On that day and for months afterwards, Mount Mitchill became a gathering place for hundreds of people seeking solace and reflection. Meanwhile, there was a groundswell of interest in Monmouth County to do something to honor the 147 Monmouth County citizens lost on 9/11. Calls came from several entities around the county to place the memorial at Mount Mitchill, due to its vista of Manhattan and already-established role as a commemorative site.
In 2002 the Freeholders determined that Mount Mitchill would be the location for the County’s 9/11 Memorial, and the Park System began the process of guiding the design for the memorial and re-designing and improving the surrounding park around it.
The 9/11 Memorial Committee
In 2002 the Park System established the Monmouth County September 11th Memorial Committee, which was composed of victims’ family members, design professionals, building contractors, key corporate representatives, members of the Freeholders Board and Board of Recreation Commissioners, and staff of the Monmouth County Park System and the Friends of the Parks. Assistant Director Bruce Gollnick, Supervising Landscape Architect Joseph Sardonia and Supervising Planner Faith Hahn of the Park System coordinated the work of the committee and the design process.
Design Process and Principal Designers
In 2002, the Memorial Committee began meeting and making plans for a fitting tribute to the victims, heroes, and events of September 11th. The group’s first responsibility was to select a memorial to fit appropriately into the Mount Mitchill Scenic Overlook site. The Committee met for a number of months to determine design parameters for the memorial. Proposals were publicly solicited for the memorial design, and thirty (30) proposals were received. After review, the Committee chose the proposal from Marlboro sculptor Frank Minervini for a large limestone eagle clenching a salvaged beam from the World Trade Center site.
In coordination with the design of the memorial itself, Supervising Landscape Architect Joseph Sardonia of the Park System developed a new site design for the park to support the memorial and improve the overall appearance of the park.
The Memorial as designed and constructed has three symbolic components:
Set against views of New York, the memorial reminds us of the indelible changes to the famous skyline as it was once known and honors both the lives lost and the fearless display of heroism by rescue teams and citizens who responded to the tragedy.
The 9/11 Committee, in partnership with The Friends of the Parks, embarked on a major fundraising effort to finance the Memorial. In addition to private and corporate donations, grants were received from the Charles Edison Foundation and the Port Authority of NY /NJ. Ultimately the group raised $297,100 for the sculpture, granite base and granite pavers around the memorial. The extensive site work around the memorial was funded by the Park System’s Capital Budget, which totaled $682,221 in construction costs.
Construction and Dedication
Groundbreaking was held on September 11, 2003 and the dedication was celebrated on September 11, 2005.
Every year since, the Park System has held a ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial to honor that fateful day and the Monmouth County residents who perished.
Information on other 9/11 memorials throughout the County will be forthcoming.