Not long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a memorial plaque honoring the fallen New York police officers and firefighters was erected in a small wooded area known as the Endor Community Garden near West 253rd Street and Fieldston Road.
Who created it and placed it there was a mystery, one that lasted many years until earlier this month when just as curiously as it once appeared, the memorial disappeared.
Mike Courtney was one of the memorial’s frequent visitors who found only a wood stand left behind earlier in the month.
“This plaque really meant a lot to me because it is such a sacred site,” said Courtney, a Riverdale resident who also is a former New York police officer and firefighter. “Guys who I worked with and grew up with were (listed) on that site, so it really was special.”
The mostly wood plaque featured the names of Riverdalians lost in the 9/11 attacks. Herb Eysser, a resident in a nearby apartment building, noticed the memorial missing, but simply thought someone was cleaning it up a bit. “At first I thought a lady in the neighborhood took everything down to clean it,” said Eysser, who also is a union representative for the city fire department. “But when I asked her about it, she told me she didn’t touch it. So that’s when I knew it was stolen.”
Eysser moved into his apartment just four months after the attacks, and has been very involved in community work. He thought the plaque would help bring the Riverdale community together.
Yet, not only was the plaque taken, but so was American flags that were attached — something that infuriated Eysser, a U.S. Army veteran.
“Now when you look at (the memorial site), you don’t even know what it stands for,” he said.
Even the police are baffled about what happened to the memorial.
“It was brought to our attention a couple of weeks ago,” said 50th Precinct deputy inspector Terence O’Toole said. “We went out to check on it, and the thing was gone. We have no idea what happened to it.”
Courtney feels there has been more crimes than normal in his Fieldston neighborhood recently.
“There is a lot of car break-ins in this area,” Courtney said. “There was an incident just the other day were a guy came out and all four wheels from his car were taken.”
Drinking in the park
In addition to the car burglaries, Courtney said a lot of kids have been drinking in the park where the plaque was ultimately stolen.
But even with that higher perception of crime, Courtney was still surprised someone would sink so low.
”I couldn’t believe it actually,” he said. “The people it the community are very upset and they just can’t believe it. It could just be kids fooling around like kids being kids, but you know to take something like this down and destroy it or vandalize it is just very upsetting to people around here.”
Eysser believes the higher perception of crime has given Riverdale a poor reputation.
“I have lived in this building for 15 years, and I don’t see Riverdale like I used to,” Eysser said. “This is just another nail in the coffin for Riverdale.”
Local residents Robert and Laura Spalter took the responsibility of cleaning the plaque as well as planting flowers around it. If the plaque doesn’t turn up, they plan on making a new one with the help of Riverdale Country School.