Today the Spartanburg County Parks Department opened the bidding process for work on renovating Cleveland Park, the site of the 2011 train crash that killed 6-year-old Benjamin (Benji) Easler.
We talked with the family about this new chapter, and about how it honors the memory of their boy.
“My middle son mathew told us, I think at the funeral home that Benji would want us to have a normal life, and of course, life is not normal now. But I think Benji, he’s celebrating in heaven. He would want us to be happy,” said Tabitha Easler in Gaffney.
She says the family is happy to hear that construction on the Cleveland Park playground will begin this fall.
Most of it was torn down in 2011 after the children’s train there toppled down a rocky embankment, killing Benji and injuring 28 others.
“I was almost 8 months pregnant with Hannah when our whole family was thrown from the train, and miraculously she is OK, thankfully by God’s grace. She has brought us so much joy and just a lot of happiness,” said Easler.
she regrets her family photos will never be complete, but she finds ways.
She and her husband dwight, a pastor at the church across the street, were pleased to be consulted on the park design. It includes a reflection garden and fountain, a place for Easler or anyone to remember.
“I think it’s great for people to have a place where kids can come and remember Benji but also have a good time, Benji was such a wonderful playful loving young man, and I’d love for him to be remembered that way,” she said.
Soon the weeds that have replaced the train tracks, will be covered to make way for a walking path. The developer is putting out a call for 700 volunteers to help rebuild October 20-24 (contact Marcia Murff to sign up at 864-804-5554, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Marcia Murff, with the County Park Department says in the last 4 years the park has been “very quiet. I don’t know how else to describe it other than there almost seems solemn and we need to breath new life into it.”
The new playground is set to be complete by mid-November. Just in time for what would have been Benji’s 11th birthday.
“When something so tragic happens you think how am I ever going to go through christmas, how am I going to go on vacation and you just kind of dread those things. But the Lord taught me not to get out into the future so much, to trust him, day by day, minute by minute sometimes and he has helped me get through those things just one day at a time, one event at a time.”
Easler doesn’t know yet if the volunteer event, will be one she can bring herself to attend. But just like the new playground dedicated to Benji at the church, she is grateful to anyone who plays a part in keeping his memory alive.