Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pa. Visited: September 7, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 248 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
Four years ago a plane carrying 40 people crashed into a rural Pennsylvania field located adjacent to an abandoned strip mine. It is unnecessary to elaborate; the events of September 11 2001 are etched indelibly into our collective psyche.
In September 2002, Congress and the president set aside the crash site land for the purpose of creating a memorial to honor Flight 93’s heroic passengers and crew.
The National Park Service seems to have done little since. There is no official memorial. There is no museum facility, no bookstore, no exhibits and no displays to distinguish the hallowed ground. There are no brown NPS signs to help the visitor find this out-of-the-way Site.
There is no visitor center, only a barren weather shelter donated by the staff at the Assateague National Seashore. Local residents designated as “Ambassadors” man the shelter and answer questions. They provide a first person perspective of the day that only Shanksville, Pa. residents could. No Rangers staff the site.
No matter. 100,000 people somehow find there way here every year. Busloads travel down the still unpaved Skyline Drive. The temporary Memorial that they find is elaborate, heartfelt, haphazard, overwhelming, organic and highly personal.
Both sides of a ten-foot high, thirty-foot long chain link fence are littered with thousands of personal items, donations and remembrances: a local firefighter’s jacket, license plates, flags, personalized crosses, quilts, hats, photographs and thankful letters.
Park benches emblazoned with the names of the deceased face the crash site. In between stands more remembrances: 40 individualized hand-painted wooden angels, granite blocks with biblical verses, crying ceramic angels, the American flag, a Pennsylvania flag and an eight-foot high cross, its horizontal section draped with a white cloth.
The parking lot’s guard rails have been inundated with magic-marker written notes of thanks, "Support Our Troops" magnets and bumper stickers.
A permanent Memorial is years from reality. In fact, the design contest winner was announced the day of our visit, September 7; local news stations filmed segments during our stop. Their conclusion was, “citizens want to know why the plans for a permanent Memorial have taken so long.”
We initially felt the same way. Heck, the Oklahoma City N MEM broke ground in 1998, just three years after that tragedy, and its massive interactive Museum opened on the bombing’s five-year anniversary. Is September 11th still too fresh in our memory? Are its implications still too powerful? Can we understand it objectively and analyze the situation like other NPS historic sites?
The temporary Memorial achieves a level of individuality that cannot be realized at an official federal government site. The religious paraphernalia on Site is astounding. Passionate crosses, angels and Christ figurines could never appear at a National Park Site.
As Americans, we are a very religious people. Most of us cannot understand the events of Flight 93 without our belief in God and/or Jesus Christ. In that sense, this National Memorial feels real, as if it is a spontaneous response from the masses. It feels powerful, so much more than a stylized walkway or artsy symbolic granite monoliths.
The Flight 93 temporary Memorial is more a pilgrimage spot than Park site. The emphasis stands more on what people have brought and given than on the distant fallow field.
If you wish to make the pilgrimage, be careful. It is very easy to get lost. Take PA Turnpike Exit 110, Somerset. Go northeast on Pa. Route 281, Stoystown Road, for about 10 miles until you reach U.S. 30, the Lincoln Highway. Turn right. Travel east for 2˝ miles on Route 30, then turn southward, right, onto Lambertville Road. A makeshift sign should point you in the correct direction (if you have quick eyes).
Travel southward on Lambertville Road for about 2 miles until you reach Skyline Drive. Another makeshift sign should point you towards the memorial. Skyline Drive soon becomes unpaved. No worries, the Memorial is just 1 mile from the turn.
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