I have always believed in getting information first-hand because it is always interesting to put together the pieces of a puzzle yourself rather than relying on others.
A recent visit to the former JCPenney building in downtown Somerset, PA, which since has been converted to a variety of shops with a central hallway led to an experience I had not expected.
The National Park Service has a Flight 93 National Memorial Office here and I stopped in curious about the permanent memorial.
One of the first things one will see upon entering the office is a large American flag with the number “93” in white, with a white circle, on the upper left hand corner with memorial words in the white stripes of the traditional alternating red and white stripes.
I then saw a small three dimensional satellite model of Shanksville, PA, the town where Flight 93 went down and killed 40 people who were successful in bringing down a plane in which hijackers had intended to hit Washington, D.C.
The model shows what the permanent memorial, which will be on a site of land approximately 2,200 acres, will look like when it is completed.
Approximately 1,355 acres consists of the crash site, the debris field, the area where human remains were found, and land necessary for visiting the temporary memorial and land needed to provide access to Route 30.
Emerging from behind a desk, a smart, young, and attractive woman asked me if I knew about the permanent memorial.
I replied that I had not and she showed me simulated images on large 6 foot standing displays and explained that the project to create the memorial is the largest of the National Park Service, NPS, since its anticipated completion is scheduled for 2011, on the ten year anniversary of September 11.
Usually historical sites take much of this magnitude take much longer to build she said, but in this case family members of those lost took part in developing a design and expressed their desire to have the permanent memorial opened for the tenth anniversary.
The permanent memorial is a result of cooperation with several groups including the Families of Flight 93 nonprofit organization, Flight 93 Federal Advisory Commission, Flight 93 Memorial Taskforce, the National Park Service, and the National Park Foundation.
She estimated it will take about two years for complete engineering, final design drawings, and construction drawings for the memorial, the visitor center, roads, and utilities with construction expected to begin in Fiscal Year 2009.
A new entrance will be created from Route 30 into the memorial and visitors will see a tall Tower of Voices tower which will house forty white aluminum wind chimes representing the forty people who lost their lives.
She said that while the National Park Service will not evoke eminent domain to acquire land around the park, those who want to sell their land which is in the memorial must sell it to the National Park Service.
This clause, she said, ensures that when visitors are at the memorial, there will not be competing businesses that would detract from the experience that the memorial is trying to create.
She was unsure whether the federal government would pay funding to make up for the fact that taxable property would become property belonging to the federal government.
The proposed tower is set on a planted mount in a clearing and the outside of the curved concrete tower wall will be finished with white glass mosaic tiles to create a reflective, ephemeral quality, and blue plaster inside to evoke the sky.
The tower interior will be evenly grazed with light and the exterior will illuminate like a beacon.
Simulated images of the power make it look like an ice sculpture with large icicle like structures inside the tower.
Parking, restrooms, and an information/orientation kiosk are planned near the tower.
Details on the kiosk will be released later as this part of the project is still in the design stage, she said, adding that she does know that the permanent memorial will have much more parking than what currently exists at the temporary memorial.
As visitors drive on the entrance road, they will enter the Bowl at its northwestern edge.
The Bowl is a large, existing circular landform which will form the heart of the memorial and park.
A clearing of trees will allow visitors to walk on a black slate path which will mark the flight path with high, textured concrete walls framing the sky where Flight 93 went into the crash site.
The walkway will feature flags on the side, and my friendly NPS staff member told me that there is talk of installing flags to represent all the various countries in which the forty passengers and crew members originated from.
In addition to the United States, people on the flight originated from Germany and Japan.
The walkway will lead visitors into a plaza with Red Maple trees and through a second portal allowing them to look at the expanse of the Bowl and the crash site below.
Those unable to walk can drive a road which will run around the Bowl.
From this plaza, visitors can enter the visitor center which will be the interpretive and educational hub of the park.
She admitted that the metal rising structure housing the visitor center could be fine tweaked to some degree and that it is uncertain what displays will be placed in the visitor center.
The center will be manned by volunteers; mostly those who live near the Flight 93 site and saw the plane come down first-hand and who have volunteered at the temporary memorial.
Pointing to an area of the three dimensional display with orange trees, she said that 40 Memorial Groves of Red and Sugar Maple will symbolize the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93.
The trees will serve as the Bowl’s open space before it descents to the Sacred Ground.
A black slate plaza and slope wall will allow the public to leave tributes in wall niches.
However, to prevent public access near the tribute wall, a vertical drop of 12 feet will be created and this lower area will slope up to the edge of the Sacred Ground field.
Pedestrian trails will be created through the groves and the groves will be surrounded by wetlands.
These wetlands will provide a healing landscape as it will feature a habitat full of life.
Breaking the continuity of the circular Bowl is the scared ground which is the final resting place for the passengers and crew of Flight 93.
The plane crashed in a grove of hemlock trees and while enough pieces of bodies from all the crew and passengers were found, some family members have requested they return to the site to join the others on the plane that horrible day.
The public will be able to more closely view the crash site from the plaza that what is currently allowed today at the temporarily memorial.
The foundation and floor slabs of buildings will remain to evoke memory of structures at the Western Overlook, the area where the FBI set up its command post for their investigation and where families were first brought to see the crash site.
A path will allow visitors to access two of the building footprints where trees are planned.
One of those footprints is within the bowl clearing, the exact location where families first viewed the crash site below.
A special area will be created for families of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 to the sacred ground.
A white stone slab with concrete walls frame a gate which will only be open for ceremonies and family visits.
In this area, a western wall will consist of polished, translucent white marble with the fort names in alphabetical order and the date of September 11, 2001.
American Beech trees at the walls and bench will provide shade and shelter while the flight path will be illuminated with recessed in-grade linear blue lines of gentle light perpendicular to the path.
The marble band will be backlit at night.
Existing earth mound within the Sacred Ground will serve as family seating and contemplation.
Solitude and shelter will be provided to family members through the Hemlock Grove and cabins.
Most of the memorial is being built through a fundraising campaign which seeks to raise $30 million from private individuals, corporations, and foundations.
The Flight 93 National Memorial website estimates it will cost $27 million for the memorial feature, $6 million for the visitor information center, $11.7 million for infrastructure which would include roads, parking, and utilities, $3.25 million for capital campaign costs, and $10 million for site acquisition.
This means the estimated cost of the memorial would be $57.95 million and approximately $27.95 million will be paid for through government funding.
Paul Murdoch, President of Paul Murdoch Associates, stated that the design “sets forth a new form unique to its landscape and the historic event on September 110, 2001. We have created a memorial design that is open to natural change, variety through the seasons and maturity over time; open to emotional experience, individual interpretation and personal contemplation; and open to the spirit of truth and freedom of expression that the passengers and crew fought to defend.”
Murdoch stated that the design “recalls the site’s history but looks deeper to the timeless qualities of the land, its stark serenity and tranquil beauty. These qualities, transformed on September 11, 2001, are the sources of the memorial’s expressive power.”
Those wishing to contribute to the national memorial should visit: http://www.honorflight93.org/site/c.8dJCKQNuFoG/b.1555749/k.95B7/Ways_to_Give.htm.
For more information visit the National Memorial office at 109 W. Main St., Suite 104 in Somerset and the Temporary Memorial located in Shanksville.
Signs from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Somerset exit clearly lead visitors to the temporary memorial.