To say that I wish the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County didn’t exist is a bit of an understatement. After all, the events of September 11, 2001, that led to United Airlines Flight 93 crashing into this field in rural Pennsylvania are something that no one alive on that day will ever forget.
On that fateful day, I had just started my freshman year of college and it was one of the very few days that I was homesick during my entire four years. Even now, as I write about it, despite not knowing anyone who was directly affected on that day, I still feel a wave of sadness come over me.
Despite knowing that it would be a very somber and moving experience, I’ve visited the Flight 93 Memorial on several occasions over the years, including once during my first visit to the region in 2014.
The roadway to the visitor center winds through barren fields for several miles between Route 30 and the visitor center. The memorial to those who died on Flight 93 is unique in that it isn’t located in the middle of bustling New York City or next to a military facility just outside of Washington, DC, but instead, in an empty field.
The Flight 93 visitor center sits on a hillside above the crash site. Imposing stone walls guide visitors along a path that follows the flight path that the plane was on just prior to the crash.
Before walking into the visitor center, continue to the end of the path. This spot features an overlook of the crash site far below. From here, you can see the Wall of Names that is located under the flight path, and, further in the distance, the large boulder that marks the spot of impact.
Inside the visitor center, a series of panels tell the story of the September 11th attacks and of Flight 93. These panels use everything from news clips to artifacts to tell the story of Flight 93 and the tragic events of that day.
In my opinion, the most moving element is a series of telephones where visitors can listen to calls made from the doomed flight. It’s nearly impossible not to choke up as you listen to people leave a message for loved ones from the plane.
There are also artifacts on display that were recovered from the wreckage. These include everything from pieces of the airplane to personal items of the passengers like driver’s licenses and tickets.
Overall, the visitor center is fairly basic but incredibly well done. Fortunately, there are tissue boxes scattered throughout the center as its hard to leave with dry eyes.
The second section of the memorial is the crash site down below the visitor center.
There are two trails that lead down to the crash site: one that’s roughly a mile in length and another that’s three-fourths of a mile. These can be made into a two-mile loop hike for those that want to walk. It’s also possible to drive to the bottom area and greatly shorten the walk.
If you visited the Flight 93 National Memorial prior to September 2015, this lower area was the complete memorial. Here a few placards tell the story of the crash and the men and women aboard the plane.
At the end of the lower walkway is a wall that contains 40 panels, one for each innocent passenger and crew member on the flight. Each panel has the name of one person killed in the crash etched onto it.
Looking out over the field, you’ll notice a large boulder in the middle. It was placed by the National Park Service to mark the spot where the nose of the plane plummeted into the ground.
Before leaving the grounds of the Flight 93 National Memorial, make sure to stop at the Tower of Voices.
This 93-foot tower sits on a knoll above the road and is the final element designed to honor those that died here.
In September 2020, 40 wind chimes were installed in the tower, each representing one of the innocent people that were killed here.
When the wind blows, the chimes make an incredibly beautiful sound that adds a lot of beauty to the memorial. Don’t miss this tower when visiting the area.
Thinking back on my visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial, it’s amazing to think back on that day in 2001. While I think that it’s a very important place for people spending time in Somerset County to visit, it definitely will leave you with a somber feeling.
Still, this visit to some of the most hallowed ground in Pennsylvania should not be missed by anyone traveling through Laurel Highlands.
Flight 93 Memorial
Address: 6424 Lincoln Highway
7 thoughts on “Paying Your Respects at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County”
I can imagine that a visit to this Memorial is very moving and uplifting. Nice write – up.
A very good and fitting review their Jim.
As you may know I visited this memorial a short time ago, in June in fact. It was very sombre and in many respects fitting. Everyone there knew the significance of the site and the history.
I kind of like the relatively minimal approach to the memorial and wonder if these expansion plans will maybe detract from the message we should receive from the site. I suppose I’ll have to revisit in a few years to fully grasp the change proposed.
Interesting to hear of you mention of that mine at the end. I hadn’t heard of that before. I’ll try to add it to my list the next time I’m in the area.
Thanks again for a great write up Jim.
I wonder the same thing about a bigger visitor center. As you said, we’ll have to wait and see.
Is there a projected date for the 40 bell towers?
I had relatives in Shanksville and spent much time there as a child. Some 57 years ago my Father, His Cousin and I hunted small game in that very field and nearby woods. Our wedding anniversary is 9/7 and we often vacationed in Somerset that week so were able to go to the Site often. We were at the anniversary where we helped Gene Stelp dedicate the special large American Flag he designed and commissioned in honor of those innocents that died there. We have pictures of the box-wire structure that had mementos posted on it by many visitors on the first anniversary and for some years until the first crude museum was created. Other visits made other memories for us.
I recommend visiting the Flight 93 site and the Chapel on the opposite side of Shanksville (I believe the Chapel is still open.)
The 1st time I visited there, many years ago there was only a trailer, 40 wooden angels with names and a plethora of items visitors had stuffed into places in a fence. I did not expect to feel any emotion, except perhaps sadness. But, when I stepped out of the car, I burst into tears. The reality of what had happened there, the proof that so many cared by their rememberances & their expressions of grief written on paper; the Motorcycle group of America had gifted the site with a beautiful “cemetery headstone” & there were many other important artifacts sharing their profound sadness. It was windy, yet quiet & still & sadly sobering that so many innocents tragically lost their lives. Those folks on that plane were absolutely brave & heroes! To think the plane went down in a field where there was not a soul that could be harmed, I have to believe God allowed & led the heroes to act when they did & did not continue on to Washington City & The White House. This national site is very important to visit and remember.
I was at the site only a few weeks after it happened. The lower field area was still taped off in a grid and the indentation in the ground where the plane hit was clearly visible as were the scorched trees at the end of the open field. Only a section of chain link fence had been erected to which people tied personal, important mementoes. I saw tiny flags, Boy Scout badges, notes, purple hearts, so many things. I heard that as these filled up, they had to be taken to the Armory in Somerset for storage (?) Tiny handmade wooden angels had been inserted in the ground at the edge of the parking area.
Very emotional site.
As I live far away from Shanksville now, I have not been able to return to see the beautiful memorial.