It was a Tuesday morning in September 2001. As I drove from my office to a meeting, I heard on the radio that a plane flew into the World Trade Center. When I entered the meeting room, we turned the TV on to watch a second plane crash into the trade center. We were saddened, shocked, and speechless. Suddenly what we thought was an accident appeared to be a deliberate attack on America.
Then it was reported that another plane hit the Pentagon, and finally, there was a rumor of a fourth plane heading towards the U.S. capital. The plane — allegedly hijacked — was still in the air, and the route to the capital would most likely take it right over or near where I lived. A short time later, we learned the plane had crashed in a cornfield near Somerset, Pennsylvania. Had it happened a few minutes later, it could have crashed in the cornfield across from my home.
Passengers and crew members had fought back against the hijackers and caused the plane to crash, thwarting the attempt on the capital. These passengers and crew were hailed as heroes.
That infamous day, September 11, 2001, known simply as “9/11,” will be remembered as one of the most horrific events in American history.
I visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville when it was just a makeshift fence with tributes marking the location of the crash. I visited again after the completion of the Flight 93 National Memorial. It is one of those hallowed places everyone should visit at least once in their life. It documents a piece of history that is too important ever to be forgotten.
What Is The Significance Of The Flight 93 National Memorial?
The Flight 93 National Memorial honors the 40 passengers and crew who were aboard United Flight 93 when terrorists hijacked the plane and planned to fly it into the U.S. capital in Washington D.C.
The passengers fought the hijackers and deliberately grounded the plane in a fiery crash in the middle of a cornfield to keep the terrorists from reaching their destination. Their selfless acts saved countless lives in our nation’s capital.
After the crash, people visited and left small tributes in a makeshift memorial for years until the completion of the National Memorial.
Visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial is a somber and emotional experience. The exhibit takes you through the timeline of what happened that day and how the passengers and those on the ground responded. I suggest taking some tissues with you.
Forecourt Marks The Flight Path
The forecourt is the gateway to the Memorial Plaza and shows the flight path the plane took as it approached its final resting place at the crash site. The path is identified by the darker-colored walkway at the memorial complex and by signs sharing the Flight 93 story. As you walk to the end of the visitor center walkway, you will see a glass wall overlooking the field where the crash took place.
The Visitor Center
Open from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, the visitor center houses an information desk, a bookstore, and a permanent exhibit.
The exhibition provides a self-guided experience through multimedia, interactive displays, and artifacts from that clear September day in 2001 and the events that occurred throughout the country and with Flight 93. It also details the investigation afterward. Allow at least an hour to go through the exhibit area.
No food or drink is permitted inside the visitor center and plaza.
The Memorial Plaza
The plaza extends one-fourth of a mile parallel to the area of the crash site. The walkway replaced the previous security fence that protected the area. Visitors can walk beside the final resting place of the Flight 93 passengers and crew at the Memorial Plaza. From the plaza, you can see a 17.5-ton boulder sitting at the base of a hemlock grove which marks the general location of the impact site. The last piece of granite is etched with the time of the crash.
The Memorial Plaza is fully accessible. The grounds are open sunrise to sunset, 365 days per year, weather permitting.
You can download a printable map of the Memorial Plaza.
Wall of Names
The Wall of Names consists of 40 polished white marble stones inscribed with each person’s name who was aboard Flight 93.
Only family members of those who died in the crash are permitted to walk to the actual crash site. Everyone else is stopped approximately 50 feet from where the crash took place. The field can be viewed from a distance at the visitor center and from the ground through a ceremonial hemlock wood slat gate.
The Tower of Voices
Serving as an audible and visual reminder of the heroism of the Flight 93 passengers and crew is the 93-foot-tall Tower of Voices monument. It includes 40 chimes, one for each individual on board.
The Tower of Voices is located near the memorial entrance and is visible from U.S. Route 30. It is a one-of-a-kind chime structure. Each chime produces a different musical sound compatible with the other chimes. When you hear the chimes, you are listening to forty distinct tones (voices) echoing as a reminder of what happened on that fateful day in 2001.
GPS May Take You To The Wrong Place
The official address of the Flight 93 National Memorial is 6424 Lincoln Highway, Stoystown, PA 15563.
Note: GPS may still recognize old entrances, recommend a different route, and lead you astray (ask me how I know). The only entrance to the memorial is the one listed above.
Located in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, it is a 1-hour and 30-minute drive from Pittsburgh, a 3-hour and 30-minute drive from Baltimore and the D.C. area, and approximately 4 hours from Philadelphia.
If traveling west from eastern PA on the turnpike, take exit 146. If traveling east from Pittsburgh, take exit 110 and follow the signs. For additional directions, visit the Flight 93 National Memorial website.
You will be on country roads that provide a scenic drive. Just remember, they are hilly and have blind curves. Be alert and travel at a safe speed. Watch for deer and other wildlife that are attempting to cross the road.
Food and Drink
Water fountains and a water refill station are available at the visitor center complex only.
Only water and very light snacks are available for purchase in the gift shop. If you need other food or drinks, you must bring them with you.
There is no public Wi-Fi available.
Pets (except for service animals) are not permitted in the visitor center or around the interpretive panels or the formal plaza walkway to the Wall of Names. Pets are allowed in the parking area and a path that parallels the walkway if they are leashed. But you will not be permitted to take your pet up to the Wall of Names from the parallel trail. Pets must be with an adult at all times.
Many people bring tributes of respect, honor, and remembrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial. Objects and messages began appearing within hours of the crash back in 2001. All the items from the past have been preserved and cataloged. New tributes are collected, listed, and noted in curatorial documentation, and if they are determined to be of exhibit or research value, the curator will save them.
Small tribute items are welcomed in the plaza at places along the path and the Wall of Names. Items should be hand-carried from the parking lot. There is a spot specified for wreaths.
The Memorial Plaza is a place to honor and show respect for the lives lost on Flight 93. It is a place for quiet reflection and remembrance.
Weather Changes Quickly
The Flight 93 National Memorial often has snow from mid-October through March. Snowfall in the area averages around 80 inches per year, so the best time to visit is late spring through summer.
There can be sudden weather changes, so be sure to check the weather forecast for the area before you visit.
If visiting during the summer months, there is limited shade, and the sun can be intense.
The memorial is located primarily in open fields, and lightning is common. If you hear thunder, seek shelter to avoid a lightning strike.
Cell Phone Tour
Flight 93 National Memorial recently added a cell phone tour that provides the story of Flight 93 as you explore the Memorial. The three virtual tours available are the Orientation, Story, and Design tours.
Several events are planned to remember the Flight 93 crash and include a “Witness to History” speaker series, a luminaria service, an hour-long annual observance, and more. If you desire to visit during its planned 20th Anniversary Remembrance events, you can check out the schedule of events for details.
There are a variety of items banned from the Flight 93 National Memorial Anniversary events. Some are common sense items you would assume would be prohibited, but a few were surprises to me.
Backpacks, balloons, banners, signs, selfie sticks, strollers, tripods, and umbrellas were a few that I didn’t realize were banned. You can see the complete list of prohibited items on the national memorial’s website.
Note: If attending anniversary events, plan to arrive early as parking and crowds will be an issue.
The events of 9/11 are forever etched into the hearts of those living at the time. Visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial is a worthwhile and patriotic visit that everyone should make an effort to do at least once.
You can never learn enough about the tragic events that occurred on September 11. Consider the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as well: