Daytripping: Flight 93's Field of Sorrows

The national memorial in Shanksville is a place for somber reflection and remembrance.

The visitor center overlook | photos by Chuck Beard

A gravesite is a fitting place for flowers, but no wreaths of lilies or carnations are found on this rolling field near Shanksville, Pa. Instead, black-eyed Susans and wild daisies grow freely here, and it’s peaceful now. Fuzzy caterpillars inch along the ground, and migrating geese fly overhead.

This landscape was forever changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when four hijackers flew United Airlines Flight 93 into the ground at 563 miles per hour, killing all onboard — 33 passengers and seven crew members.

The impact left a jagged crater in the earth, 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide. The heroic actions of the passengers and crew are believed to have thwarted the original intentions of the hijackers — the targeting of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

(left) Names of victims on 9/11; at the Flight 93 Visitor Center

Just before the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, the first phase of the Flight 93 National Memorial was dedicated; the next phase opened in September 2015. The site now includes a Memorial Plaza, the Wall of Names and a Visitor Center and Learning Center.

The Visitor Center offers a multimedia overview of the tragic day, with looping news reports, crash artifacts, photos and short biographies of the victims, and recordings of their emergency calls.

It is not for the faint of heart, but it is necessary and poignant.

More than 1,000 memorial designs were submitted from an international pool of architects, with Paul Murdoch Architects of Los Angeles and Nelson Byrd Woltz of Charlottesville, Va., being chosen in 2005. (right) Crash artifacts at the Visitor Center.

Architecturally, the Visitor Center is stark and stunning; it overlooks the crash site and the Memorial Plaza, and is the best place to start your visit.

The Western Overlook Trail snakes down to the Memorial Plaza; it is an easy, .7-mile walk through a field of wildflowers. The walk offers a calming transition between the harrowing contents of the Visitor Center and the noble Memorial Plaza.

At the bottom of the Western Overlook Trail, the Memorial Plaza stretches before you. To the right is the Wall of Names, with the names of the passengers and crew engraved on erected white-marble panels.

The Wall of Names is erected along the flight path, pointing to a large boulder that has been placed at the crash site.

(left) the Western Overlook Trail; wildflowers on the Western Overlook Trail

Forty Memorial Groves have been planted at the Memorial Plaza, a living remembrance of the passengers and crew. Each grove contains 40 trees, including Sugar Maple, White Oak and elm.

The Tower of Voices is the next planned phase of the memorial — 40 wind chimes dedicated to the victims. 

Find it
Flight 93 Memorial:
Drive Time: about 1½ hours


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