It was almost a year ago that I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial as part of a travel conference I attended in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania (just southeast of Pittsburgh). We had our choice of day trips and while there is so much to do in that area, I knew that this memorial was one that I had to visit.
As with many national tragedies, I worry that the further we move from the actual date of September 11, 2001 the more people will forget or, at the very least, minimize the significance and impact of that day. Places like the Flight 93 National Memorial are a sobering reminder of tragedy that has befallen us on our own soil but it’s also a testament to the human and American spirit shown on that day.
The Tower of Voices
Upon arriving at the memorial site, your first stop is at a relatively new structure called The Tower of Voices. This is a ninety-three feet tall structure designed to house 40 wind chimes constructed of polished aluminum tubes of varying lengths.
It’s intention is to house a chime that represents each passenger and crew member aboard flight 93. As the wind blows, these unique wind chimes will come together to act as a complete musical instrument.
The wind chimes are apparently very complex and several types have been installed and continued to be tested for sound quality. The structure currently houses 8 prototype wind chimes and there is no estimation yet for the completion of the tower.
If you’d like to hear a simulation of what the final tower may sound like, you can listen below with this audio created by Sam Pellman.
The tower area would be your first stop upon entering the memorial and does have its own parking lot but you’ll need to drive to the next stop at the memorial which is the Visitor Center Complex.
Visitor Center Complex
The Visitor Center is a large, high-walled building surrounded by portal walls and a black granite pathway. As with everything here, the design is entirely intentional.
The black granite walkway leading through the tall Portal Walls is located along the flight path of Flight 93 and is also
a timeline of events. The high walls draw the eyes skyward.
It almost seemed fitting that it was a drizzly, dreary day at the memorial. And the dampness highlighted the stark architecture. But inside, the mood was a bit different.
From the moment I went inside, I was riveted by the displays from Flight 93. They showcased everything from news clips from the morning of 9/11 to artifacts found at the crash site. But the overall tone was clear. This was a horrific day that made heroes out of everyday American citizens.
If you were around on 9/11, this gallery will immediately take you back to that day and all of the emotions you probably felt. It may be difficult for some but, for me, it was important to relive that day.
In one area, you can lift up a handset and listen to the few recorded messages left to loved ones by the passengers and crew of Flight 93. I won’t lie. I cried. And I know some people that refused to listen because it was too emotionally difficult. For me, listening was part of honoring their memory.
Although children may not understand the significance of the visitor center and may even be a little bored, it’s definitely a family friendly site and I was encouraged to see many families touring with their children and explaining some of the details of the day.
After spending time in the Visitor Center, you can hop on one of two paths heading down to the crash site (both require significant walking) or jump back in your car to complete your visit with the Wall of Names. But before leaving, be sure to walk out on the overlook down to the crash site. There, you’ll find a glass partition engraved with the words:
A common field one day. A field of honor forever.
Just a quick travel note – there aren’t any bathrooms inside the Visitor Center but you will find some in the low building near the parking area.
The Wall of Names
A final tribute to the passengers and crew takes place at their final resting place near the site of actual impact. Since it’s a fairly long walk, you may want to drive to the lower parking area and walk along the Memorial Plaza Wall and Walkway to get to the Wall of Names.
Whether you walk or drive, you get a beautiful view of the Visitor Center Complex from below.
What you’ll find in the lower area is the continuation of the black granite pathway marking a portion of the flight path along with forty inscribed white marble panels honoring each passenger and crew member on the flight.
Also near the marble panels, you’ll see the wooden Ceremonial Gate, which grants visitors a view of the impact site, now marked by a boulder.
This marked a poignant ending to my visit to the memorial and made me swear to head back with my family to this beautiful area. It’s sad and somber but also a reminder of the bravery of every day people.
Planning Your Visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial
The Flight 93 National Memorial is not terribly close to anything in particular. That’s part of what makes it even more significant. This plane, intended for a DC target, was brought down in a field in a rural part of Pennsylvania.
It’s definitely worth making the time to add this into your travel plans, wherever you are coming from:
- Pittsburgh – 1 1/2 hours driving time
- Washington, DC/Baltimore area – 3 1/2 hours driving time
- Philadelphia – 4 hours driving
- New York City – 5 hours driving
It is open from 9am to 5pm on most days and is completely wheelchair accessible. Plan to spend at least 3 hours at the entire site.