Flight 93 memorial visitor center to open September 10 in Somerset County

Danielle Fox, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

STONYCREEK TOWNSHIP — The $26 million visitors’ complex at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County will open September 10, and honor the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by touching as lightly on the crash site as possible.

Before there were marble walls and a state-of-the-art visitors’ center, the families of the Flight 93 victims walked beside burn marks and downed hemlock trees, hearing only crickets at their loved ones’ final resting place.

Contractors continue work on a black granite walkway at the site of the Flight 93 National Memorial visitor center. The walkway marks the flight path of the hijacked plane before it crashed.Lake Fong Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Contractors continue work on a black granite walkway at the site of the Flight 93 National Memorial visitor center. The walkway marks the flight path of the hijacked plane before it crashed.Lake Fong Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

To preserve that memory, Los Angeles-based architect Paul Murdoch made the land “the key feature,” Keith E. Newlin, deputy superintendent of the memorial, said during a media-only tour Thursday.

Special guests will introduce and dedicate the complex in September before its completion in 2017. The property includes a 6,809-square-foot visitor center — a space for somber reverence with hemlock patterns and coal tones incorporated into the design — and a 4,686-square-foot learning center for class trips and guest speakers.

United Airlines Flight 93 left Newark, N.J., 14 years ago and was hijacked by four terrorists. The plane never arrived at its destination or the terrorists’ target, and instead went down after passengers fought back against the hijackers. All 33 passengers and seven crew members were killed, along with the hijackers.

Mr. Newlin hopes generations born too late to remember the tragedy can visit the center and learn about the leadership shown by the flight’s passengers and crew members when they overthrew the hijackers, sacrificed their lives and made Flight 93 the only flight out of four hijacked to not hit the terrorists’ target.

“Thirty-five minutes, they made the decision to do this,” Mr. Newlin said. “That was it.”

A black granite walkway follows the plane’s final trajectory and leads visitors past 34-foot-tall twin walls. The walls frame a gathering spot adjacent to the visitors center as well as a viewing window that overlooks the crash site.

Inside the visitors’ center, 10 exhibits stand on a radius to the crash site. The first exhibit tells the story of “an ordinary day,” Mr. Newlin said, when loved ones kissed traveling family members goodbye and pilots suited up for work. The following exhibits will showcase the tributes and photographs left by some of the families.

The exhibit panels are designed so visitors can quickly exit an exhibit if they become overly emotional, according to Brendan Wilson, lead park ranger.

The memorial will not be complete by September. A Tower of Voices — a 93-foot tower housing 40 wind chimes — will be visible from the highway in 2017, and 450 more trees in the Memorial Groves will line the pedestrian path encircling the memorial.

Mr. Newlin said he hopes the complex will turn the memorial, which gets about 300,000 visitors a year, into a destination, instead of a pit stop on the road to somewhere else.

“The story is going to be relearned, and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Mr. Newlin said.

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