The United Flight 93 Memorial in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania commemorates the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, which was one of four aircraft hijacked in the September 11 attacks. Due to the heroic efforts of passengers and crew to crash the plan in its remote location, between Shanksville and Stoystown, PA, no other lives were taken. This memorial preserves the story of these peoples’ bravery within the greater context of the 9/11 tragedy.
Having visited all three 9/11 Memorial sites, I found the message of hope and healing here at the Flight 93 National Memorial to be strongest.
What happened in Shanksville, PA on 9/11?
On September 11, 2001, four al-Qaida terrorists hijacked United Flight 93, a non-stop flight headed from Newark, NJ to San Francisco. The 40 passengers and crew, having learned about the earlier crashes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, voted to fight back. Their actions, forcing the plane to crash into a field near a reclaimed coal mine, saved countless lives at the intended target in Washington, D.C.
What does the Flight 93 Memorial symbolize?
This National Memorial is a 2,200-acre national park honoring the brave actions of the 40 passengers and crew who prevented even greater tragedy.
This 9/11 Memorial is comprised of four distinct elements: The Wall of Names, The Memorial Plaza, the Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center and Learning Center, and the Tower of Voices with its 40 windchimes. Each component is essential to telling the story of what happened here.
A common field one day. A field of honor forever.
The Wall of Names and Memorial Plaza were completed in 2011. The wall of names includes each of the 40 passengers and crew, inscribed on white marble panels the follow the final flight path. The Memorial Plaza sits on the quarter-mile northern boundary of the crash site and leads to the Wall of Names. As a national park, guides are available to help visitors understand the symbolism of the memorial.
Another component, the Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center and Learning Center opened in 2015. It provides a timeline of the events of 9/11 through photos, artifacts, and audio recordings. It provides a broader context of world affairs at that moment in time, as well as context for all the hijackings planned or attempted on 9/11.
The final element, the Tower of Voices, was finalized in 2018, and includes 40 chimes hung as a tribute to the voices of the 40 heroes who died here. You can experience the Tower of Voices on earthcam.
What should I expect when visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial?
At the United Flight 93 Memorial, the Visitor Center is the most informative, telling the story of 9/11 through dynamic displays. The space is dark and, understandably, feels somber. It can get crowded, though the displays are generally easy to see, even with crowds. Those who want to listen to the available recordings might need a bit more time to get through the exhibit. Museum docents are available to provide assistance when needed.
Just outside the Visitor Center, going left as you leave the building, there is an overlook of the debris field. It provides a sense of peace, as new trees, flowers and native grasses cover the scarring of the crash site. At the same time, it provides a sense of how violent and expansive the crash was.
When you leave the Visitor Center, take a short drive to the parking lot near the Wall of Names. Again, National Park staff and volunteers are available to explain the meaning of each element. The Wall of Names is made of 40 individual slabs of marble to create one cohesive wall. It follows the line of the final moments of flight. When you look up toward the Visitor Center from the Wall of Names, imagine how intense these few moments in time must have been.
The Ceremonial Gate, near the Wall of Names, is kept locked and opens only to allow family members of those who died to pass through. The gate is made of hemlock, the tree most prevalent at the crash site. I truly appreciated that the families are provided privacy when they visit.
A short drive away, the Tower of Voices is, perhaps the most healing spot at this 9/11 Memorial. Set among concentric plantings of trees and wildflowers, the 93 foot tall Tower of Voices houses 40 perfectly tuned wind chimes, one for each heroic voice lost here. As with the Wall of Names, there is a sense of quiet peace and healing here. While those who died cannot be brought back, their message of strength is palpable. Sit on a bench and allow that feeling to soak in.
Is the Flight 93 Memorial kid friendly?
This Memorial welcomes children. Like other national parks, a Junior Ranger Program is available on request at the Visitor Center and at the Memorial Plaza. The program provides 11 activities of varying levels to help kids understand this 9/11 Memorial. It also includes a narrative to explain the events of 9/11 to younger kids.
Some tips to make a visit to the Flight 93 Memorial with kids a little easier:
- Introduce the Flight 93 Memorial to them before you go — showing them pictures of the Flight 93 Memorial so they know what they will be seeing.
- Explain “proper etiquette.” A suggestion: Some of the people going to this museum will be very sad because they know it was a tough day in America. When we visit, it’s important to use quiet voices. When we get there, the first thing we will do is get a guide with pictures and activities just for kids.
- Take breaks. If your child has a lot of questions, take a break to go outside and read the Junior Ranger booklet together. With no context, it can be hard for them to absorb.
- On drives between the three elements, ask them for their questions and answer them before you go to the next part of the Memorial.
While the 9/11 Memorial is not designed for young kids, with some preparation and parental patience, they can visit and learn. It’s important to understand the past — even if it doesn’t feel so much like history to us adults.
How long does it take to tour the Flight 93 National Memorial?
It takes between 45 minutes and an hour to explore the exhibition space in the Visitor Center. It can take a bit longer if the Visitor Center is crowded.
Depending on whether you choose the walking trails to the Wall of Names or choose to drive down, your time to visit can be longer or shorter. The walk isn’t terribly difficult, just over a mile, but it does take longer than driving.
Allow a minimum of 30 minutes for the Wall of Names. There is a cell phone tour available to explain the meaning of different elements at the site, and that takes longer than simply exploring visually.
The Tower of Voices can be a quick ten minute visit, especially if the winds are calm.
A minimum of one hour is recommended for the entire visit, though up to three hours is not unreasonable to spend at the Flight 93 Memorial.
Can I bring my pet to the Flight 93 Memorial?
While service animals are always allowed, family pets are not allowed in the Visitors Center or at the Memorial Plaza.
Pets are permitted on the walking trails, at the Tower of Voices, and on the grass walkway near the Memorial Plaza (just not near the paved walkway and interpretive signs). Pets are allowed in all parking lots.
Pets must be on leashes no longer than six feet at all times, and pet owners should clean up after their pets.
When is the Flight 93 National Memorial open?
The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
The 9/11 Memorial grounds, including the Wall of Names, the Tower of Voices and the trails, are open daily, sunrise to sunset except in inclement weather.
What does it cost to tour the United Flight 93 Memorial?
There is no fee to visit this memorial site. There is also no fee for parking. A gift shop at the visitor center is available to purchase items related to the memorial and other national parks. The Junior Ranger Program is offered for free, just ask an attendant at the desk.
Resources to plan your visit
For more information on the Flight 93 Memorial, check these resources:
- National Park Service Flight 93 Memorial
- Friends of Flight 93 and the Flight 93 Memorial
- Go Laurel Highlands Flight 93 National Memorial
GPS Address for the Flight 93 National Memorial: 6424 Lincoln Highway, Stoystown, PA.
- Visitor’s guide for the 9/11 Memorial in New York
- Plan your visit to the Pentagon Memorial in Washington, DC
More information and ideas for visiting the Laurel Highlands: