SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — A $26 million visitors center complex at the Flight 93 National Memorial will be dedicated and open to the public Sept. 10, a day before the 14th anniversary of the terror attacks.
The new center near Shanksville, about 75 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, consists of two buildings, a 4,700-square-foot learning center that will play host to activities, guest speakers and events and a separate visitors center with exhibit space and more serene, sober reminders of the crash site.
“The interior of that space will be very reverent,” Keith Newlin, the deputy superintendent of the memorial said during a media-only tour last week.
United Airlines Flight 93, which was traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, went down Sept. 11, 2001, in a reclaimed strip mine after passengers fought back against its hijackers. All 33 passengers and seven crew members were killed along with the hijackers.
The plane was the only one of four hijacked that day that didn’t hit its intended target, and the passenger revolt spawned the memorial’s slogan, “A common field one day ... a field of honor forever.”
The visitors center will include five two-sided walls with 10 exhibits that will tell the story of the day. The theme of one will be “an ordinary day, which everybody probably remembers,” Newlin said. Other exhibits will include interactive displays, video and photographs, some of which were donated by the families of the 40 victims aboard the plane, Newlin said. There also will be as remnants of a makeshift memorial where visitors placed flowers, mementos and other tributes at a chain-link fence that first marked the crash site.
Newlin said the design of the visitors complex will accentuate the crash site’s transformation. The concrete exterior walls are molded to mimic the grain of the hemlock wood barns that dot the surrounding farmland, and many other features of the building are black.
“That represents the coal heritage, the coal seam in this area,” Newlin said.
The walls of the visitors center are bisected by a black granite walkway tracing the plane’s path. When completed, it will lead to an overlook featuring a backlit glass panel engraved with the “common field” slogan through which visitors can view the crash site.
Visitors hoping for a closer look can follow paths to the memorial wall at the crash site, engraved with the victims’ names.
Tickets will be issued for at least the first couple of months the visitors center is open to manage crowds. The tickets will be free, though a small fee of $1 or $1.50 might be charged to reserve tickets online instead of getting them at the site.
Officials hope the new visitors center will boost annual visitors from about 300,000 to 500,000 but more importantly spread the story of the heroes who died there, Newlin said.
“They were together for 35 minutes and decided what to do,” Newlin said. “From that we can learn a lot.”