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American Society of Landscape Architects


November 2005 Issue

Embracing the Pasts
Flight 93 memorial design takes wing from a yearlong competition.

By Gary W. Cramer

Embracing the Parts
Rendering by Aleksander Novak-Zemplinski

Long before terms like "sacred ground" and "field of honor" were applied to the resting place of United Flight 93 in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Somerset County, the nearly ceaselessly windy, rural landscape had different labels—"reclaimed strip mine," "farmland," "forest."

Once heavily geared toward fueling the Industrial Revolution through coal mining and timbering that ravaged the land, the modern economy derived from much of the county’s gently rolling and now patchily forested countryside runs on agricultural output. Especially prevalent are dairy farms, recreation and tourism services, light industry, and services for the many retirees who populate the area. But to some extent, surface and deep mining is making a comeback in this region, and in these more environmentally aware times, the effects of these extractions are more often being at least partially remediated through the mining operations-supported reclamation of swaths of the land.

One such swath includes the meadow-and-wetland "bowl" into the edge of which Flight 93 crashed at more than 500 miles per hour on September 11, 2001. The site is tucked away in otherwise unremarkable terrain reachable by minor roads from nearby Shanksville, a borough of some 245 souls between the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Lincoln Highway (Route 30).

"That landscape was, in a sense, in a state of transformation and still is," says Charles Fox, a museum administrator at the Somerset Historical Center, noting that the pre-9/11 remediation continues to this day at the site. "In many ways, you can see it as a metaphor for the acts of [9/11] itself. [Those aboard Flight 93] were not superheroes, but ordinary people who responded—some say heroically, but I see it as an act of generosity—by taking action to save the lives of other people."

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