Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

A crater in a reclaimed coal mine in Somerset County hardly seems a potential site for a national memorial. However, as everyone knows by now, a dramatic story of terror and courage took place in the airspace above western Pennsylvania and ended with the fatal crash of United Airlines Flight 93 near Shanksville during the terrible morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Since that tragic day, hundreds of visitors have paid tribute to the passengers and crew: they have placed flowers, photographs, notes, and personal items around a makeshift shrine along the emergency access road to the site. It has become sacred ground.

In response to this public outpouring of grief, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) is working with the National Park Service, the Somerset County Commissioners, and the Somerset County Historical Society to develop a plan for a perma­nent memorial either at the crash site or at a nearby location. As the mementos increase, so do the questions about the proper way to care for these artifacts and the most appropriate way to recognize the ultimate sacrifice of the victims. As a temporary solution, the PHMC’s Somerset Historical Center will serve as a repository for the collection.

The larger question of how to create a memorial to Flight 93 will take much longer to resolve. In spite of our shared experience of the events of that day, each of us will remember and interpret the meaning of these awful events in very different ways. As time elapses, we will understand the fatal flight in a historical context shaped by other national and international events that have far reaching conse­quences. Some of us will want a realistic monument; others will favor an artistic, more abstract treatment. How do we tell the story of what actually happened that day? Do we display the artifacts left behind?

However we choose to remember the history of Flight 93, I hope we employ a process that involves a wide range of people throughout the country. I also hope we recognize the role that imagina­tion plays in our understanding of history. No episode in the course of that day stirred our imaginations more than the story of the hijacked passengers who defied the terrorists and who probably prevented even greater destruction. We have reconstructed this story from fragments of information, messages on answering machines, and telephone conversations with operators and family members. In the end, our imaginations will have to fill in the voids of evidence as we construct a narrative of what may become known as the first battle in new world war. The impact of events on our imaginations may be the most enduring memorial of all.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director