On 9/11 anniversary, a solemn Shanksville to take center stage
In the 10 years since tragedy fell from the sky and landed in its backyard, the tiny town of Shanksville, Pa., has come to embrace its role in history.
United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field just outside of this town of fewer than 300 people in western Pennsylvania. The crash site, a reclaimed mine, is just a few miles from the town center, which is little more than a cluster of homes, churches, Ida’s country store and a sign that welcomes visitors to "Shanksville, a friendly little town."
On this anniversary weekend, Shanksville aimed to live up to its billing. Tiny flags lined the curbs, as if awaiting a parade. Churches posted messages of remembrance. "Remember Flight 93" signs hung from lamp posts and porches.
"We went from being a town nobody even knew ... to a place known around the nation," said Ben Eisler, a 19-year-old volunteer firefighter. Like many in town, Eisler came out to the new Flight 93 memorial on Sunday to commemorate the day. President Obama was slated to lay a wreath here later in the day.
Eisler said he’s been to the site every year since the crash, which took 44 lives. His mom was an "ambassador" -- one of many local volunteers who flocked to the site to assist victims' families and other visitors.
The town has gotten used to helping outsiders find their way. More than a million people have visited the site in the last decade. The town’s firehouse holds a musem of sorts, including a collection of patches traded with firefighters visiting from across the country. Outside the firehouse is an iron cross reclaimed from the rubble of the World Trade Center.
A few miles away, a local chapel built a smaller memorial its in back garden, giving tourist a place of quiet reflection while the $60-million memorial was under construction at the site of the crash. The hijackers are believed to have been planning to crash the plane in Washington, D.C., either at the Capitol or the White House. But the plane went down in the Pennsylvania field after passengers banded together and fought back.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the attention has become commonplace for Shanksville and the mountain towns around it. But longtime residents still remember a time when the area was known for coal mining, farming, hunting -- or not much at all.
"It’s just amazing that something of this magnitude happened in this little area," said Cathy Haer.
-- Kathleen Hennessey
Photo: A family member of one of the victims of the crash of United Flight 93 walks along a section of the national memorial in Shanksville, Pa. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press