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Flight 93 marker design picked

Maple trees, wind chimes honor those who died

Thursday, September 08, 2005

By Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

WASHINGTON -- It will serve as a living tribute. With each wind, each breeze, a set of chimes housed in a 93-foot tower will create a different song in memory of the 40 people who sacrificed their lives trying to save the lives of others.

Paul Murdoch Architects
Above: A crescent of maple trees is one aspect of the 2,000 acre "Crescent of Embrace" memorial site.
Below: Two textured concrete walls frame the flight path of United Airlines Flight 93. The site also includes a chapel with 40 metallic wind chimes.

Click photos for larger image.

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Four years after United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a reclaimed strip mine near Shanksville, Somerset County, on Sept. 11, 2001, the design that will serve as the national memorial was unveiled here yesterday in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hall of Flags.

"Crescent of Embrace" will feature a Tower of Voices, containing 40 wind chimes -- one for each passenger and crew member who died -- and two stands of red maple trees that will line a walkway caressing the natural bowl shape of the land. Forty separate groves of red and sugar maples will be planted behind the crescent, and a black slate wall will mark the edge of the crash site, where the remains of those who died now rest.

As the black cloak that had hidden the winner was removed, a collective gasp came from those gathered, who then rose to their feet to applaud.

In the front row, three family members --a woman who lost her mother, a woman who lost her husband and a woman who lost her brother -- leaned into each other, in a show of love and support.

"It's powerful but understated," said Kiki Homer, whose brother, LeRoy W. Homer Jr., was co-pilot on the plane that crashed after passengers rebelled against terrorist hijackers. "It's beautifully simple.

"My breath is taken away."

Esther Heymann, whose daughter, Elizabeth Wainio, died in the crash, agreed.

"The understatement speaks to the profoundness of what occurred here," she said.

According to jurors who chose the winner, it offers "tranquility, beauty and silence. It will be a place for everyone who visits to feel the spirits of the 40 heroes in the whisper of the trees and honor their unselfish sacrifice of their lives to preserve the lives of countless many."

The winning designers, Paul and Milena Murdoch of Los Angeles, called being selected "an incredible honor."

"There's a huge emotional investment," said Paul Murdoch, 48, his voice choking.

After months of excitement surrounding the design competition, which drew more than 1,000 entries, the project will now move into intense fund-raising and logistical work. No cost estimate or timetable has been set for construction of the memorial, but it will take years.

For the Murdochs, their design evolved all at once, they said, and nothing in it is more important than anything else.

The idea of the Crescent of Embrace, Murdoch said, is to be a gesture of healing and bonding. The crescent marks the edge of the land, which will remain largely untouched.

"It's simple and yet it's complex," said Dorothy Garcia, whose husband, Andy, died in the crash. "The void that's there speaks so loudly to the heroism of these 40 souls."

One of the important attributes of the winning design, Murdoch said, is that it allows the memorial to continually grow and change. The maple trees that create the crescent will be planted at just 15 or 20 feet tall. They won't reach maturity for 40 or 50 years.

"It will be open and evolving as long as it's there," he said. "Our memorial is not about offering explanation for what happened, but to allow people to come to terms with it."

Paul Murdoch Architects
Above: The black slate plaza has a low slanted wall, containing niches, in which visitors can leave tributes. The crash site will be planted with grasses bulbes and flowering plants, that will alternately bloom throughout the year.
Below: The western side of the memorial site will include the names of the 40 victims and the date inscribed on a ribbon of translucent marble.

Click photos for larger image.

The idea for the wind chimes, Murdoch said, came from the fact that for many of the families, the last memory they have of their loved ones is hearing their voices on cell phones just minutes before the plane crashed.

Carole O'Hare, whose mother, Hilda Marcin, died in the crash, served on the Stage I jury, which narrowed the field of entries to five finalists. Though she loved the idea of the wind chimes, she worried others may not.

"Sometimes wind chimes can give off an eerie sound -- especially in an open field," she said. "To me, it sends a message of life -- the noise, the sound."

The tower to house the chimes, Murdoch said, should be seen as a heroic form that will be the first and last experience visitors have as they enter and leave the park.

The Murdochs wanted to ensure the tranquility and serenity of the landscape. They also noted, though, the rawness of the site. There is constant wind, and in the winter, blinding snows are common.

"The first impulse was using some type of the land form," Murdoch said. "We always wanted to use that to [our] advantage, instead of trying to fight it."

From the beginning, said Milena Murdoch, 46, the focus for them was on the crash site, which many refer to as sacred ground.

She talks wistfully of a grove of hemlock trees behind the ground that withstood the impact of the crash.

"There was something unexplained about that place," Paul Murdoch added. "It's like being in a cathedral."

They will use the hemlocks, bordered with a slanting stone wall, to allow visitors to get close to the sacred ground.

When the winner was revealed, Esther Heymann said she felt a mix of emotions.

"I felt sad because I miss my child. This makes it more and more real that I'll never get her back," she said. "Then I felt great because we've accomplished this major thing -- a place to go to honor these people."

Her husband, Ben Wainio, agreed.

"It makes it feel like the last four years meant something."

(Paula Reed Ward can be reached at or 412-263-1601.)

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