Tower of Voices will rise at Flight 93 memorial in Somerset County
The first chimes of the final piece of the Flight 93 National Memorial tumbled over a sunny field Sunday in Somerset County.
“The sounds resonate with my heart,” said Patrick White, president of the Friends of Flight 93. “It is only when all 40 of them are all together next year ... I'm going to hear a message that I've been waiting a long time to hear and that is ‘You're done; good job.' ”
White and other family members and friends of those on the flight were part of a group that stood and sat in chairs in a field not far from Route 30 for a ground- and sound-breaking ceremony marking the start of work at the Stonycreek Township park. In all, about 300 people attended.
The 93-foot-tall tower will contain 40 wind chimes representing the voices of each passenger and crew member aboard the plane on Sept. 11, 2001.
Authorities believe four hijackers on United Flight 93 were headed for a target in Washington, D.C., when passengers who learned of the three other crashes — two at New York's Twin Towers and a third at the Pentagon — attempted to wrest control of the plane from them.
Moments later, the jet crashed in a Somerset County strip mine at the site of what now is the memorial.
Design of the $5 million tower, which will be powered by wind, has been painstaking, but a labor of love, for families of those aboard the airplane as well as architect Paul Murdoch and consultants from around the world who have offered input.
Murdoch said he designed the tower to be “monumental in stature but intimate in experience.”
“To do this, it has involved a great many challenges. As the actions of those 40 were unprecedented, we will build a monument the world has never seen or heard,” he said.
Each chime will be 8 to 16 inches in diameter and approximately 5 to 10 feet long. Each has been designed to have a different sound. Project music consultant Sam Pellman has been working on the harmony for the last year.
“This is the first time I've been in the presence of the actual sounding unit here,” Pellman said after the hour-long ceremony.
Family members had a chance to ring one chime — one woman used the 12-pound striker and said “Wow,” while others took photographs standing next to it. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke likened the ceremony to an “old-fashioned barn raising.”
“As the chimes ring next year, I hope we all remember that the sound we make is the sound of a great nation,” Zinke said.
White sees the tower and chimes as a rebirth of the voices on the plane and as a message for the healing power of music, he said. His cousin, Louis J. Nacke II, was on Flight 93.
“With all my heart and soul, I believe the 40's message to us ... will always be ‘United we stand,' ” he said.
About 110,000 citizens, and additional foundations and corporations, have raised the $46 million for the creation of the national park born out of the heroic acts of the passengers and crew aboard Flight 93, said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. It was important for the Tower of Voices to have its own day, he said.
“You feel it in a fundamentally different way than just seeing,” Shafroth said about the tower.
For the families, seeing the last piece of the memorial erected means the park's completion will happen soon, said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93. His brother, Edward Felt, was on board the plane.
“Every step of the way, the National Park Service has promised us a memorial that would surpass other memorials,” Felt said after the ceremony. “We're very excited. Today's a day of celebration. Tomorrow's a day of remembrance.”
The tower will be dedicated in September 2018. Stonycreek Township Supervisor Greg Walker has a message for that date: “I want you to marvel at its majestic height and beauty, but simply close your eyes and listen.”