Soon after 9/11, a quiet field near Shanksville, Pa., became an attraction for those wanting to pay tribute to the 40 passengers and crew members who died onboard United Airlines Flight 93. But as people drove twisted Route 30 to the secluded site, many wouldn't realize what they were seeing. There's a pond where people presumed the plane had crashed and also a recycling operation that could easily be mistaken for wreckage from the Boeing 757.
"We thought it was really wrong to go away from this site with this incorrect information," says Shanksville resident Donna Glessner.
She and others in January 2002 began to volunteer for the National Park Service, which controls the makeshift memorial. They staffed the grounds for eight to 10 hours a day, year-round. For anyone who has experienced a western Pennsylvania winter, that's not always easy.
"It's very interesting because this community really rose up to the occasion," says Joanne Hanley, superintendent of the Flight 93 National Memorial for the National Park Service. In addition to the tour guides on site, the park service has collected 25,000 tributes left at the memorial for preservation and has 44 books and 5,000 cards filled with messages and condolences.
Julie Donovan, the spokesperson for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, says her organization does not promote the memorial as a tourist attraction out of respect for the passengers' and crews' families.
"It is viewed as a cemetery; that's the respect that we give it," she says.
But tourists it does bring. The sleepy Somerset County, Pa., town of about 250 hosted 160,000 to 165,000 visitors last year. Glessner has noticed that the roads have become busier from the influx of interested guests. The site still houses just a temporary memorial, as not all the property has been acquired from landowners to begin construction of a permanent one.
Glessner and 46 other volunteers spend several hours of their week greeting onlookers from around the country and the world. While Shanksville hasn't grown much since 2001, the community has grown closer.
"You just realize that no place is so remote that it's beyond the touch of these kinds of events," Glessner says. "It really can happen anywhere."