The day I drove to the Flight 93 Memorial in Stoystown Pennsylvania was cloudy and rainy. In order to get there, I had to get off the main highway and travel east. As I noted in a previous blog, east-west topography in Pennsylvania most closely is described as a roller coaster. Thankfully, it was only about 10 miles away. The sky was still overcast but it seemed to want to break just before I arrived. On driving up the National Park access road, the clouds closed in and the winds picked up. I wondered if this hillside had always been pummeled by the wind like this or whether the phenomenon began after the horrendous crash on 9/11. There was a palpable emotion as I approached. I was not at all attracted to the architecture and I could barely determine where to enter; only later did I understand that the intent by the planners may have been to convey the feeling of hopelessness that those on the plane endured. It was easy to feel lost and confused. A bus-load of junior high students was exiting the visitor center as I drove in. I parked my unit near their bus. It was easy to see that this was a fun day away from school for many; most of them were probably born after that day and so had no emotional connection to the story that so many of us cannot erase.
I made my way to a viewing area. To get there I had to walk down a long walkway to an opening between two free standing concrete walls that stood about 20 feet high. As I walked through, I noted an entrance to a building – the Visitor Center – to my left. On my right was a single bench which sat facing another tall wall. The floor between the two walls led to an edge that simply dropped off; I was not compelled to approach it. As I continued to walk forward, I was drawn through another opening that led down a long but irregular platform with solid glass rails.
At the end of the platform was a kiosk that explained the components of the actual Flight 93 memorial further down the hillside.
The wind along this gangplank was so intense that I held on to the railing with both hands. I oriented myself to the diagram reflecting the memorial in the distance as the wind continued and the rain began to fall hard. It was as if the clouds were closing in on the view ahead.
I returned to the Visitor Center and stepped inside. First down a long dark corridor with gigantic glass and steel doors, it emptied in to a foyer. The store was to the left; a number of the usual memorial items could be purchased there. While I often look at memorabilia of a place I’ve visited, this one did not call to me in the least. I had not contemplated how hard it would be to allow the emotion I felt to rise into my awareness.
As I continued to walk, I noted large viewing windows to the right, looking down to the crash site. On my right were a series of displays arranged much like a library with a much wider place to walk between the “stacks”. On several of the stack walks were news videos on auto play; visitors stood transfixed watching the replays of the towers falling, of the pentagon attack and of the thwarted Flight 93 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
I was unable to linger there as the videos were too graphic for me to re-experience. I continued to explore the “stacks” and found myself viewing the photos of all 33 passengers and 7 crew who bravely lost their lives that day; 4 hijackers also lost their lives. To me, this was the most poignant aspect of the Memorial. I saw photos of people of all ages, all ethnicities, from all over the country and beyond. In the next display were the names of all those lost on 911. I teared up and was grateful for the box of tissues available on the shelf near the bottom of the display. The wall simply gave their names – or at least, that was all I saw! I later found this website which gives additional information about each. www.honorflight93/remember/?fa=passengers-crew. After spending time here, I looked once more through the large windows facing south at the crash site and ventured outside into the intense wind along one of the prison-like walls. I returned to my car and contemplated a moment whether to proceed to the memorial itself another mile away. I opted to move on – my heart was too heavy to see more – and made my way another 30 minutes away to Hickory Hollow campground just south of Somerset Pennsylvania. This is where I’d stay for another 3 nights so that I could take in Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania along with other unexpected gems of history and culture.
The 1st surprise was the barns. Oh so wonderfully red with white trim; ornate, almost lacey, white trim at that. All of them two-story, they were built in such a way that one could drive up to either level. Smart and brimming with pride!
Then, for the 2nd surprise, I stumbled across a number of covered bridges; some open to the public while others were closed but with viewing areas on either side. All were posted for weight limits that allowed only the lightest of vehicles to cross them. This may be obvious to many but the reason covered bridges were built in the first place was to protect the wooden trusses from the weather. Since wood was the most available material to use when they were originally built, their longevity was greatly reduced when left exposed to wind, rain and snow as well as the broad extremes of temperature.
Surprise #3 was Ohiopyle. This is a small community in the midst of a state park that straddles the Youghiogheny River and that serves as a thrill seeking tourist attraction.
Many rafting and kayaking companies are headquartered here to support the many experienced and inexperienced fast-water lovers. I saw many river riders, and water-worn rocks with eons of stories in their crevices. I was a wonderful afternoon and I left several rose quartz for the rivers and streams leading to this recreation. (This was the place where the rafting guide made a discrediting remarks about girls and their paddling abilities…..I set him straight….that’s another story!)
This one does not count as a surprise really because it was a planned visit. What surprised me was the message it gave me. I specifically traveled to this area to visit the house known as Fallingwater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1935 for a well to do Pittsburg department store owner named Kaufmann, whose son later gifted the house to a heritage foundation that manages it today. My first introduction to this house was in Art History during my freshman year in college at UMaine in 1973. My professor used the iconic photo of it in a presentation-lecture. I was immediately smitten. More recently, a co-worker visited it and knowing of my love affair with the house, she brought me back a book about its construction and a small piece of jewelry in the FLW Craftsman style. I would take me another 15 years or so to make the trip myself. It was so worth it!
This house is literally in the middle of nowhere! In 1935 there were few roads – and if I did not make this clear yet, they are extremely hilly — to the land and cabin that Mr. Kaufmann owned, so imagine the feat! The house uses 5 basic materials- stone, wood, concrete, steel and glass. The basic concept of the design is that of a tree, rooted in the earth with large branches stemming off the main trunk. The roots into which the trunk is anchored is actually a very large boulder. The trunk is a concrete central column and the branches are the cantilevered sections of the home highlighting both indoor and outdoor spaces. Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to design a house that invited its dwellers to be in nature for as much of the time they spent there as possible. Because a house is intended to provide shelter from the elements, Frank Lloyd Wright’s way of dealing with this dichotomy was to bring nature inside! He did this in a number of ways but the most graphic was by building over the stream that runs through the land. In addition, wall sized windows are in every room and the furniture, designed by him and built into the house are very low profile so as to not detract from the views to the outside. There are so many features unique to this house and revolutionary from an engineering/ architectural perspective that many have never been replicated. What is even more surprising is the fact that the home’s budget was $30,000 but actually cost $150,000 to build. Eighty years later, it is worth millions! He was nearly 70 when he was commissioned to design this house; in his lifetime he designed more than 1100 buildings, nearly 1/3 of which came after Fallinwater and more than half have been built.
There is no way I can do justice to this house in the descriptions I am providing. The experts have done a tremendous job explaining the brilliance of this man’s ideas; find a book and enjoy the reading! But if you ever get the chance to visit this house or any of the other homes he built, it will be worth your while! Taliesin West in Scottsdale Arizona was his home and studio/school; I was blessed to see this house as well.
I was very moved by my time at Fallingwater. I’ve never studied architecture and I’ve only taken a few art classes. I think there are two things about this place that really spoke to me. One is that Frank Lloyd Wright’s way of thinking is so inspiring to me; it represents the best ideas I’ve ever encountered about designing WITH and FOR nature. To be so sensitive as to integrate the physical with the natural in the way that he did is nothing less than magical – one could say otherworldly – and it has yet to be fully understood and implemented as a way of building.
The second reason that my visit to Fallingwater was so emotional is what it said to me and about me. I’m not really sure the best way to say; I’m sure that as this trip unfolds, I will find better words to articulate.
What I realized during my visit there is what “Kat’s year on the road” is truly about. It’s about self-love. When you get to the point in your life where you allow yourself to follow your bliss, in the words of Joseph Campbell, you know you are living your higher purpose. It may not make sense and may seem frivolous but at this time in my life, following my bliss is to visit sacred sites, to be in the presence of higher wisdom and sensibility, to feel the energy of the earth and universe depicted in natural or man-made structures that span one scale or another. This is what makes me happy; it is what makes my pulse race and what causes me to feel chills from the soles of my feet through to the top of my head. Fallingwater is a sacred site; Flight 93 is a sacred site; touching trees that are hundreds of years old and rocks that are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years old – these are all sacred places. Experiencing connections with objects of nature and like minded people creates sacredness that is not bound to space or time; the bottom line is the connection, the feeling of oneness, of recognition. “I know you; I see you.”
As I drove away, I wept for the privilege of simply being there.