Cover image for From Memory to Memorial: Shanksville, America, and Flight 93 By J. William Thompson

From Memory to Memorial

Shanksville, America, and Flight 93

J. William Thompson


$19.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-07699-7

Available as an e-book

200 pages
5.5" × 8.5"
26 b&w illustrations/3 maps

Keystone Books

From Memory to Memorial

Shanksville, America, and Flight 93

J. William Thompson

“Thoughtful and exceptionally well-written.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
On September 11, 2001, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, became a center of national attention when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a former strip mine in sleepy Somerset County, killing all forty passengers and crew aboard. This is the story of the memorialization that followed, from immediate, unofficial personal memorials to the ten-year effort to plan and build a permanent national monument to honor those who died. It is also the story of the unlikely community that developed through those efforts.

As the country struggled to process the events of September 11, temporary memorials—from wreaths of flowers to personalized T-shirts and flags—appeared along the chain-link fences that lined the perimeter of the crash site. They served as evidence of the residents’ need to pay tribute to the tragedy and of the demand for an official monument. Weaving oral accounts from Shanksville residents and family members of those who died with contemporaneous news reports and records, J. William Thompson traces the creation of the monument and explores the larger narrative of memorialization in America. He recounts the crash and its sobering immediate impact on area residents and the nation, discusses the history of and controversies surrounding efforts to permanently commemorate the event, and relates how locals and grief-stricken family members ultimately bonded with movers and shakers at the federal level to build the Flight 93 National Memorial.

A heartfelt examination of memory, place, and the effects of tragedy on small-town America, this fact-driven account of how the Flight 93 National Memorial came to be is a captivating look at the many ways we strive as communities to forever remember the events that change us.

“Thoughtful and exceptionally well-written.”
“Thompson includes intimate and emotional details of individuals with diverse, and sometimes opposing, perspectives. This, along with Thompson’s skill as a writer, results in engaging literary quality. This significant strength allows Thompson to represent opposing opinions—about the politics raised by various memorialization activities, for instance—without flattening the narrative into a simple debate between local and national interests, partisan politics, or elite and unsophisticated aesthetics.”
“Thompson describes how heroic columns and figures for the final Memorial Plaza were rejected in favor of abstract minimalism, providing insight into human psychology, public controversy, theory of memory, the role of media, and national politics. Should be widely read by the public, scholars, and professionals for its scholarship and sensitive insights into a current issue. Summing Up: Essential.”
“Thompson raises and thoughtfully examines some of the central questions about public memory—and he does so with an example that has been relatively neglected, even seventeen years after the disaster. Therefore, this book makes an engaging and fresh contribution to ongoing discussions of memorialization, in general, as well as with specific regard to the events of September 11th.”
“Can serve as a historic overview of the process of building such a monument, with some useful orientation about the site and area for people who choose to visit the memorial.”
“Weaving factual details with oral histories, Thompson traces the commemoration of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, from the bluntly patriotic temporary memorial erected on the site immediately following the crash of the hijacked plane on 9/11 to the sober minimalism of the Flight 93 National Memorial, dedicated in 2011. Engaging, informative, and heartfelt, From Memory to Memorial especially explores how, and why, contemporary Americans make mass tragedies memorable in public space.”
“Bill Thompson’s thorough analysis of the oral histories surrounding the downing of United Flight 93 in Somerset County results in a poignant, compelling, and engrossing account that answers the question: what happens next in an ordinary place where nothing will ever be quite normal again?”
“A smart and moving account of the tragedy of Flight 93 and its effect on the families, the community of Shanksville, and our collective memories of 9/11. Thompson’s book will forever change your understanding of national grief and the memorials we erect to honor our dead.”

J. William Thompson is the former editor of Landscape Architecture magazine and the author of The Rebirth of New York City’s Bryant Park and Sustainable Landscape Construction.


Prologue: A Journey in the Name of Memory

1. The Day the Sky Fell Down

2. It Takes a Village

3. This Harvest of Sorrow

4. If Memories Could Heal

5. In Search of “the One Brilliant Idea”

6. The Many Faces of Memory

7. Memorial, Interrupted

8. The Shanksville Redemption