For the last several years, my family and I have opted to do something historical over attending a block party or church picnic. We’ve begun to prefer quieter affairs to flashy celebrations.
While sometimes I miss those days gone by, I do understand that life changes for everybody, and our paths begin taking different directions. Perhaps next year we’ll opt to have an old school celebration, but for now I think we’ll stick to our current routine.
Long before Covid shut the world down, we’d begun to take different steam train trips available in our tri-state area – Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. This time, we added another layer: the Flight 93 Memorial. None of us had gone yet, and we knew that it would require a full morning instead of a “quick stop” like some had told us.
The memorial experience and track excursion each required a different mindset, but I think that it was a perfect combination and they balanced each other well. Even with all the sunburn now present on my neck, shoulders and face, both were – are – well worth a visit.
The Flight 93 Memorial
Hardly a cloud in the sky greeted my family and I this morning when we piled into our dad’s car for the nearly two hour trip out to the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The coincidence? The sky had the same kind of calm on September 11th, 2001. It was a nice cool morning, an easy drive, and chirping birds greeted us as we parked and walked up to the Tower of Voices near the park’s entrance.
My niece (9) and nephew (6), hadn’t yet learned just how important that day truly is, and I must admit that it was a strange experience explaining the events to them in a way their minds could process. Before we even got out of the car, their mama explained that it wasn’t a place to run around, even though it’s part of the National Park Service. It’s a very special place built to remember some very special people. That they understood, but it was still strange, as someone who actually remembers it, that there are not folks who were born after 2001 who do not.
The ranger who introduced the park and the Tower of Voices to us explained things very well (though I now wish I remembered her name). She was actually a Somerset resident who knew what the land was like before the morning events that fateful September day. My nephew had a very different idea on what type of “museum” he thought we were visiting, so we did have to try and explain things a little differently for him.
After the Tower of Voices we drove further up the hill – to an elevation of 2600 feet – to where the visitor’s center and one of the original parts of the memorial begins. Etched into the black walkway is a timeline, every few feet, of what happened when and where. We explored the timeline inside the main building, and I gotta say there was a very interesting group of individuals present today. Folks from all walks of life came together to pay their respects. With the exception of one very loud individual who didn’t know how to “read the room,” the visit only affirmed what I’ve longed for since childhood: people coexisting and being able to come together in a place like the memorial.
From there we headed outside and walked down the curved, stone and carved path to the Wall of Names. You couldn’t have asked for a better memorial, especially the attention to detail with the meaning behind certain elements, the inclusion of Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas’ unborn child, and the kanji name for Toshiya Kuge.
Every park ranger we met during our time there today exuded not only a sense of calm but a want and need to serve there. Each could answer any question we had, and knew who to pass on a question to if they didn’t know the answers themselves. They also knew when to leave folks alone and when to jump in.
I don’t think the park planners left out a single thing, and executed the park’s design and preservation of the land very well. There are, in my opinion, a few odd buildings that could be updated or serve a better purpose, but I will forever suggest to anyone interested they take the time to visit.
The “Tracks and Yaks” Excursion
When Pennsylvanians hear the name “Cumberland,” I think many forget that the Cumberland region also extends down into the upper portion of Maryland, just like the Allegheny Mountains. The Frostburg Train Depot, built in 1891, is now home to two separate excursions: “Tracks and Yaks” rail biking tour and train rides run by the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.
Around the depot we toured, taking in a packed hoagie lunch at the old timey game tables (checkers, toy trains, cards, etc) set up inside, the Carriage House, and inn. All three of these buildings represented a bygone era of transit that existed in the area from the late 1890s to the 1940s.
The C&P was a small local railroad, but it connected these communities to the B&O, Western Maryland and Pennsylvania railroads.source
I would also like to point out that “yaks” are not a reference to the animal, but another part of the package one can book: kayaks. With two small children, riding just the rails – not the rapids – seemed to be the safest choice!
While I do hope to one day return to ride the fabulous steam train, we did have a pretty epic time experiencing the rails in a completely different way. I don’t think something like this would work at, say, the tracks by Emsworth’s Locks and Dams. Those train tracks are still in use for normal freight.
This tour is the perfect combination of modern ingenuity and history. Not only are you able to explore the depot before your ride, but they tell you more about the area’s history along the way.
We added history of our own – a suspected arsonist set one of the railroad ties along the tracks on fire! We’re uncertain if the train accidentally did it because of how dry the area’s been, but our cars were right up front and we weren’t quite sure what we were seeing until our guides confirmed it. “The fire was there the first two trips of the day,” they said. But, thankfully, it was small, quickly found and easily extinguishable.
As my sunburn continues to get redder and redder, and my body expels the heat it gathered throughout the day, one couldn’t have asked for more gorgeous weather. And yes, I absolutely put on sunblock. We just think it expired and did absolutely nothing…
Sunscreen failure aside, I highly recommend y’all do a day like this the next holiday we celebrate. Go someplace off the beaten path, try something new, and learn a bit of history in the process. It can even be something as difficult as the subject matter discussed at the Flight 93 Memorial. I promise that it’ll be a visit well worth the trip.
A lot of planning goes into a day like today, regardless of what you choose to do. If you love planning your backyard gatherings, by all means continue doing so. But if you find yourself craving something a bit more meaningful on a day like Independence Day, I challenge you to get out there and try something a little different.