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Village Vine: Memorable vacation to place to commemorate tragedy

Husband Bob, daughter Lisa and I recently returned from a trip to south central Pennsylvania, an area known as the Laurel Highlands.

We visited with Bob’s relatives, and Lisa had a chance to reconnect with many of her cousins.

Bob is from the area, having grown up on Blue Knob, which at 3,120 feet above sea level is the second-highest mountain in Pennsylvania. Part of the Allegheny Mountains, this is a beautiful place to visit, full of forests, streams (known as “cricks”), hills and valleys, and lots of wildlife. This area is between Johnstown and Altoona, near Bedford, and about 35 miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line (the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania).

While there, Lisa and some of her cousins went to Pittsburgh for the Heinz Pickle Festival, which was held on a bridge and featured everything you could imagine being pickled: pickle pop (they call it soda), pickle beer, pickle fudge (not bad, really – she brought a sample for me to try), kimchi, etc.

I mentioned wildlife. We saw deer, groundhogs, many types of birds, but Lisa was the only one who saw a bear. While in Pennsylvania, we stayed at a rented condo on the ninth hole of the golf course at the Blue Knob All Seasons Resort. We were in the upper condo; the lower condo is owned by John, who lives there year-round with his dog, Dozer. Dozer is big – half pit bull and half boxer – with beautiful markings, almost like tiger striped. He was a sweetie, very friendly.

One night, Lisa was out on the deck talking to John. I went out to say hello, and Dozer started to growl. Dozer went to get up and John told him, “No, Dozer. Stay.” John said there’s a bear around, and Dozer hates bears. I went inside and no longer had I sat down when Lisa yelled, “Mom, there’s a bear!” Of course, I missed it because the bear ran off when it heard Lisa. The bear went over to the clubhouse and dined on garbage it managed to get out of a dumpster that someone forgot to lock.

We crossed the highest mountain in Pennsylvania, Mount Davis (altitude 3,212 feet), on our way to what was, to me, the most memorable part of our stay. We visited the almost-completed Flight 93 Memorial near Somerset. The memorial is run by the National Park Service, and it is beautifully done, as well as being very, very sad. We had visited the site where the doomed plane went down on 9/11 when it was a makeshift memorial. Then, you entered on a gravel road and crossed a little bridge. Amenities were a couple of porta-potties. People had left items including tombstones, wooden benches with names of the passengers and crew and a huge cross next to a large flagpole flying Old Glory. On the chain-link backstop (it had been a ball field), people had fastened flowers, ribbons and rosaries. We added a Gurnee American Legion license plate. All of the items that were left are now in a salt mine in a government storage area. Nothing has been thrown away; new items also are kept, and someday may be put into a permanent museum at the memorial site.

Now, you enter on a paved road to a large parking lot with lots of handicapped spots. The Visitors’ Center is there with a map of the site and indoor bathrooms. I was walking with two canes (I have to have both knees replaced soon). Lisa was talking to a ranger, and he took one look and me and said, “Take a wheelchair.” To my surprise, the wheelchairs are free – don’t have to rent them or sign them out. Just take one. The entire site is huge, but it is all handicapped accessible.

You enter the site by walking on the flight path the doomed plane took. The museum is next to the path and it is very well done. It is also very sad. Even the little kids there were solemn. You could listen to the recorded messages of passengers who called home on their cellphones. Lisa listened to two and hung up the phone. Bob and I could not listen to any of them – way too heart-wrenching!

If you walk the entire grounds, you’ll have gone over four miles. We didn’t go that far. There is a large boulder that marks the end of the plane crash. With the families’ approval, all human remains are buried in the woods beyond the boulder. No one goes back there except for National Park employees who may need to tend this gravesite.

There is a huge Tower of Voices, which is the last part of the memorial to be finished. It’s almost ready and will enclose wind chimes to remind visitors of the souls lost on 9/11. It’s very sad, very beautifully done, and certainly worth a visit if you are in the Somerset area.

Nancy Long writes about Lake County history from her home in Gurnee.

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