Saturday, August 23, 2008


Also during the week we drove out to Shanksville. I had been through the area before, right before I moved to New York. My brother Chris and I drove from Grand Rapids to Gettysburg. We took Route 30 across southern PA, which is a very scenic route through the Allegheny foothills. We were driving through a rural area and actually were kind of joking about how different our lives would have been if we had grown up in a place like that, when we passed a sign saying “Shanksville 5.” I was like, “Do you realize where we are?” and I told Chris that we were right in the area where Flight 93 had crashed. My grandparents actually live right on Route 30, so it was just a straight drive west through the mountains to get to Shanksville.

There is currently a temporary memorial across the street from the site of the crash with a permanent one planned for the site itself. It is staffed by volunteers from the area who work in two-hour shifts once a week. When we were there, I asked the volunteer if there was much controversy surrounding the memorial's design, and he said the only significant one was a dispute about the shape, which I had already heard about. The lay of the land lends itself to a crescent-shaped structure, but the crescent is also a symbol of Islam, and some of the families feel that would be inappropriate. (I certainly understand their point. Nothing against Islam as a whole, but it was in the name of that religion that their loved ones were murdered. I mean, there's nothing inherently wrong with the German flag, and most German people are good and decent human beings, but it would be totally inappropriate for the German flag to fly at Dachau, considering what was done there in the name of that flag. But then, a crescent isn't so specific, so I really don't know whose side I'm on. I can see both sides!) Other than that, the only major snag in the memorial's construction has been the acquisition of the land the plane crashed on. All things considered, it sounds like it's been a relatively smooth process, and so different from what we've had here in NY!

Visiting the site was more emotional and personal for me than I thought it would be. I may live at a geographic distance, but it's all part of the same thing that happened to my own city and forever altered the course of my life. There was a wall where people had left mementos and an opportunity to record your own reflections. I didn't write anything because what could I say that hasn't already been said? I just felt that I wouldn't be able to sum it up in such a short amount of space without sounding terribly trite.

The town of Shanksville itself only has about 250 residents. It is a few blocks long and about two blocks wide. On the way back we stopped on a hill above the town and got a picture of it. You can see pretty much all of Shanksville in the photo.


Gettysburg is located in Central Pennsylvania, somewhat closer to Philadelphia than Pittsburgh, and not far from the Maryland border. The bus I took went into Harrisburg, a much larger town about 45 minutes away. The closest big city is Baltimore, and the day after I arrived we went down there for a day. I had never been there before, so I was looking forward to that. The first place we went was the birthplace of Baltimore native Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player who ever lived. Here's a picture of the outside:

The building is furnished as it was when the Babe was born in 1895 and is now a museum. It was fun to visit, and I think my grandmother actually got the most out of it, because she's the one who had the most to learn! (BTW, there's another Baltimorean who's more recently become a rather well-known figure in his own sport—guy by the name of Michael Phelps. Maybe you've heard of him? ;-))

After that we drove around the waterfront area to Fort McHenry, which is part of the National Park Service. Have you heard of the War of 1812? It was between us and Great Britain—who we'd succeeded in kicking out just 31 years before—that actually went on for two years till 1814. It began because of an ongoing conflict between Britain and France in which American trade was being disrupted. We nearly lost that war, and had we lost, our very young country would have ceased to exist. British forces managed to reach Washington, DC, and burned much of the city, including the president's residence, to the ground. Then they headed to Baltimore, whose only line of defense was Fort McHenry. Right before the Battle of Baltimore, a man by the name of Francis Scott Key went to see the British captain to try to gain the release of an American prisoner they were holding. He succeeded, but because the British were afraid the two Americans had heard too much of their plans they forced them to stay on the ship. During the battle, the smoke got so thick that nobody could see who was winning. At some point in the night, sounds of battle ceased, but because it was dark they didn't know who'd won, and since it was the Americans who stopped firing first they feared the British had gotten past the fort. It was only at sunrise, when they saw the American flag still flying above the fort, that they realized Baltimore had been saved. Can you imagine what a dramatic, emotional moment that must have been, to realize both your city and your country, which you thought were both on the brink of total destruction, were still intact? Key was so moved by the site of that flag that he wrote a poem called “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” which was set to music and later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It is now our national anthem. This is the view of the fort from the visitor's center on the grounds:

I knew that story before visiting the fort, but what I didn't know was that long after the War of 1812 it was still an important part of the military, serving as a holding area for Confederate POWs during the Civil War and a hospital for wounded soldiers during WWI. What was left of the fort when it became a National Park has been preserved to what it was like in 1814, with exhibits on the officer's quarters, magazines (where gunpowder was stored) and other aspects of its function at that time. Of course, the flag in the middle of the fort isn't the same one that was there then—that one is kept at the Museum of American History in Washington—but it is a replica, complete with the 15 stars that existed at that time. (Each star on our flag represents one of the states, of which we currently have 50. In 1814 there were only 15 stars: the original 13 states, plus Vermont and Kentucky. There were already more than 15 states by that date, but they stopped adding stars for several years because they thought it would look too cluttered.) After Fort McHenry, we went to the Inner Harbor for lunch. It's an area in downtown Baltimore where there are a lot of shops, restaurants and other places geared toward tourists.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Older people and newer music

One thing my grandparents and I talked about during my stay with them last week was music. I put on a Bon Jovi CD because I was curious what they'd think of it, and their reaction surprised me. Now, I wasn't expecting them to instantly love it the way I did when I first listened to it, because after all their tastes are pretty different from mine; I mean, I have a hard time understanding how anyone could not love rock music, and especially this particular band, but I also think there's virtually nothing more subjective than musical taste. What sounds amazing to one person sounds mundane to another.

What surprised me though was my grandmother saying that it wasn't that she disliked the songs, but that she couldn't understand them. She kept asking me to explain what the lyrics were, and that was so striking to me because I'd had no trouble understanding them right away. In fact, one of the things I really like about Bon Jovi is that I've always found their songs easy to understand and to pick up on, very “singable” as my dad would say; I don't like songs that I can't sing along with. So it struck me when Grandmom said she couldn't understand the words. She actually did like a couple of the songs on that CD (especially “Seat Next to You"), and Grandpop really liked “Who Says You Can't Go Home.” I know that different generations grew up with different musical styles and that that has a huge influence on what people of different ages like, but I hadn't realized that it might affect our ability to actually hear the music. (In some ways, my grandparents' reaction to Bon Jovi was an improvement of sorts; several years ago when Grandmom heard one of my Bruce Springsteen CDs she dismissed it outright as “not very musical.”:-P)

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Well, I haven't posted on here in a while, mostly because I haven't done much of anything new in the past month. However, I'm currently in Gettysburg for the week visiting my grandparents, and that should be good for at least three or four posts once I get back home on Monday :)