The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 15, 2005

Flight 93 design provokes uproar

Designer says he's willing to change name


Somerset — The National Park Service's Flight 93 office is being inundated with thousands of e-mails and a stream of phone calls from across the country weighing in on the crescent shape of the memorial's design.

Opinions are divided on whether the shape ' which calls to mind Islamic symbolism ' should be scrapped or supported, park service officials said Wednesday.

'It's unfortunate,' said Joanne Hanley, the Flight 93 memorial's superintendent. 'There is misinformation in the blog-o-sphere, and things are out of hand. There was no intentional meaning of Islam in the design.'

Hanley said Los Angeles architect Paul Murdoch is changing the name of his design from 'Crescent of Embrace' to 'Arc of Embrace.'

Murdoch, meanwhile, went a step farther Wednesday.

He said he would work to satisfy critics who complained that it honors the terrorists. Its shape is a circle broken by the flight pattern of the plane, which supporters have said follows the topography of the area.

Murdoch said he is 'somewhat optimistic' the spirit of the design could be maintained.

'It's a disappointment there is a misinterpretation and a simplistic distortion of this. But if that is a public concern, then that is something we will look to resolve in a way that keeps the essential qualities,' Murdoch, 48, said.

Yet Murdoch said he's not sure exactly what changes he would make.

The recommendation of the 15-member jury consisting of design professionals and family and community members ' which picked Murdoch's idea ' still must be approved by the Interior Department.

The jury noted in its report that the design's name should be changed to avoid religious connotations.

The planned memorial includes a chapel with 40 metallic wind chimes ' one for each victim. It would include pedestrian trails, a road to a visitor center and the actual crash site. At the site would be a crescent-shaped cluster of maple trees and a white marble wall inscribed with the victims' names.

'We called it a 'crescent' because it was a curving land form. We called it 'Crescent of Embrace' because of the symbolic gesturing of embracing this place,' Murdoch said. 'There's no desire to make this a divisive memorial.'

The design has become a lightning rod on Web blogs since a Somerset County street preacher said last week he intends to fight the concept, claiming the Islamic symbolism.

Despite the criticism, planners have no intention of discarding the design and starting over, said design consultant Helene Fried, who along with Portland, Ore., architect Don Stastny served in a similar capacity for the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial.

'Not at all,' Fried said. 'I think the position of the design team and partners is solid.

'The issues raised by some people are being taken seriously. This is a design concept. This is not the finished design.'

A sampling of some of the countless Internet blogs:

' 'Given the context of the Flight 93 event, this so-called memorial is so inappropriate. It would be like building a WWII monument in the shape of a swastika or red dot.'

' 'Just when you think you've seen the worst the American right is capable of ... now they're claiming that the Flight 93 'Crescent of Embrace' memorial looks just like the crescent moon, hence its 'honoring the terrorists.'

'This is another fine example of how insipid, immature, idiotic and petty the American right is today.'

' 'Someone should have seen it and said something, like, 'Hey guys, do you think having this memorial in the shape of something that represents the murderous bastards that perpetrated the crime may be seen as insensitive?' '

' A columnist for the Canada Free Press added, 'Who could believe that the courageous passengers who refused to allow their plane to be plowed into a Washington, D.C., target would have their memory enshrined by the main symbol of Islam?'

While controversy swirls, families of Flight 93 victims overwhelmingly support the design and are 'insulted' by suggestions it contains Islamic symbolism.

'The families are upset. The architect is upset,' Hanley said. 'The architect wants to make sure the legacy he leaves is not overshadowed by a black cloud.

'I think it's unfortunate people assumed the crescent was done on purpose and has hidden meaning. Paul Murdoch intended this crescent to be one of embracing the families in comfort.'

The design still can be refined but not completely overhauled, said Jeff Reinbold, the park service's Flight 93 project manager.

'The designer will look at all recommendations, and he will go back and make refinements,' Reinbold said. 'It won't come back as a square, but it will progress.'

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., said in a letter to National Park Service Director Fran Mainella that the design should be changed to avoid controversy and criticism.

Will Adams, spokesman for Tancredo, said Wednesday that the congressman would be happy with the changes only if the crescent shape is removed.

Gordon Felt of Remsen, N.Y., whose brother Edward Felt was killed on Flight 93, said he called Tancredo's office and said Tancredo should have held off on his criticism.

'I wish he would come out to Somerset and see the topography,' Felt said.

Felt said it is natural for the design to evolve.

'I think the topography of the land would really dictate there would be some kind of arc,' Felt said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.