October 7, 2009

Staycation Day Trip: Somerset County, PA




Every time we travel to New England in the fall, we are asked if we are going to “leaf-peep.”

“Why?” I ask. “Why would I travel to New England to leaf-peep, when all we have to do is walk out our front door to see gorgeous leaves. (We happen to live in a park setting.)”

We didn’t travel to New England this fall. But we did drive around and “leaf-peep.” In Pennsylvania this year are coming in spectacular colors.

I had suggested to my husband, Monte, that we take a day a week for six weeks to travel to different communities. I admit I had an agenda. Each place I chose had a purpose.

The first jaunt, to Somerset County (PA), was chosen because I needed oat bran and Monte needed flour—he makes homemade bread, and we liked to purchase these items at the Mennonite store on Rt. 30 near Jennerstown (PA). In addition, I wanted to revisit the Flight 93 Crash site, the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel, and the Quecreek Mine memorial site.

We woke up to a cold fall morning. If the sun hadn’t been shining I might have backed out. As it was, it was one of the nicest autumn days to date. A perfect day for photography, and Somerset was a daytrip to use my camera.

As we left Laurel Mountain Borough’s Rt. 30 exit, turning east on the Lincoln Highway, the sprouting golds, bronzes and reds leapt out at me. They accented the rolling hills enroute to the Mennonite store. As usual, we left the store with more than we planned. I put in a supply of winter items, since I don’t travel to Somerset very often.

Although I knew that the Flight 93 Crash Memorial site had been relocated, I was as surprised as Monte was at the new view. It seemed smaller, and somehow, less warm. We walked around, viewing memorials that were present at the old site—the “wall” collecting items from all over the world; the cross (to view photo, click on:    ; the various engraved stones. There were a few new items—and collections of rocks placed on the monuments, shells around one victims cross. As I took pictures I listened to the guide tell the constantly changing groups about the day of the crash and the progress of the coming memorial park.

Monte observed license plates from all over: Ohio, Connecticut, North Carolina, Mississippi, Michigan and, of course, Pennsylvania. I spoke with a women who said she was Korean. She was in Pennsylvania for a week. I thought she had flown in from Korea, but she had emigrated from there thirty years ago and currently lives in Michigan. Her late father in law owned a house in the Shanksville area, and her family was staying there. Before we left, I took a picture of two women from Missouri—using their camera.

On the way to the Flight 93 Chapel, Monte took a wrong turn. The signage directing persons to the Chapel is poor. On the extra drive we saw the many windmills now located on the ridge. (to view photo, click on:

We turned around to get to the Chapel. Enroute we passed a sign for the Glessner Covered Bridge I said, “We should have turned.” Monte stopped, backed up, and turned down the gravel lane. Monte saw the dust we left behind us, and commented: We don’t have that in Laurel Mountain Borough (where there are gravel roads) because we use the dust suppressant.”

When we got to the bridge, I took my camera and walked its full length, shooting as I went. It was reconstructed using metal bolts and having a tin roof. (to view photo, click on:    A good sized stream flowed under the bridge. It was peaceful and quiet until…suddenly, there were three other vehicles at the bridge. One young man wore an Indiana University shirt—turns out, he was from Indianapolis, Indiana, not Indiana, PA. As I approached my car, a “local” in a red truck pulled into the parking area at the side of the road. He said sometimes there are “traffic jams” at this site.

The Chapel was open—it is open from Friday through Monday. (to view photo, click on: )

      While Monte looked around, I spoke with the volunteer. It turns out he was at a concert/luau at Penn State College, Fayette Campus, where I did a news article. He remembered speaking to me about his volunteering at the Chapel.

While we were talking Reverend Alphonse T. Mascherino, the Chapel founder, walked in. I commented that I was glad the chapel remained the same. He responded that continuity and stability build memory. If things remain the same, people don’t have to mentally reconstruct the site each time they come.

He explained that the two flags hung on the wall came from the New York City police and fire departments. Then he pointed out a few items that were added since our last visit, which we determined was in 2006. A model airplane made by Flight 93 passenger Leroy W. Homer, Jr. was donated to the chapel by Homer’s mother. A plywood panel, which people signed immediately after Flight 93 crashed, was influential in Mascherino’s calling to develop the chapel. One of five original panels, the comments were virtually all spiritual. Mascherino next pointed out a silk flower arrangement he received two months ago, for his birthday. It had originally been placed, by him, after the crash, in front of one of the panels.

He attributes the Chapel’s success and his joy to the quarter million persons who have visited the Chapel. The miracle was the transformation of the former Lutheran church in ten days through the contributions of Maggie Harding.

Our next stop was the Somerset medical facility where our daughter, Sandy, works. Fortunately, she had been delayed in leaving work and was still there. While there, a patient asked to speak with Monte, to show him some model cars—a 1950s Mercury, and two others from the 30s or 40s—a LaSalle and a Cadillac. He said his collection contains over three hundred cars, and he would be interested in communicating with Gary, a friend of mine who also collects cars.

We left the Chapel and went to the Quecreek Mine Memorial. (to view photo, click on:

       It was a surprise to see an almost finished building I assume is planned as a museum. The nine pine trees planted in honor of the nine rescued mine workers have grown in stature. Otherwise, the site remains pretty much as it was in 2006.

We ended our day with a meal at the Gourmet Buffet. After a delicious medley of Oriental and American food, we continued our “leaf peeping” until we returned home, around dinner time. Our first Staycation Day Trip was a success.









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