Employees Restore Sorber Family Cemetery at Flight 93 National Memorial

NPS staff and members of the Sorber family in restored cemetary
NPS employees and Sorber family members meet at restored family cemetery within Flight 93 National Monument.

NPS photo

If you were not looking for it, you would never find it. The Sorber family cemetery, located within the boundaries of Flight 93 National Memorial, dates from 1856 to 1892, surrounded by trees. While it is not associated with the September 11, 2001 crash of United Airlines Flight 93 it is, in effect, a cemetery within a cemetery.

Sorber family descendants, however, did know it was there and that it was in bad shape. Tombstones had fallen over. Earlier this year, they approached Flight 93 National Memorial Superintendent Stephen M. Clark seeking access to the cemetery site so they could clean it up and bring other descendants to visit the site of the family farm, including the family cemetery. After consulting with park maintenance staff and Cultural Resource Manager Nancy Smith, Clark told the family that National Park Service (NPS) employees would, restore and reset the headstones and would clean up the area. At the end, Clark himself would conduct a tour for the family when the work was finished.

This summer, four members of the Flight 93 National Memorial maintenance staff cleaned up the area around the cemetery, completed landscape work, straightened the headstones and installed a fence around the graves. The NPS provided the labor and some of the supplies needed to restore the cemetery. However, as Clark said, “The project is really about community and partnership.” Clearview Monuments of Shanksville donated the weather-resistant adhesive that the park service used to mend the headstones.

The tour of the restored cemetery took place on August 29.Maintenance team members Pat Sparks, Roger Brewer, Jim Klesyk and Robert Kolson shared with the family and the media how much they enjoyed working on this unique restoration project. They said they found it challenging but very rewarding. Supervisor Sparks reassembled the five headstones that had toppled over. and were cracked was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle according to Kolson said that it didn’t feel like work and it was a project he really enjoyed.

Sorber descendants shared family stories about the property from a time long before United Airlines Flight 93 crashed there on Sept. 11, 2001. Many family members expressed their thanks to the maintenance staff and the NPS for their fine work.

At the end of the tour Clark said that the Park Service was honored to be a part of the project. He said, “We have a duty to preserve this piece of the Flight 93 property’s history. As stewards of this park, it’s our responsibility to take what was here and transform it into what it is today ... and make sure it stays that way.

“The National Park Service’s role isn’t just to preserve and promote the key elements of every park and historic site it maintains – but every other historically significant feature that might predate them,” Clark said, “and that includes cemeteries. Before these places became Flight 93 National Memorial or Acadia or Shenandoah National Park, they were people’s farms and homesteads. “And we have a duty to honor that history, too.”

Last updated: December 28, 2017