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Flight 93 Passengers, Crew Honored With Chalk Art At Memorial

With its gray, unadorned architecture, The Flight 93 Memorial is, understandably, fairly stark. This week, though, professional chalk artists from around the country were busy adding a bit more color to the scene in Shanksville, Pa., in the form of portraits of all 40 passengers and crew of the hijacked plane that went down there on Sept. 11, 2001.

Flight 93 passengers and crew
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Flight 93 passengers and crew as depicted on National Parks Service signage at the Memorial.

The in-progress portraits were each on 5-by-3-foot cement boards that lay for about 50 yards along the busy walkway between the memorial’s parking lot and visitor center.

The project was the brainchild of Erik Greenawalt, a chalk artist based in Irwin who had visited the memorial multiple times with his family since it opened, in 2015. Like many, Greenawalt was moved by the story of passengers and crew who fought back against hijackers and forced the plane to crash-land that day.

For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Greenawalt proposed the portrait project to the National Park Service site. He worked with the nonprofit Friends of Flight 93 to make it happen. To create the portraits, he drew on his network of colleagues from the national chalk-art circuit. His goal, simply, was “really trying to remember the heroes that were aboard this flight and what they did 20 years ago, and the lives that they saved,” said Greenawalt, who is also vice president for corporate financial planning and analysis for Giant Eagle.

On Wednesday, under overcast skies, Greenawalt was kneeling on the walk to chalk a portrait of Jason Dahl, of Littleton, Colo., who was captain of the flight.

Greenawalt said he hoped the art would help visitors connect with the passengers.

“They see the [memorial’s] signs, but I think doing this as live performance art helps build more of a relationship with who these passengers were,” he said.

Further up the walk, Shelley Brenner was chalking a portrait of Jean Hoadley Peterson, of Spring Lake, N.J. Like many portrait subjects, Peterson was chosen by the artist herself.

“Jean was a registered nurse and also a nurse-educator. So actually I felt particularly drawn to her, being a nurse myself,” said Brenner, a nurse-anesthetist from Michigan. “To be able to do a portrait of a fellow nurse was something I felt honored to do.”

Brenner’s husband was chalking Peterson’s husband, Donald Arthur Peterson, who also died aboard the flight that day.

Nate Baranowski, of Chicago, was chalking Andrew “Sonny” Garcia, of Portola Valley, Calif. “What I know about him is he was apparently a trickster who loved prank calls, which is very close to my heart,” said Baranowski.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It feels like an honor to use chalk art in a way that honors people,” he added.

All 40 portraits were scheduled to be completed by Friday. When rain hit Wednesday, they were moved under cover so the artists could continue working.

“It’s an incredible experience to have talent from all over the country come in and donate their talents” to honor the passengers and crew, said Katie Hostetler, a park ranger and spokesperson at the memorial.

Greenawalt said the portraits would be on view at least through this weekend. Hostetler said the memorial was considering making the artworks part of its collection.

More information on National Park Service 9/11 programming at the Memorial is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email:
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