Red crescent: Dust-up over Flight 93 memorial

The winning design for the memorial to Flight 93 that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside on September 11, 2001 was unveiled September 7 to a standing ovation from officials and family members of the passengers.

Then the controversy erupted.

Jurors in the design contest praised the "tranquility, beauty, and silence" of the memorial to the passengers who heroically tried to wrest control of the hijacked plane from terrorists.

In the international contest to choose the design for the memorial, 1,011 entrants were pared down to five. One of the finalists– and the eventual winner– L.A.-based Paul Murdoch Architects, then recruited Charlottesville landscape architecture firm Nelson-Byrd-Woltz to refine the final plan.

The controversy concerns an arc of trees surrounding the crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, dubbed by its designers "The Crescent of Embrace."

The choice of words and the decision to use maple trees that turn red in the fall has even one United States Senator, Tom Tancredo (R-CO), incensed. He claims the trees mimic the red Islamic crescent. Some bloggers even claim the crescent is pointing to Mecca.

Warren Byrd, a partner in the local firm, says the criticism is misplaced.

"The term 'crescent' is universal," he says. "We see it as a memorial to appeal to as wide an audience as possible."

Byrd says families of the passengers made up the majority of the panel of judges who made the final decision and were also an inspiration for this design. Shortly after 9/11, one family member planted a red maple at the crash site as an impromptu memorial. Murdoch incorporated the tree (one of the most prevalent species in the area) into the memorial as a sensitive gesture rather than a salute to Islamic fundamentalists, Byrd adds.

The memorial, which will take years and tens of millions of dollars to build, is a crescent walkway lined by 40 red and sugar maple trees and including a "Tower of Voices" containing one wind chime for each of the 40 passengers onboard.

Byrd calls the arc of trees "a symbolic gesture that has everything to do with the land. It will be a place for everyone who visits to feel the spirits of the 40 heroes in the whisper of the trees and honor their unselfish sacrifice of their lives to preserve the lives of countless many."

The media attention surrounding what Warren calls a "sticky issue" might mean redesigning the memorial or simply renaming the "crescent." For Nelson-Byrd-Woltz, Byrd says, the media attention has been good so far. Business is beginning to boom.

Warren Byrd

"The Crescent of Embrace"