I met Alan Hantman, his wife, and friends on the plaza at Flight 93 National Memorial on a blustery November afternoon in 2012. Hantman served a 10-year appointment as the 10th Architect of the Capitol, including an unforgettable day, September 11, 2001, and he willingly shared with me his experience in the US Capitol that morning.
Hantman arrived at his office in the Capitol a few minutes before 9 am, and with his assistant, watched the televised reports of a plane striking the World Trade Center. His first thoughts were for the lives that were in immediate danger in the North Tower and for an important meeting scheduled later that day in the Capitol to launch the campaign to fund a Capitol Visitor Center. The news that a second plane had struck the South Tower caused Hantman to conclude that these events were “parallel acts of terrorism.” As a member of the Capitol Police Board responsible for the security of the Capitol, Hantman immediately conferred with the Capitol Police. He then learned that a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. This news was quickly overshadowed by an announcement over the Capitol’s public address of another rogue plane estimated to be just ten minutes from Washington, DC. An immediate evacuation was announced. Hantman quickly moved from office to office to ensure that his Capitol employees were evacuating. According to the Architect of the Capitol, the evacuation was virtually unguided and disorganized.
When Hantman exited the Capitol he said, “Everyone seemed to be furtively watching the northern sky, towards Pennsylvania, and listening for the sound of an approaching plane.” While the Capitol was essentially evacuated before 10 am, Hantman reported that many Members of Congress, their staff, Capitol employees, and visitors lingered near the Capitol, uncertain of where to go or what to do. As the military established Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over Washington, DC and with news that the fourth plane had crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside, the immediate threat passed and the Capitol remained physically untouched by the violence of September 11. Security on Capitol Hill was significantly strengthened after 9/11, and visitation to the Capitol was severely curtailed for the next two years.
This November day in 2012 was Hantman’s first visit to Flight 93 National Memorial. He came to pay his respects and to express his gratitude for “the great heroism and the self-sacrifice” of the passengers and crew for saving “thousands of lives at the center of our government,” including his own. As Architect of the Capitol, Hantman realized the true significance of their actions. This day Hantman brought to Shanksville a small model of the Statue of Freedom from his Capitol office located some 200 feet directly beneath the nineteen-foot Statue of Freedom that proudly stands atop the Capitol Dome. He placed it in a niche in the Memorial Plaza wall and also left this letter:
“This model of the Statue of Freedom that stands atop the
Dome of the United States Capitol Building is left with deep
respect at the final resting place of the heroes of Flight 93.
Those who sacrificed their lives here on September 11, 2001
saved mine, and those of many thousands of others, at the
U.S. Capitol Building, as well as that historic symbol of our
democracy known around the world.
We have come to Shanksville, Pennsylvania to pay our respects
and express our deep gratitude of those souls who will never
Hantman returned to Flight 93 National Memorial on September 10, 2015 to share his story with family members, invited guests, and the public who attended the dedication of the Visitor Center complex. Inside the Visitor Center, an exhibit that tells the story of Flight 93 features Hantman’s Statue of Freedom along with a disquieting image of the Capitol evacuation on September 11. According to Alan Hantman, “The People’s House” and those who were in the US Capitol and on Capitol Hill that day were spared by the courageous actions of the men and women aboard Flight 93.
Flight 93 Oral History & Documentation Project Assistant