Lockerbie, Scotland was innocent of all wrongdoing concerning the crash of Pan Am 103, December 1988. Yet they’ve paid a huge price simply for being the site of that airliner tragedy. History was rewritten for the small town beginning that day. When we were told we were going to Lockerbie, it was with the identification statement, “You know, the place where Pan Am flight 103 went down.”
It happened on December 21, 1988, just before Christmas. Families in the U.S. eagerly awaited their college students home from their “studies abroad.” There were also many other Americans, more than 100, I believe, of the 258 on board, and folks from 21 countries in all. The flight had left from Germany and was flying at 31,000 feet preparing to begin its trans Atlantic voyage toward New York when the explosion, caused by a bomb planted in a cassette player in cargo, went off. Scraps of the plane were scattered for miles, but the cockpit and largest piece of the cabin came down in and near Lockerbie. Instantly, 270 people on the plane (passengers and crew) and 11 on the ground, were killed.
Jeff Rushton, a distributor of Christian literature with Opal Trust, as well as our guide to Lockerbie and surrounding areas, drove us to the site where the plane’s cockpit came to rest. He was very somber as he told us what it was like the day of the tragedy. We could relate now better than we could have then in 1988. It was like 9/11 in our country. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. He took us to where the main fuselage came down and incinerated several houses killing eleven folks on the ground. Jeff spoke respectfully and kindly of those eleven, one lady in particular whom he knew.
We visited the cemetery where many of the victims are buried. It is carefully tended with clipped sward and roses blooming. It is obvious that family members visit and place flowers on the graves, though they have to travel great distances. Jeff said some go there every year. What struck me so forcefully was the dates on so many of those stones: 1968-1988. My son’s birthday is November, 1968. He, too, at about that age, went on a studies abroad trip. But he came home. My heart aches for those parents whose children never came home.
But there’s more to Lockerbie.
Lockerbie is a small town of about 4,000. Located in Southwest Scotland, near the Annan River, it was once a center for production of lamb’s wool and still one may see thousands of sheep on green hillsides in the area. Our reason for visiting Lockerbie was that our travel leader, Harley Rollins, is on the board of Opal Trust and he needed to meet with their leaders and familiarize himself with the headquarters of this literature distribution concern.
We were guests at Somerton House, a very interesting old hotel, first built as a private home. When we asked Brian, the manager, why the large lions flanking the front door were named Livingstone and Stanley, he told us the lady who had the house built was a cousin of Livingstone, the famous British missionary to Africa. Stanley was the journalist sent by the New York Herald in 1871 to find Dr. Livingstone from whom little had been heard in six years.
Brian also told us that much of Somerton’s inside woodwork is built of a rare wood called kauri from a tree in New Zealand. At the time of its building a shipwreck washed up. The ship had been loaded with kauri lumber so, suddenly, this beautiful honey-colored wood became available. It is said that the ship itself was built of kauri wood. Brian pointed out door frames in the house that exhibit an interesting curve, supposedly from first being part of a ship. Soon after the building of Somerton House, arborists discovered that the kauri tree, growing only in New Zealand, is so slow growing, it isn’t feasible to use it for lumber. Hence, the Somerton House is the only building in Scotland made of kauri wood. We enjoyed the comfort, dignity, and hospitality of Somerton House, especially the Scottish breakfast cooked to order and served with big smiles in their lovely dining room.
Lockerbie is, as I mentioned, home to Opal Trust as well as Langston Publishing. We were delighted to be able to get to know both establishments, even if for a short time. Both are busy distributing books that the lost may hear of our awesome God. Naturally, we saw many, many books which always brings me great pleasure. And we met great folks in editing staff as well as managing and operating. But I think the unit that grabbed my attention the most was the Tell-It tract publisher, towards Glasgow. In a tiny building where doors hardly have room to open and shelving is stacked with a wide variety of leaflets and small books, Robert and Ann Smith are working diligently to get “the Word” out. Their publishing equipment is topnotch and they create colorful, clear pieces that speak to all ages and all walks. There are tracts for pet owners, for parents, for the grieving and the empty nesters. There are leaflets sharing the gospel using the life stories of famous people, like John Livingstone. We were excited about all the different titles and came away with a few samples, though I think we’ve given them all away. We enjoyed meeting, too, the Smiths’ beautiful dog Mattie who roams amongst the stacks happily swishing her tail.
Taking a walk around Somerton House the night before we left, we were amazed that, at 10:00, the sun was still bright. No wonder the hollyhocks and peonies, the roses and hydrangeas are so vibrant.
Folks of Lockerbie are not locked into sorrowing, even though they seem so ready to offer compassion. They want to look up, to look forward, to look past that terrible day in 1988. They want the name Lockerbie to be linked with laughter and celebrations and beauty. Because of the graciousness of our hosts at Somerton House and our friendship with John Lewis and Jeff and Janet Rushton, as well as Robert and Ann Smith, we will remember Lockerbie with much affection. In fact, my picture in my mind right now is of Jeff and Janet in their bungalow den with their black lab Jessie as we enjoyed midmorning tea. Their garden just outside was beautiful, and birds were singing. Below is a picture of Jessie at the warehouse faithfully “keeping” the books. Should be the smartest dog in the kingdom!
Lockerbie is looking up!