Dayton Celebration Events

Katharine Wright and her Famous Brothers come to life again in the persona of Betty Geiger-Darst, a dramatist and historian who performs as Katharine in a one-woman show.

Katharine, the younger sister of Orville and Wilbur, managed many of the brothers’ affairs and was their confidant and caregiver. She was intelligent and poised and charmed presidents and Kings providing the social interface for her shy brothers. She gave them the freedom to dream, research and invent the airplane.

Darst is Katharine when she speaks to her audience dressed in a 1909 black pin stripped duster and a stylish hat with plumes that Katharine would have worn. She shares with her audience a personal view of the Wright family highlighted with short vignettes using many letters and diaries written by the Wright family and recollections by their descendents.

She has spoken to kids and adults around the world, giving 25 presentations alone during the Wright celebration in Dayton in July 2003. She has made trips from Oklahoma to Virginia to Nebraska to Massachusetts to Australia to New Zealand to France, to name a few.

In France she made several presentations at the Paris air Show and visited Pau, location of the Wrights First Flight School. There, she spoke at the city hall utilizing her command of the French language.

During December, in honor of the December 17th celebration, she hosted 37 British aviation enthusiasts in Dayton. They visited the Wright brothers’ historical sights including a trip to Hawthorn Hill where Darst portrayed Katharine on a tour of the mansion.

If you would like to experience such a tour you can via a video: “Wright at Home: A Visit to Hawthorn Hill.” Darst’s e-mail: [email protected]

In another video, her voice is heard along with Neil Armstrong and John Glenn in another great video, “Kitty Hawk: The Journey of Invention that was shown on PBS.”

Darst says her goal is to educate youngsters and adults about the Wright brothers. She is a teacher and historian and has been telling her story from the perspective of Katharine for 18 years. She says she got started, when after portraying Katharine on Public Library day in 1985, Ivonette Wright happened to be in the audience. Ivonette is a niece of the Wrights. She told Darst after the presentation, “Keep on telling the story. You are doing a good job” So she has.

Darst is a student pilot and flies as a co-pilot for her husband, Jack. Jack has flown 500 youngsters on behalf of the EAA young eagles program. Jack is also active in Dayton heritage activities including Aviation Trail and Nick Engler’s Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company.

Paying for First Flight Celebration events is as much of a challenge as the first flight itself.

Hampton, Virginia’s celebration never got off the ground because of insufficient funds. The Festival of Flight Celebration in Fayetteville, NC is asking for help from the city of Fayetteville and Cumberland County to pay for some $173,000 that is owed to vendors.

Inventing Flight in Dayton, Ohio reported losing a whopping $3 to $4 million during its 17-day celebration even though it exceeded its attendance goal of 600,000.

Update: As of December 21, 2003, Inventing Flight is only $200,000 in debt. Fourteen creditors remain with some claims still in dispute. More than half of the remaining companies are media companies.

I spent two weeks in Dayton for the celebration and enjoyed every minute of it. However, I was interested in hard core Wright Brothers and didn’t attend the “show business” side of the celebration where most of the money was lost.

The free shuttle transportation service was one source of the displeasure.

A number of people wrote to the Dayton Daily News about their poor experience. “Sandra Jones of nearby Centerville wrote about her experience after attending the opening night ceremonies, “I am appalled that the media didn’t cover the sea of humanity trying to catch buses after the Inventing Flight opening ceremonies.”

She continued, “There were thousands of people squashed into a very small area. Many families with babies and small children were being dangerously crushed in the crowd. Elderly people were passing out.”

“The bus service volunteers didn’t have a clue what to do, and the more than two hours it took to clear the area was a nightmare. No water, no bathrooms, no safety.”

Colin Hall of Atlanta, Ga. wrote about her experience with the transportation service at the Huffman Prairie site. “We were told the trolley came by every 20 minutes but there was no schedule. We waited over half an hour and when the trolley came it was full. The driver would not talk to us — one of the passengers explained that we could not get on because it was full. So we were told we would have to wait another 20 minutes to half an hour. By this time children were crying and we were beyond lunch time.”

(Note: There is no food available at Huffman Prairie).”

“At this time we were desperate. My husband tried to flag down a RTA bus but the driver just waved and zipped on past us. As the next bus came we stood in the middle of the road to get it to stop.”

Marty Tommy relates a scary story. “To cap off the evening, we were on one of the first busses to arrive back to the University of Dayton Arena’s dark and desolate parking lot (A designated parking area). It was quite scary for a single MOM alone with a young child. We could only make out white cars, it was so dark, and my car is not white. Where were the lights? Where was security? It was honestly frightening.”

I didn’t experience these problems because I ignored the instructions to park at designated parking areas and ride the shuttle. I drove to all the locations.

The opening ceremonies were a big disappointment for many. It cost a million dollars and was produced by Entertainment Design Corp. of Los Angeles who had planned events for the Olympics — so expectations were high.

William Kincaid from Miamisburg, Ohio represented many comments when he said that he couldn’t believe that he paid $125 for two tickets to see the opening ceremonies.

“Not only could I not see the stage, I didn’t see one minute of the sorry show. All in all, if I had paid $5 a ticket, I would have been distraught. I’m quite sure that I’m not the only one who thought the whole thing was a big disappointment.”

Matt Engel of Oregona commented that the public wouldn’t be fooled again. “I will not belabor how cheesy the opening ceremonies were, other than to say I did not expect the flying saucer to enter via a wheelbarrow.”

“I am not critical of the performers. The production stunk. I am curious as to how they spent the million bucks.”

Another attendee commented, “There were so many glitches and detractive moments it was almost embarrassing! The first musical cue was cut off before the speaker reached the front of the stage – not a good sign for the flow of the evening.”

Celebration Central located at Deeds Park across the river from downtown Dayton was the biggest money loser. It consisted of exhibit pavilions, stage shows and the nearby Orbit Zone that provided amusement rides for kids.

It was supposed to be a Disney-style affair and had a budget of 10-12 million dollars, but it had difficulty attracting people to attend from the start.

Dean Neitman of Englewood thought Celebration Central was extremely disappointing. “I was disappointed to be a Dayton-area resident. If Orville and Wilbur were alive today to witness this poorly organized circus being conducted in their honor, I’m sure they both would rescind their association with Dayton and claim to have secretly developed the plane in some back alley in North Carolina.”

A number of the food vendors deserted Celebration Central because of the low attendance.

MC2, national known consultants, designed, managed designed and operated Celebration Central. Bad weather during the initial days didn’t help. In desperation they cut ticket prices in half from the initial price of $20 per person. But it never really recovered.

I was disappointed by the few Wright Brother’s displays in the pavilions at Celebration Central. I did enjoy seeing a beautiful display of the reproduction of Ken Hyde’s Wright Flyer that is scheduled to reenact the first flight at Kitty Hawk on Dec. 17.

I also enjoyed attempting to fly the Wright Flyer simulator. I didn’t fare too well as I crashed the Flyer five times and failed to fly for even the 12 seconds that Orville flew during his first flight.

Nick Engler, general director of the Wright Brother’s Aerospace Co., may have the answer to what went wrong. He claims that the core of the problem was the hiring of big national consultants from Atlanta and Los Angles who had no stake in the community and its history. They created a “celebration without a heart.” They should have capitalized on what the community already had.

He continued, “Aviation is an art form, and it’s best appreciated and understood by those whose souls that have been touched by it. It was like having the Dayton Air Show Board plan next season’s opera.”

There were many positive events. The Air Show was the best ever and drew spectacular crowds of some 150,000 people. The Wright Brother’s historical sites at the Wright Bicycle shop, the Dunbar State Memorial House and the Huffman Prairie all had record crowds. So did the Air Force Museum and Carillon Historical Park. The Sunday morning memorial service for the Wright Family at Woodlawn Cemetery while the Wright B Flyer circled overhead was special.

President Bush spoke to an estimated crowd of 30,000 people on Independence Day.

The “Time Flies” shows were excellent. There was “What’s News” at the Wright Interpretative Center,” the “Musicale” at the Dunbar House, the “Rhythm and Shoes” vaudeville show at Carillon Park and “Matter of Balance” at Huffman Prairie.

The Black Cultural Festival held in conjunction with Inventing Flight drew a record crowd of 65,000.

The evening ceremony held by the National Aviation Hall of Fame emceed by Harrison Ford was an inspiration for a record crowd of 2,130.

The community is a better place to live for having the “Inventing Flight” celebration. The only thing that didn’t work was the glitz. The admission prices to Celebration Central were too high and people were not interested in theme park rides and stage shows.

I doubt that Orville and Wilbur would have attended the glitzy affairs. The rest of the celebration was great.

The community will benefit in the years to come from the investments made in the Wright historic sites, the Air Force Museum and the development of the westside neighborhood near the Wright and Dunbar homes.

Wright State University has estimated that the total economic benefit to the community from the celebration is $112 million. And you can’t place a dollar figure on the spirit and teamwork generated among thousands of volunteers who participated in the event.

Reference: Dayton Daily News

In November 1909 the Wrights formed the Wright Company to manufacture their airplanes. They initially rented factory space in February 1910 while they built their own factory in a cornfield north of Dayton. It took about ten months to build their first building. Their new factory was used to build Wright airplanes until 1915, at which time Orville sold the company.

My friend Ed and I, while attending “Inventing Flight” in Dayton during the month of July, decided to find these two factory locations and determine what has happened to them.

We found the location of the rented building at the intersection of Miami Chapel Avenue and Wisconsin Boulevard in west Dayton. That was the good news. The bad news was that the building had been razed. In fact there were no buildings at that corner, not even a marker to serve as a tribute to what had once occurred there. The area is rundown, which may explain why.

The site can be reached from the Wright bicycle shop/residence location by following South Broadway St. approximately two miles south from West Third St.

The rented building at the time belonged to the Speedwell Motor Car Company. It was a brick building with a distinctive sawtooth roof. (Here are two views of the factory)

Speedwell was a prosperous growing company making automobiles until the great Dayton flood of 1913. The plant was flooded and they could not recover from the loss of equipment and inventory.

The site is significant in airplane history because the first mass produced airplane was manufactured here. The airplane was the Wright Model B.

This was the first model of airplane that the Wrights built that didn’t place the elevator in the front. It was a two-seat design with dual controls and utilized a wheel-and-skid design. It took three days to assemble. The engine was built at the Wright Bicycle Shop and transported to Speedwell building.

The dual controls were used at Huffman field for pilot training. The student pilots attending the Wright School of Aviation purchased many of the airplanes. The Model B airplanes were built in the 1910 and 1911 time period.

The Wright Model R airplane was also built at this location. The Model R was designed for racing and altitude competition. The Wright Exhibition Team based at Huffman Prairie set four world altitude records with this machine.

In November 1910 they moved to their new factory upon the completion of building 1. A second building was added a year later.

We found the buildings several miles north of the bicycle shop on West Third Street. The buildings now belong to General Motors Delphi.

The one-story buildings have a distinctive curved roofline similar to airplane hangers. The Wrights built two buildings. Three similar additional buildings were added later after the Wright Company went out of business.

The buildings are painted a bright white and can be easily seen just inside the entrance gate. We drove up to the guardhouse at the gate and confirmed from the guard that the buildings were indeed the original Wright factory buildings.

I asked the guard if I could take some pictures but was told no! I asked if he would check with his boss. He did, with the same answer.

We came back on Sunday and found no one at the gate. I took a number of pictures through the chainlink fence..

The first airplanes manufactured at the new factory were the Model EX, Model C and Model D. The rest of their models followed. They included the models CH, E, F, G, H, HS, K, and L along with their instruments and engines.

The Model L was the last airplane manufactured by the Wright Co. It was a biwing type with a fuselage and was powered with a single propeller in front of the airplane (tractor type).

Upon completion of building 2, the factory had the capacity to produce four airplanes per month, a capacity greater than that of any other airplane factory in the world at that time.

Plaques commemorating the factories exist somewhere for these buildings and the earlier rented factory. Aviation Trail, Inc. presented them to General Motors in 1983.

It is unfortunate that General Motors during the Inventing Flight celebration did not make available to the public these historic factory sites. Building 1 is located just inside the entrance gate and contains the office that Orville Wright once used. This is hallowed ground and desires better treatment.

Great News!

Amanda Wright, great-grandniece of Orville and Wilbur, was instrumental in getting included in a new parks bill, the Hawthorn Hill Home of the Wrights and the Wright factory buildings.

President Obama signed the bill on March 30, 2009.


The Wright Co. Factory Boundary Assessment and Environmental Assessment. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, Dayton, Ohio. The National Park Service. January 2006.

Dayton Daily News, March 31, 2009.

Two old farmhouses at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) stand as silent witnesses to early aviation history that occurred at nearby Huffman Prairie. Now known as the Arnold House and Foulois House, they were named after famous Air Force generals Henry A. “Hap” Arnold and Benjamin D. Foulois, who lived in those houses while serving at WPAFB. Both were taught to fly by Orville Wright.

It was my great-great grandfather Henry E. Hebble who built the houses. He was a bridge and house builder. Two covered bridges he also built in the 1800s are still standing. One spans the Yellow Springs Creek at Glen Haven, the nature preserve at Antioch College. The other spans Massies Creek near Xenia, Ohio

After he migrated from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1841, Henry E. Hebble built the house now known as the Arnold house (building 8) to be used as the family homestead. It is the oldest building on WPAFB.

The Foulois house (building 88) was built in 1874. None of the Hebble family lived in the house; it was rented out.

Both houses were eventually sold to the Miami Conservancy District and the land became a part of the Flood Plain for the Huffman Dam that was built after the great Dayton Flood in 1913.

In 1917, The Miami Conservancy District leased Huffman Prairie and the adjacent land (2,074 acres) to the Army creating Wilbur Wright Field. The area east of the Arnold and Foulois houses became Fairfield Aviation General Supply Depot.

The Springfield Pike that once ran by the two houses was relocated to its present site further east. The houses are located within a block of each other on Wright Ave. a little over a mile from Huffman Prairie.

Residents in the area traveled to and from Dayton using the Dayton-Springfield-Urbana (DSU) electric railway. They boarded the train at Simms Station adjacent to Huffman Prairie. Passengers sometimes referred to the letters “DSU” as meaning “dammed slow and uncertain.”

There is a group in Dayton that is raising money and working on plans to restore the railway from near the Dunbar house in Dayton to Huffman Prairie using a combination of trolleys and buses.

After the Army leased the land, twenty-four airplane hangers were constructed on a flight line close to the Foulois House.

In the mid 1920’s the Army started to look for a location to relocate because McCook Field, the engineering center located just north of downtown Dayton, was becoming too small for their needs. Dayton businessmen headed by NCR president Frederick Patterson quickly went into action to keep the Army in Dayton. They formed the Air Service Committee in 1924 to find a place locally for the Army.

The committee raised the money to purchase 4,500 acres of land that included Wilbur Wright Field (including the Arnold and Foulois houses) and Huffman Prairie. They sold the land to the army for $1.00. The Army named the acreage Wright Field.

In 1931 all of the land east of Huffman Dam (which included the Arnold and Foulois houses) was renamed Patterson Field in memory of Lt. Frank Stuart Patterson who died in a test flight in a DH-4 airplane over Wilbur Wright Field in 1918. He was the son of Frederick Patterson who had succeeded his father John H. Patterson as president of the NCR.

From 1929-1931, Major “Hap” Arnold lived in the first house that Hebble built. The house at the time was used to house the base commander. Orville was Arnold’s houseguest at his residence on the base on a number of occasions.

Arnold, a West Point graduate, learned to fly at the Wright Brothers flying school at Huffman Prairie. He soloed in 10 days after 28 flights totaling 3 hours and 48 minutes.

He went on to command the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II and became a five-star general.

When the Wright Memorial in Dayton was dedicated on August 19, 1940, Orville’s birthday, Arnold flew into Dayton for the occasion. In his comments he said, “This monument would stand as a shrine to aviation as the Plymouth Rock is to America.”

The Hebble house was dedicated as the Arnold house in honor of General “Hap” Arnold on May 16, 1986.

General Foulois played a critical role in the Wright Brothers’ history. He flew with Orville in 1909 as an official observer for a speed trial on July 30 to fulfill an Army requirement to qualify the Wright airplane.

The requirement was for the airplane to carry two people aloft for one hour at 40 mph. There was a $2500 bonus over the base price of $25,000 for each one mph the speed exceeded 40 mph. There was also a $2500 deduction to the base price for each one mph under 40 mph.

The route was from the parade ground at Ft. Myer, Va. to Shooters Hill five miles away at Alexandria, Va. and return. Shouters Hill is where the Masonic Temple now stands. The facility was under construction at the time of the flight.

Orville chose Lt. Foulois to fly with him as the official Army observer. He selected him because he liked Foulois for his avid interest in aviation. It also helped that he weighted less than 130 pounds and was an experienced map reader.

Foulois arrived for the flight with two stopwatches hung around his neck, a box compass strapped to his left thigh, an aneroid barometer strapped to his right thigh and a map on his belt.

The Flight was a success. Orville completed the ten-mile course at an average speed of 42.586 mph and earned a financial bonus of $5,000.

Foulois was eager to take flying lessons and was able to receive three lessons from Wilbur Wright at College Park, Maryland before he was reassigned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, home of Signal Corps airplane #1. He successfully finished his instruction through correspondence with Wilbur and Orville. He liked to say he was the world’s first correspondence-school pilot. At the time he was the Army’s only active pilot.

He lived in the house that was to carry his name from June 1929 through July 1930 while serving as Chief of the Material Division, Wright Field. He subsequently rose to command of the U.S. Army Air Corps prior to World War II.

Both Foulois and Arnold played major roles in establishing the U.S. Air Force as a separate service and guided the early development of Military Air Power.

The Foulois house underwent a major renovation in 1986 and today serves as the home of the base commander.

Henry Hebble became a prominent citizen in the area and was running for county commissioner when he died from a heart attack. One of his sons, Zebulon Hebble, became mayor of Fairfield. The current Fairborn City building resides on Hebble St.

Residents of the two houses could watch the activities of the Wrights at Huffman Prairie during their development of a practical airplane during 1904-1905 and the further activities of the Wright Flying School, the Wright Exhibition team and the testing of airplanes built by the Wright Co. in 1910-1916.

Hebble Creek and Hebble Creek Rd form the southern boundary of Huffman Prairie, while the houses that Hebble built remain today as silent witnesses to aviation history.

After Orville sold his aircraft business in 1916, he built an office and laboratory at 45 North Broadway St. Located at the corner of Broadway and West Third St., it was not far from the last bicycle shop where the Kitty Hawk Flyer was designed and built. He wanted a place he could do what he liked to do — tinker. He worked there for the next 30 years.

The 39 by 75-foot building was demolished in 1976 to make way for a gasoline station, but the station was never built. Before the demolition, the Standard Oil Co. offered the building plus $1,000 to anyone who would move and preserve the building. Tragically, no one came forward to accept the offer.

The good news is that “Bank One,” who has an ATM at the site, recently donated four parcels of land to establish a memorial to Orville and his lab at the location. So far, a lookalike facade of the lab containing the same plain reddish-brown brick used on the original building has been built. Behind the facade there is a park containing a nice garden with walkways, stone benches, black iron fence, lampposts and a pagoda.

Future plans call for a bronze statute of Orville at a workbench to be placed inside the pagoda whenever additional funds become available. I must say that I don’t understand the connection between a Japanese pagoda and Orville.

I was disturbed to observe that the gardens were full of weeds, some of which were taller than the flowers and planted bushes.

That same day I had the opportunity to talk to Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandnephew of Wilbur and Orville. I told her about the condition of the gardens and I am sure that the problem will be remedied.

One other item I noticed was that there were no plagues describing what the small park represents. There were stands for them, but they were empty. I understand that there are still ongoing discussions over what should be written on the plaques.

I remember when I was attending Oakwood High School, located a few blocks from Hawthorn Hill, the Wrights’ home. I would sometimes see Orville driving by the school each morning on his way to his downtown laboratory. He usually went there six days a week even thought he was retired and well fixed financially.

He liked to drive fast and regularly exceeded the Oakwood speed limits. The police in Oakwood have had a reputation for strictly enforcing the speed limits even to this day. But they never stopped Orville. Since Orville didn’t believe in having auto insurance either, the police kept their fingers crossed.

In 1913 a flood submerged the crates holding the dismantled 1903 Flyer that was stored in a shed behind the Wright cycle shop at 1127 West Third St., a few blocks from 15 N. Broadway. The flood was nearly 12 feet deep.

Prior to building the lab at 15 N. Broadway, a barn was located on the site. After the water receded, Orville moved the crates containing the Flyer to the barn.

The barn was torn down in 1916 to make room to build the lab. The crates containing the flyer, along with all the historic files and photographs stored there, were moved to the Wright Company factory located off West Third at Home Ave. There the Flyer was reassembled for the first time since 1903 for display at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of a dedication ceremony.

Orville shared his office in the lab with his long time secretary Mabel Beck who occupied the reception area. Mabel, a forceful and protective secretary, was Orville’s gatekeeper. Anyone who wanted to see Orville had to get through Mabel first. It is rumored that even the Bishop had to go through Mabel.

As you might surmise, Mabel was not a favorite with the Wright family. But, she was totally devoted to Orville and was doing just what Orville wanted her to do. Orville, who had a reputation for playing practical jokes, seemed to be amused that others had problems dealing with Mabel.

Orville had his second and fatal heart attack while working at the Lab. Mabel called a physician from across the street. He died at Miami Valley Hospital three days later on January 30, 1948.