Dayton Celebration Events

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.

The Year of 1910 was an active flying year for the Wright brothers. One of those who wanted to fly with them was the mayor of Dayton, Ohio. On Tuesday afternoon September 28, 1910 he got his wish.

The Dayton Daily News published an account of the mayor’s flight at Simm’s (Huffman Prairie) station with Orville the next day.

Here is the article with my comments in parenthesis: For more than a year Mayor Edward E. Burkhart has been hinting and scheming for an invitation to go flying with the world’s foremost aviators, the Wright brothers.

Tuesday afternoon the city’s chief executive realized his ambition. The mayor and a little party of friends, who were “on the inside” slipped away to the testing grounds at Simm’s station and soon His Honor, attired in conventional cloud costume, went skimming away with Orville Wright at the wheel.

“Don’t you want some cord?” inquired Wilbur Wright just before the mayor mounted the machine.

“What for?” replied the mayor.

“I thought you might want to tie your knees together,” said Mr. Wright.

(There were no seat belts in airplanes in those days. The mayor did wear a scarf that covered his head and ears. He said he was taking no chances of suffering frostbite in the upper air currents.)

But the intrepid executive was not to be bluffed by the chafing. He knows a bit about machinery in a smooth running engine under perfect control.

He had been sufficiently indifferent to ballooning to refuse numerous invitations for balloon rides while nursing a hope for an aeroplane trip.

Orville Wright grasped the levers and the mayor balanced himself for the ascension. The propeller was swung and they skimmed away.

The aeroplane veered to its course and steadied to keel under the guiding hand like a gallant ship, while a cheer went up from the mayor’s party and other spectators, who had happened to select Tuesday to visit the field.

The airship soared up and up as it circled and maneuvered about the field, until an altitude of 1,100 feet had been reached.

Scared? Certainly Not.

“Feel afraid,” said the mayor scornfully, when asked about the trip. “Well, I should say not. I was so impressed with the perfect control Mr. Wright had over his machine and so entranced with the glorious sensation of flying that it never occurred to me to think of the danger. The danger is probably less than that of any other sport anyway.

When we had reached a fairly comfortable height, Mr. Wright looked across at me a couple of times in a somewhat inscrutable manner. Finally it occurred to me that he was studying me to see how I was taking it all and so I told him to go as far as he liked.

Than he let her out and the roar of wind in our ears mingled with the crackling staccato of the exhaust. We had to shout to each other.

From the height Mr. Wright pointed out Osborn and Fairfield, and were so I thought they were directly beneath us. (Osborn and Fairfield later merged and became Fairborn.) Dayton could be seen, of course, and I could distinguish the Steele high B137school building from among the others. (Katharine Wright taught at Steele; my mother graduated from Steele.)

The mayor says he is not considering the purchase of an aeroplane so long as they cost $7,500, but he is a confirmed enthusiast, and some day he may have a new method of escaping the reporters.

In 1899 Wilbur flew a kite in a park near his home to test his idea of wing warping. The success of this experiment led to further experimentation at Kitty Hawk and the invention of the airplane.

While I was in Dayton for the Inventing Flight celebration I decided to find the location of this park. It is not marked on the map and there is no marker at the location. Ed, a good friend of mine who lives in Dayton, and I took on the challenge.

Before I proceed further with the search, let’s review what occurred in 1899.

Wilbur for some time had been “afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man.” He knew that the German, Otto Lilienthal and Englishman, Percy Pilcher had died because they couldn’t control their gliders by shifting the weight of their bodies.

Wilbur looked for a better way to achieve control by watching how birds obtained control. He observed that they did it by changing the lift on one side and then the other by twisting their wings.

Orville thought about the possibility of building a mechanical mechanism into a flying machine to twist the wings. The brothers gave up on this idea because they couldn’t figure out to build such a mechanism strong enough, but also light enough to be practical.

The breakthrough came one day when Wilbur was talking to a customer in their bicycle shop and was absentmindedly twisting a bicycle tube box. It immediately occurred to him that they could build a box kite type glider with similar structure that would be sturdy but also have flexible wing tips.

Orville tells how it worked. “He (Wilbur) demonstrated the method by means of a small pasteboard box, which had two of the opposite ends removed. By holding the top forward corner and rear lower corner of one end of the box between his thumb and forefinger and the rear upper corner and the lower forward corner of the other end of the box in like manner, and by pressing the corners together the upper and lower surface of the box were given a helicoidal twist, presenting the top and bottom surfaces of the box at different angles on the right and left sides.”

Wilbur proceeded to build a large box kite. It consisted of two 5-foot wings, 13-inches wide constructed in a biplane configuration. The wings were trussed and braced in such a way that they could be twisted in the desired way by four control lines connected to two sticks, one in each hand. A fixed elevator was attached to the trailing edge.

Wilbur ventured to a local field with a group of neighborhood boys to try it out. It worked. He could make it turn left or right and dive or climb.

Orville, who was not present during the demonstration, said later, “We felt that the model demonstrated the efficiency of our system of control.”

The brothers now thought of bigger experiments involving man-carrying machines. The following year they made their first trip to Kitty Hawk.

Back to the search for the location of where Wilbur flew the kite.

I initially thought the location might be Riverside Park that is along the Miami River and not far from the Wrights’ home. But on further research the location was said to be near a seminary near Euclid Ave and First St. At that location there were homes and a small business building. The seminary was long gone.

I found out later that Bishop Milton Wright had recommended that the seminary be established.

A short block north of there was a large school building next to a park known as John Ahlers Park in West Dayton. The park looked like a good place to fly a kite. We went in the school and found a teacher who was packing school supplies. He knew nothing about what we were looking for. He did tell us the school was about to be torn down.

We went outside and walked around the park and in so doing noticed that the Paul Laurence Dunbar House was just down the street (Edison St.). We decided to walk down to the Dunbar House to see if they knew anything about Wilbur flying his kite in the neighborhood. At the house we were fortunate to be greeted by Ms La Verne Sci, the director. She was waiting for a group of visitors to arrive. We popped the question to her. She was quick to respond that the Ahlers Park was the place.

In hindsight it makes sense that Wilbur would fly his kite in open field near the seminary that his father had help establish.

We also learned from Ms Sci that Dunbar had chosen this location for his house because the seminary in the neighborhood had attracted an intellectual community at the turn of the century.

We had visited the Dunbar house the day before and didn’t realize that the park was where Wilbur flew his kite just up the street. Which raises the question, why are there no makers identifying this significant location in the history of flight?

Katharine, aka Betty Darst, held a picnic on the lawn of the Wright Memorial in Dayton on the occasion of the Centennial of Practical Flight, October 5, 2005.

According to Betty, who often plays the role of Katharine, the Wrights loved a picnic. While Hawthorn Hill was under construction, the family picnicked on the Captains Walk above the roof. Later they would picnic in the woods on the property.

The picnic on this day was from their recipes and consists of some of their favorites:

Chicken salad sandwiches

Ham salad sandwiches

Deviled eggs

Home made potato chips

Orange slices


Orville’s Caramels

Home made Lemonade

Carrie Kayler, the family housekeeper would make the sandwich spread. Will and Orv fixed homemade potato chips. Katharine would prepare the deviled eggs.

On this day the picnic was prepared by South Park United Methodist Church Women. Bishop Milton Wright was Bishop with the United Brethren Church that is now part of the United Methodist Church. My mother and father and I, as a child, were members of this church.

Oranges were a favorite with Orville. When the 1913 floodwaters engulfed their earlier home on Hawthorn Street, a bowl of oranges was in the center of the table as the family prepared to have breakfast. It still remained as the waters receded.

Orville had quite a sweet tooth. When someone came to visit, he might ask him or her if they would like some caramels and then happily prepare a fresh batch. These caramels are from Orville’s recipe.

Orville used a wooden potato masher to prepare the lemonade. It has been said that Orville made the best, most delicious, old-fashioned lemonade ever tasted.

At Kitty Hawk coffee was the usual drink. When too much coffee caused them to lay awake at night, they would think over solutions to their challenges.

Reference: Picnic Menu

Although reporters sometimes are a bit blasé about some of the dignitaries they write about, there are always a few celebrities that are just a little out of the ordinary.

Recently, this reporter had the opportunity to attend a function (courtesy of my husband) that took place in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Harrison Ford, famous for acting in films that include Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series and Air Force One, was featured as the master of ceremonies for the National Aviation Hall of Fame 2003 Pioneers of Flight Homecoming.

Considering the event was one that should not be missed, I was eager to go and even more eager to see how close I could get to the actor. Should I have the good fortune to actually speak to the man, what could I say that would be different from the other mundane uttering of all those gorgeous babes lined up to see him?

Doing my homework, I read in the local paper about his passion for flying his own airplanes, which include a restored de Havilland Beaver DHC-C, a Bonanza B36TC, a Gulfstream G1V-SP, a Cessna Grand Caravan and a Bell 407 helicopter.

It was reported that Ford, 61, took flying lessons when he was a student at Ripon College in Wisconsin. At that point, before his star status had been established, he found that flying was too expensive and he was forced to stop until he was in his 50’s and could afford the luxury of time and money necessary to pursue the experience.

On the evening preceding the Harrison Ford Dinner, we met a gentleman who boasted that he could arrange a meeting between Ford and myself. Promises, promises. There were 2,200 guests attending the prestigious Ford Dinner. But nonetheless, I believed the gentleman. His own wife was attending the gala just so that she could meet Ford.

On the night of the dinner, we managed to find the gentleman and his wife and I am sure that they never got any closer than we did. Harrison Ford had a magnificent security system. The president of the United States could not have been more closely guarded. Sitting with some other Ford Fans, I was invited to join a group of ladies that vowed to tackle Ford as a group and subdue him.

He had previously mentioned that he did not think Calista Flockhart would be able to attend, so I knew I would not get to speak to her to tell her to eat, as instructed by our son, Dan. As it turned out, the closest I got to Harrison Ford was to take his photo as he spoke at the podium.

Actually the dinner was not a total loss in spite of my inability to speak to Harrison Ford. The purpose of the black tie event was to salute the 178 men and women enshrined in the Hall of Fame in honor of the Centennial of Powered Flight. Ford solemnly led us through the memories evoked by such names as Ohio Senator John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, James A. Lovell Jr. and Walter M. Schirra Jr., all former astronauts; as well as naval aviator James B. Stockdale.

Altogether, two dozen enshrinees were introduced to the Aviation Hall of Fame that night, with a short history given on each one. Included in the ceremony was a toast to Wilbur and Orville Wright by two members of the Wright family, Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright. So what if I never got close to Harrison Ford. ~ By: Mary Lou Stimson