Johnny Moore Witnesses History

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in The Kitty Hawk Years

Johnny Moore was a 16-year-old boy who lived in Nags Head, NC and just happened to be walking along the beach when he noticed a commotion further ahead. He walked closer and noticed that several men were working with a machine.

The several men were Orville and Wilbur Wright, along with three men from the local life saving station — Willie Dough, Adam Etheridge, and John Daniels — and W.C. Brinkley, who was a lumber merchant.

Johnny decided to join the group.

The date was Dec. 17, 1903. It wasn’t long before the machine’s engine was started and down the rail and into the air the machine flew with Orville at the controls.

Johnny was so excited seeing the machine fly that he ran down the beach shouting, “They done it, they done it, damned if they ain’t flew!”

Johnny didn’t realize it then, but he would play a very important role in the history of the Wright brothers.

In 1928, the delegates of the International Civil Aeronautics Conference decided to dedicate a granite maker to be placed at the approximate site of the 1903 Wright Flyer takeoff to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first flight. The National Aeronautics Association (NAA) would provide the marker.

But there was a problem. The dunes and hills at Kitty Hawk had shifted considerably since 1903. Where was the location of the first liftoff?

The NAA decided to gather the witnesses to the first flight and have them provide their best estimate of where it was located.

William Tate of Kitty Hawk, who had originally invited the Wrights to Kitty Hawk, was asked to recruit the original witnesses to perform the task. He was able to recruit three of the four surviving witnesses — Will Dough, Adam Etheridge, and Johnny Moore.

During the dedication ceremonies on Dec. 17, 1925 of the placement of the marker, which consisted of a 6-foot-high marker, carved to resemble a boulder, Tate described how his team found the site.

“Dough, Etheridge, Moore and I assembled here and explained to them the importance of arriving at a definite conclusion with respect to the spot where the Wright brothers’ airplane, in making its first successful flight, first began to move along the ground. We located the four corners of the building in which the machine was housed. We took into consideration what Mr. Wright said about it in his article, “How We Made the First Flight.”

“We had a compass with us and we were sure of our compass course. After considering all these things and talking it over, these other three men proceeded by themselves to come out here on this point and select the spot on which this magnificent boulder stands and said that this was the spot where the Wright plane started its first successful flight. After agreeing upon this exact spot we signed a paper to that effect.”

More than 3,000 people attended the event. Orville Wright was there as well as Amelia Earhart.

Not much is known about Johnny in later years except that he was a fisherman.

Then on Feb. 28, 1952, there was bad news about Johnny. The following UP news report was received:

“The last living witness of the Wright brothers’ first heavier-than-air flight killed himself today with a .12-gauge shotgun blast, Coroner Marvin Rodgers said. The body of Johnny Moore, 66, was found in his home on Little Colington Island. From his home, the old fishing guide could see the Wright Memorial Monument atop Kill Devil Hill, where Wilbur and Orville Wright first flew on Dec. 17, 1903.”

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