Wright Brothers Tribute at Woodland Cemetery

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Dayton Celebration Events

It was a special historic moment. As 1,000 people looked on, a 1911 Wright Model B Flyer flew over as a small choir singing God Bless America. Astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong spoke on the 34th anniversary of Armstrong’s Apollo 11 moonwalk; only 66 years had elapsed since the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk when Armstrong walked on the moon. Members of the Wright family lay wreaths on the graves of the famous brothers who invented the airplane. Reverend Edward Puff pronounced it a “sacred moment and this is hallowed ground.”

The last day of Dayton’s flight celebration couldn’t have ended on a more memorable moment. The gravesite had been spruced up since the last time I was there two years ago. A mulched bed of myrtle had been added around the burial stones. A cobblestone walkway was laid all around. Behind the main headstone with the words “Wright” inscribed on it. Three flagpoles had been added and American and Ohio flags, and a Wright pennant, fluttered in the breeze.

As 40 members of the Wright family listened, Glenn spoke, “Their bodily remains are buried here. But their spirit lives on in every young person who is inspired to dream, to do, and to move the world ahead. Their example is timeless.”

Then Armstrong added, “We gather on this glorious Sunday morning to remember the birth of aviation, but also to honor two good and honorable men.”

Armstrong added, “For 21/2 weeks, Dayton has been celebrating 100 years of flight, and has talked about the amazing achievements that have occurred in those 100 years. We’ve lauded the dedication, creativity and achievements of Orville and Wilbur Wright, but this morning we remember them not for those achievements, but as the kind of men they were: Men of honesty, and men of integrity in all they did. That is something for us to honor and emulate.”

G. Edwin Zeiders of the United Theological Seminary was the next speaker. Milton Wright had been instrumental in founding of the United Theological predecessor seminary, the Bonebrake Seminary of the United Brethren in Christ church more than 130 years ago.

Zeiders noted that “Wilbur, Orville, Neil and John are numbered in the multitudes of people who have risked everything for the greater good. We are exceedingly grateful for the sacrifices they made.”

Then it was time to lay the wreaths as a bagpiper played Amazing Grace. Marion Wright placed a wreath on Susan’s grave (mother). Stephen Wright decorated Milton’s grave (father); Amanda Wright Lane, Katharine’s grave (sister); Glenn, Wilbur’s and Armstrong, Orville’s.

Lt.General Richard Reynolds, commander of WPAFB, read the famous pilot’s poem, High Flight.

The historic Woodland Cemetery is located adjacent to the University of Dayton, whose nickname is the Flyers. Woodlawn is one of the nation’s oldest garden cemeteries. The Wright gravesite is located on a hill near the eastern edge of the large cemetery. Wilbur died in 1912 and Orville in 1948. They are buried on Lot 2533 in Section 101.

A large family stone marks the spot where the Wright family is buried. Smaller stones mark where each of the parents, Susan and Milton, sister Katharine and brothers Wilbur and Orville are buried. The simple graves were purchased when Susan died in 1889.

When Wilbur died at home his death made international headlines. Some 25,000 people filed past his casket at the First Presbyterian Church in Dayton as the city came to a standstill. The burial services at Woodlawn were private. Milton, his father, selected the Reverend E. Maurice Wilson, to officiate.

When Orville died at Miami Valley Hospital in 1948, flags flew at half-staff nationwide. As his casket was lowered, four jet fighters flew over and dipped their wings.

I attended the viewing at the Boyer Funeral Home at 609 W. Riverview Ave. near the Dayton Art Institute. All schools were closed for the day. I drove by the building again while attending the “Inventing Flight” celebration and saw no indication of activity at the building.

At the time of Orville’s viewing there were hundreds of people there. It was one of the largest funerals ever handled by Boyer’s.

Orville had been dressed in a regular suit and looked distinguished with his snow-white hair and mustache.

Reverend Charles Lyon Seasholes conducted the funeral service at Dayton’s First Baptist Church in downtown Dayton. Orville had chosen Reverend Seasholes because he had been a friend. Orville was not a regular church attendee even though his father had been a bishop in the United Brethren Church.

The grave of the great black poet and friend of the Wright Brothers, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, is located a stone’s throw away from the Wright’s gravesite. My wife’s parent’s gravesite, as well as several of her family members, is located just down the hill.

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