NPS To Open Wright Monument This Summer

NPS To Open Wright Monument This Summer

I found this article written by Jeff Hampton for the Virginian-Pilot, and thought you all may be interested in this unique opportunity.


Wright Brothers historian Darrell Collins climbed up the six-story monument, step by narrow step, before exiting to an open balcony at the top.

“This is the largest monument ever built for a living person,” Collins said.

White-capped breakers and miles of shoreline to the east and maritime forest to the west were not the focus of the amazing view. Instead, the point at the base directs onlookers northward to the grassy field of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight. It was all sand back in 1903 when the brothers flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. The fourth and final flight went 852 feet in 59 seconds.

That last flight is what set them apart, Collins said. “It would take the rest of the world four years to match that.”

The triangular granite pylon stands 60 feet tall on top of a 90-foot hill where the Wright brothers launched hundreds of glider flights. The Outer Banks landmark stands above U.S. 158, but people rarely see it from the inside.

The Wright Brothers National Memorial plans this summer to open weekly the small, round interior room at the base of the monument where guides will talk about its history – how it almost wasn’t built, how it contributed to Outer Banks tourism and how Orville Wright wanted no part of the celebrations that went with it, said Karen Warlitner, volunteer guide and director of the First Flight Foundation.

Warlitner gets questions about what’s inside. Are the Wrights buried in there? No. Are there secret tunnels? No.

The tower remains closed except for special events as it has for more than 20 years, for safety’s sake, Warlitner said. The stairwell is too narrow to take action in case of an emergency. The steps are risky, not wide enough for an adult foot.

U.S. Rep. Lindsay Warren of North Carolina sponsored a bill in 1926 to erect a proper monument on Kill Devil Hill, according to a National Park Service history.

Warren’s bill nearly failed the tests of cost, design and whether it should function as a lighthouse as well as a memorial. Then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover said he was “reluctant to dump a quarter of a million dollars of public money on a sand dune where only a few neighborhood natives would see it.”

Orville preferred it not be built for another 50 years, Collins said.

The significance of flight was too much to ignore, Collins said. World War I had proved the value of controlling the air. After the war, barnstormers were putting on shows and races around the country. Airmail was growing more popular.

“Probably the only thing that compares with how fast flight developed is computers,” Collins said.

The bill passed in 1927.

A Memorial Commission held a contest on its design that garnered 36 entries. The New York architectural firm of Rodgers and Poor won the $10,000 prize for a granite, triangular pylon with a star-shaped base and wings carved into the sides.

The cornerstone was laid on Dec. 17, 1928, the 25th anniversary of the first flight. Construction began in 1931 and was finished in November 1932 at a cost of $285,000.

“That’s a lot of money during the Depression,” Collins said.

Building the monument and its attraction to tourists paid for itself by propelling construction of the Wright Memorial Bridge and better roads, opening the way for a tourism boom in the Outer Banks, Collins said.

About 2,000 people braved stormy weather for the dedication instead of 20,000 as expected. Hoover, now the president, did not attend as hoped. Quiet Orville declined to speak, Collins said. Wilbur, the visionary and spokesman of the two, had died in 1912.

Since then, annual celebrations have drawn thousands, including 65,000 to the 2003 centennial, Collins said. There’s the visitors center, reconstructed sheds where the Wrights worked – all were built, but it started with the monument, he said.

An inscription sums up the admiration of those who wanted to honor the Ohio bicycle makers: “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived by genius. Achieved by dauntless resolution and unconquerable faith.”




Alex Argiroff Headshot
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Phone: 252-202-8148
Dated: April 25th 2016
Views: 294
About Alex: With a degree in Marine Biology Alex has always been drawn to the ocean and so it was no surprise wh...

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