What is gray on the outside, pink on the inside, has a star-shaped foot and stands 61 feet high? It is the monument dedicated to the Wright Brothers in a ceremony attended by Orville Wright on November 19, 1932, making it the largest monument ever dedicated to a living person, Wilbur Wright having passed away in 1912.
The pylon stands on the site of many of the brothers’ glider experiments and was authorized by an act of Congress. The revolving beacon at its peak illuminated the Outer Banks until World War II when evening black-outs became mandatory. Later, the light was damaged in a storm, and it has remained dark ever since. Signs of age and exposure to the elements however never daunted the more than 500,000 visitors who visit the site each year.
In preparation for the 100th anniversary of powered flight, the first Flight Centennial Foundation, working in partnership with the National Park Service, raised money to restore the Wright Brothers Monument. Support came from all directions including The Cannon Foundation, The Christopher Columbus Foundation, the Dayton Ohio 2003 Committee and grand-nephew of the brothers, Wilkinson Wright.
“The significance of what the Wright brothers achieved at Kitty Hawk cannot be overstated–– there’s nothing like standing on the spot where, for the first time in history, man took to the air,” First Flight Centennial Executive Director, Ferg Norton said. “The refurbishment of the monument has left in sparkling; we’re very proud of the work that has been done to help preserve it for future generations.”
Moser Mayer Phoenix Associates, an architectural and engineering firm in Greensboro, North Carolina, handled the preparation plans and specifications for the major restoration and Watson Electrical Construction out of Wilson, North Carolina served as the general contractor. Joyner’s Memorial Inc., also of Wilson, provided North Carolina treatment for the gray granite exterior and pink granite interior.
On Saturday, May 2, 1998, former President George Bush and Apollo astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, arrived to take part in an official Rededication of the Wright monument. “It’s a great honor to have Mr. Bush and Mr. Aldrin attending this event,” said Ferg Norton, who is a retired Navy flier and Admiral. “As pilots they have a keen appreciation for the gift the Wright brothers gave the world.”
The National Park Service was more than prepared to receive the estimated 8,000 guests attending the event. Parking was smoothly orchestrated on the park airstrip and guests strolled or hopped a shuttle to the park lawn where, amazingly, seats were provided for everyone. Every detail was considered; cactus was cleared from that area of the lawn and radio releases included a statement to bring flashlights for the evening event.
David Hartman of Good Morning America served as Master of Ceremonies and the U.S. Navy Band entertained the guests. A parade of aircraft overhead included everything from a Coast Guard C-130 to a formation of four F-15s. Darrell Collins, Historian for the Wright Brothers National Memorial, then gave his well-known and much appreciated first flight story.
Buzz Aldrin proved himself a poet and history buff in his address when he likened early airplanes to “the ships that incarnated the aura of the renaissance.” And when he spoke of the Spaniard Verrazano, who sailed up the east coast to land here at Kitty Hawk almost 400 years before the Wrights’ famous flight, actually walked ashore, the astronaut mused, “The point of arrival becomes the point of departure.”
State Senate Leader, Marc Basnight, spoke in place of Senator Jesse Helms to introduce the keynote speaker, President Bush. Known for delighting a crowd with his boyish charm, Senator Basnight hinted to a delighted audience his intent to run for the U.S. Senate when he said he was, “sitting in Jesse’s chair.” Then he winked and said he “wanted” to be sitting in Senator Helm’s chair
When President Bush rose to take the podium, the crowd members jumped to their feet and applauded with tremendous enthusiasm. After apologizing to the audience for not being able to attend his own First Flight Shrine induction ceremony in 1995, his remarks were upbeat and patriotic. He was funny too when he said the Wrights could never have imagined their invention would lead to such annoyances as, “Put your tray up and return your seat to an upright position. What a terrible thing they unleashed on us.”
Milton Wright, also a grandnephew of Orville and Wilbur Wright, made the official rededication remarks followed by Admiral Norton who invited the audience to look at the monument for the illumination. At 150 charitable organizations around the country and have raised more than $26 million for charity. “The Wright brothers displayed the same spirit of discovery, entrepreneurship and determination that all Americans strive to archive,” Mr. Bush said. “I am proud to be associated with the celebration of their accomplishments as we lead up to the centennial.”
(This excerpt, written by Lisa (Holian) Loy, appeared in her column, Air Apparent, published by the North Beach Sun.)