BETA VERSION – UNDER CONSTRUCTION
This blog is written for anyone who can’t resist looking up when an aircraft passes overhead. Every month we will keep history alive by posting another behind-the-scenes story about early aviation and the people who lived it. They were more than “aeroplane drivers” – they wrote the first chapters in the amazing story that is American aviation.
KEEPING AVIATION HISTORY ALIVE
Blog #1 – November, 2018
All the photos I’ve seen of Orville Wright show him with a serious look – there probably wasn’t much time for merrymaking when you’re busy inventing an “aeroplane.” Truth be told, Orville was quite the prankster and he got off to an early start. (((pic w/subtitle: Orville Wright)))
THE YOUNG PRANKSTER
Although the son of a minister, Orville had a few rough edges in his youth and occasionally had to be reined in by his parents. One such “incident” goes back to his early school days. After just one day as a kindergarten student, he decided school wasn’t for him and that he would rather spend the time playing. He was clever enough to leave every morning in time for school and return home at the right time each afternoon. This went on for several weeks until the day his mother, Susan Wright, stopped by the school to meet his teacher and see how her boy was doing. After that hoax, Orville was home-schooled under the watchful eye of his mother. Oops!
Two years later, she enrolled him in school again. Still a mischievous boy, he and a few of his pals came up with an interesting prank. They dumped a pack of pepper powder in the classroom’s air duct with the hope they would be dismissed early for the day. (((pic w/caption – Orville as a child))) When the furnace started up again, the pepper brought the expected results with everyone sneezing and wiping their watery eyes. But instead of sending them home for the day, the teacher opened all the windows. More than once, Orville the student was told to sit in the corner because of his mischief.
THE ADULT JOKESTER
As an adult, he still enjoyed pulling pranks. At one family gathering, he glued a small toy-like cockroach to a length of fine thread and jerked on it so the little bug scooted across the dinner table. Friends and family enjoyed Orvillle’s sense of humor – which was never mean-spirited.
An especially interesting “sleight of hand” took place at his home in Dayton where his study had a wall of shelves filled with an impressive collection of books. On one occasion, he was discussing poetry with his dinner guest, a distinguished English author. They were having trouble remembering a particular line from a poem they both knew and spent some time looking for and finally finding the verse in one of the many books. Later that evening, Orville intrigued his guest when he mentioned his unusual psychic powers. He offered to prove it by laying his hands on the book they had searched for earlier – blindfolded.
While blindfolded, Orville felt his way to the wall filled with hundreds of books. He slowly ran his fingers over the many volumes until he took one down from a shelf and said: “I believe this is the one we want.” It was indeed the book of poetry they had spent so much time searching for earlier. His dinner guest was amazed. The trick? When Orville had replaced the book of poetry on the shelf previously, he pulled the book directly above it out a bit, so he would know when he touched it again with his “psychic powers.”
The next time you see a picture of Orville Wright – remember that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.
After great success in manufacturing and selling his “aeroplanes,” Orville built a mansion on a hill surrounded by 17 acres dotted with hawthorn trees. It came to be known as Hawthorn Hill. (((pic w/subtitle: Orville’s Hawthorn Hill home))) He entertained the great and near-great figures of the day at Hawthorn Hill – Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison – to name a few.
After Orville’s death in 1948, NCR acquired the home and renovated it but for one room – the study – where the clock is still set to the time of his passing. The room was left untouched and is today as it was when Orville showed off his “psychic powers” there. NCR used Hawthorn Hill as a guest house for visiting corporate VIPs and for company functions. They later donated it to the Wright Foundation and it’s now a National Historic Landmark.
While it was still owned by NCR, I was offered the opportunity to wander through the two-story mansion, in appreciation for my having donated one of our aviation relic prints – the De Havilland DH-4. They were especially interested in the DH-4 print because Orville is pictured with the aircraft in the archival image. (((DH-4 print pic w/subtitle: Orville on left with De Havilland DH-4))) It was an experience I won’t forget – standing on the small, second-floor balcony where Orville and Charles Lindbergh had waved to the crowd gathered on the lawn to catch a glimpse of “Lucky Lindy.”
Today there are guided tours of Hawthorn Hill as well as other famous Wright landmarks in and around Dayton – including the bicycle shop where it all began. A visit to Dayton is definitely worth any airhead putting on their bucket list.