At the time of the Centennial of Flight celebration, the original visitor's center at the Wright Brother's National Monument was judged as "inadequate". So funds were raised by commericial firms and the Centennial Pavilion was built. Content partners (which means organizations who have exhibits here) include NASA, the United States Air Force, The Wright Experience, Outer Banks History Center, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission and others.
The Pavilion houses interpretive and educational exhibits. It will continue for five years or more, as part of a long-term improvement plan for the park, serving at least 5 million visitors in total.
There was a 70 minute presentation about the Wright's experience on the island - including the first boat trip from Elizabeth City where the dinghy to get out to the big boat was leaking and the big boat was leaking and the sails were worn and the lines were frayed. Wilbur was afraid to eat any of the food on the ship. He got to Kitty Hawk 36 hours later - hungry.
The Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association, a national and local support group was founded August 27, 1927 to approving the design of a monument that was called for under the Wright Brothers Memorial Act.
The Coast Guard and local citizens partially stabilized the large hill at Kill Devil Hills to help prepare it for the monument. The War Department (now called the Department of Defense) planted shrubs and trees, and sodded the ground, preventing the continued southwest migration of Big Kill Devil Hill and altered the once barren scene of the first flight.
After a lot of disagreement about the design (Should it be a beacon? Should it be a Greek temple?), finally on February 14, 1930, the firm of Rodgers and Poor were awarded the $10,000 prize for their design and told that they were to proceed as architects for the construction of the monument.
The Rodgers and Poor design had strong ties to the then popular Art Deco movement — a movement traced to the 1925 Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels in Paris and the design gave expression to the "aesthetics of the machine." Essentially a masonry shaft, about 60 feet high, the monument was embellished with highly stylized sculpted wings on each side to symbolize the ideas of flight and motion. The design implied ancient Egyptian motifs, an important source for Art Deco designs, which also drew upon Native-American and Asian precedents.
Dedication day (November 19, 1932) arrived with heavy rains and high winds which cut down on attendance and partcipitation. Orville later confided that he felt the monument was "distinctive, without being freakish." At the end of the ceremony, aviator Ruth Nichols pulled a cord to officially mark the dedication of the monument. The cord released a well-drenched American flag concealing the word GENIUS in the inscription along the base of the monument:
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
When they wanted to identify the exact place where the first flight took place, "Houston we have a problem" .. dunes of sand shift - that is their job.
How did they pinpoint the place? On November 4, 1928, under the direction of the NAA, Captain William Tate, three of the four surviving witnesses (Will Dough, Adam Etheridge, and Johnny Moore) to the first flight met to determine the point of takeoff.
"Dough, Etheridge, Moore, and I assembled here and I 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. Orville Wright said about it in his article How We Made Our 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 airplane started its first successful flight…. After agreeing upon this exact spot we signed a paper to that effect…. "
The 4 x 6 granite boulder which cost $2500.00 was dedicated on December 17, 1928 and has a plaque on it which reads:
THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL FLIGHT
- OF AN AIRPLANE -
WAS MADE FROM THIS SPOT BY
* ORVILLE WRIGHT *
DECEMBER 17,1903 IN A MACHINE DESIGNED AND BUILT BY
WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT.
THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED BY THE
NATIONAL AERONAUTIC ASSOCIATON
OF THE USA DECEMBER 17, 1928
TO COMMEMORATE THE 25TH
ANNIVERSARY OF THIS EVENT.
In common with most dune based islands, the sand dunes around here are vaariable and easily damaged. A great deal of planting had to be done to stablize Big Kill Devil Hill in order to build the Memorial on it.
Help protect Big Kill Devil Hill by staying on the paths. Remember that Big Kill Devil Hill is highly exposed to lightning during thunderstorms. Bicycles are permitted only on the established roads, not on paths, and skateboards are prohibited.
The national park service warns that there are sand spurs and prickly pear cactus off the path that you will want to avoid. They also want to avoid having people damaging the plantings by tramping around off the paths.
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