Arts & Culture

Expanded history museum exhibit honors Wright Brothers’ time in NC

Visitors walk under the  reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer at the N.C. Museum of History in 2016.
Visitors walk under the reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer at the N.C. Museum of History in 2016. cliddy@newsobserver.com

When Katie Edwards toured Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle in September, she discovered a surprising connection with another woman in the group. It was a small tour – maybe a dozen people total – and the woman she met happened to work at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park in Dayton Ohio. Edwards is a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, and the two had a good laugh about the playful rivalry between Ohio and North Carolina when it comes to claiming the accomplishments of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

“North Carolina was so important to the Wright Brothers story and Dayton was too, obviously,” Edwards says from her museum office. “It was such an innovative city, and I don’t know if the Wrights would have been as curious as they were if they didn’t come from that area.”

She speaks levelly and fairly, like a historian, but admits she finds the Wrights’ story in North Carolina fascinating.

Saturday is the 113th anniversary of Wright Brothers’ historic first flight in Kitty Hawk, and the museum honors the aviation pioneers by expanding its Wright Brothers exhibit.

The new section isn’t huge – it’s about 10 feet by 10 feet – and is intentionally evocative of the wooden shed the brothers built in Kitty Hawk. In addition, the Raleigh museum now houses a second Wright Flyer reproduction, on loan while the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitors Center in Kill Devil Hills undergoes extensive renovations.

What all these elements have in common – the Flyer reproduction, the Memorial on the Outer Banks and the expanded exhibit – are the Wrights’ time in North Carolina, which Edwards likes to think was their happiest.

“They were together. The brothers worked best when they were together,” she says. “Once they left in 1908 and started showing off their flyer in other parts of the country, they kind of became more separate.”

Many of the photos in the exhibit, for instance, Orville took himself. He shot pictures of the scenery, the locals and the Outer Banks dunes. He seemed curious and excited to be here, Edwards says.

The expanded exhibit is part of the museum’s core exhibit, “The Story of North Carolina.” Some of Edwards’ colleagues are planning a sizable World War I exhibit for the centennial of North Carolina’s entry into that war, which will open next year. When they removed some artifacts from “The Story of North Carolina,” that left space not far from where the museum’s reproduction flyer is hanging.

“(The flyer loan) was a big factor in our director saying, ‘Hey, let’s add a little bit more,’” Edwards says. “It’s like North Carolina’s icon – or one of them, at least.”

N.C. Museum of History

The expanded Wright Brothers exhibit opens on Saturday (Dec. 17). The museum is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Information: ncmuseumofhistory.org.

Wright Brothers Memorial

The Memorial in Kill Devil Hills loaned another Wright Brothers flying machine, the 1902 glider, to the Harpers Ferry Center in West Virginia. Some artifacts have been kept in Kill Devil Hills, in a temporary visitor center that will remain open until the renovation project is complete, according to information provided by Michael Barber, executive assistant to the National Park Service’s Outer Banks Group.

One project, the rehabilitation of the center, will bring a new roof, new heating and air units, new plumbing and wiring, and several green features. Another project will freshen up the exhibit space itself. The goal is to have both projects wrapped up and the renovated center ready for the public by summer 2018.

Information: nps.gov/wrbr.

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