WHEN: Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Tours start at Carillon Historical Park, 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton.
TICKETS: $12 per person ($15 for Hawthorn Hill and Carillon Historical Park combined)
RESERVATIONS: Required by calling 937-293-2841. Tours fill up fast.
A record number of guests attended Dayton History’s annual open house at Orville Wright’s mansion, Hawthorn Hill.
Attracting 550 visitors, Wright At Home 2016 was a sell-out before Sunday’s event even started.
“We had more guests go through the house than in the two previous years combined,” said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History.
Kress noted that in prior years, many of the people who attended the event live in Oakwood. This year, he said, most guests were from outside the Dayton suburb. “We had people from all over this area,” he said.
Some visitors such as Cathie Zimmer Ross and Milly Alfonso had driven from Columbus to see Hawthorn Hill.
“While we toured the home, the docents gave great background and made me feel a part of that era,” Ross said. “Fascinating to know all that was going on in Dayton during the era of ‘Downton Abbey.’ Our countrymen were advancing civilization.”
A group of knowledgable volunteers was on hand to tell stories about the Wright family and answer questions at the once-a-year event. Built in 1914, the mansion was the home of the world’s first pilot, his father, Milton, and sister, Katharine — two years after Wilbur died of typhoid fever.
As visitors entered the house, they were guided through various rooms of the mansion. “Thanksgiving was Orville’s favorite holiday,” said Doug Benbow, a volunteer since 2003. “He was a great jokester.”
Benbow told how Orville Wright one year lifted up his Thanksgiving dinner plate and to the horror of his dining companions, out came a cockroach — a mechanical cockroach. “He’d made it earlier in the day for the dinner guests.”
Another interesting story: “Orville never liked refrigerated ice,” Benbow said.
The retired salesman explained that Wright had a block of ice delivered regularly to the house, but his housekeeper complained because the delivery man tracked in a lot of mud. “Orville cut a hole in the back of the icebox and put in a trap door so the ice man wouldn’t have to come in to deliver the ice,” Benbow said. “You have to keep the housekeeper happy.”
Ned Gauder, volunteer, showed off the vault where Orville kept his papers and patents. “Banks didn’t have safe deposit boxes back then.”
Wright family artifacts are displayed throughout the house. Some of note:
- A quilt made by Susan Catherine Koerner Wright, the mother of Wilbur, Orville, Katharine and two other children. It covers the bed that belonged to her husband, Bishop Milton Wright.
- Wilbur Wright's elaborate shower with multiple heads.
- The balcony from which famous aviator, military officer, inventor and explorer Charles A. Lindbergh waved to curious onlookers during his visit to the mansion shortly after his New York to Paris flight in 1927.
Outside the garage, which is normally not available to visitors, volunteers served coconut macaroons — Orville Wright’s favorite cookie — along with other snacks and bottled water. But the biggest treat of the day was taking place in the garage: Stephen Wright, the great-grandnephew of the Wright brothers, told family stories, answered questions and showed home movies, including three of the Wright brothers' grandnephews, including Stephen Wright’s father, sledding down Hawthorn Hill. There were also scenes from Orville Wright’s last Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’s very gratifying to know so many people are interested in my family history,” Wright said. “Our local guests always express their pride in being Daytonians as a result of what Uncle Will and Uncle Orv did. I share that pride, and it’s just a great feeling to talk with them and answer their questions.
“I’d like to thank the Dayton History and Oakwood Historical Society staff for their planning and execution of what was a very popular event," Wright said. “I want to receive visitors to the house today with the same hospitality that Uncle Orv and Aunt Katherine extended to their guests. I want them to feel welcomed and special because that’s how they make me feel. I’d like to thank the Dayton History and Oakwood Historical Society staff for their planning and execution of what has become a very popular event.”
The accomplishments of the aviation pioneers wouldn’t have been possible without the support of their friends, fellow engineers and others in the community. People living here today keep the Wright brothers’ history alive through their own families’ stories.
John Barhorst, who lives near Hawthorn Hill, said he has been a Wright brothers fan since he was a young child. “My great-grandfather built the gas tank for the plane,” he said.