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Living History

Posted Oct 07 2013 9:24am


Last week I had the opportunity to go with Joshua on a field trip. Even though he’s in fourth grade, this is the first field trip I’ve ever been on with him, because I’ve always had younger kids at home to care for and making babysitting arrangements hasn’t been overly practical. But he really wanted me to come this time, and my mom was in town and agreed to care for Jonah. Plus, the field trip was to one of my very favorite local places – our open-air Dayton history museum, Carillon Park .

Carillon Park, Dayton

Photo by erinbrace via Flickr

Perhaps you’ll recall that I have a great love for Dayton history. I am a full-on history nerd and I’m proud of my hometown. I’m very glad that Carillon Park has preserved so much of its rich history and glory days.

Carillon Park has lots of great exhibits, both indoors and out. It is home to one of the very first buildings in Dayton, and the oldest still exisiting. Newcom’s Tavern was built in 1796. It also has a stellar 1913 Flood exhibit which I thoroughly enjoyed. And, it has an absolutely excellent interactive movie presentation narrated by eerily life-like robots portraying some of Dayton’s past leaders in business and invention (including the Wright Brothers and my favorite eccentric city legend, John H. Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register company.)

Sadly, I think much of this history was lost on the fourth-graders; they’re still too young to fully appreciate the havoc that was the 1913 flood and the triumph of the dam system that was built in its aftermath entirely with privately donated funds. The people of the Miami Valley flippin’ solved their own problem and the result is still protecting us today, 100 years later. I love it!


A portion of the 1913 Flood Exhibit at Carillon Park


But anyhoo, the part of Dayton history that the fourth-graders truly did appreciate was the stuff about the Wright Brothers. Orville and Wilbur were born and raised right here in Dayton and this is where they invented the airplane. They did all their research, experiments, and building (the indoor stuff anyway) in their bicycle shop on Dayton’s West side. Decades ago, Orville sold the original building to Henry Ford (his buddy) who moved it to his museum in Dearborn, Michigan. THANKS A LOT ORVILLE. Carillon Park has a lovely replica, which will have to do.


The bicycle hanging up there was the first built entirely by the Wright Brothers, and sold in 1901. Is that awesome or WHAT?

The Wright Cycle building at the museum as two original Wright bicycles. There are only 5 remaining in the world. There is another one at the nation’s Air Force Museum (also in Dayton – holla!), one at the Smithsonian Institution, and one at you guessed it – the Henry Ford Museum. (He also has the Wright’s freaking HOUSE. Thanks again Orville!)

There are several volunteers who work in this part of the museum who told us all about the Wright’s amazing wind tunnel experiments. They did these experiments to determine what wing shape would give their plane the most lift. They tested over 200 wing shapes (miniaturized versions) in a self-built wind tunnel in their bicycle shop, and did all the crazy math calculations by hand. When the volunteer was explaining this incredible first aeronautical engineering feat to us, he did so with such passion that it brought tears to my eyes.


Our enthusiastic tour guide for the Wright Cycle Co. He rules my world!

A lot of the engineering stuff was over the kids’ heads, but I know that Joshua understood that what they accomplished was an amazing feat. And, it truly is.

The Wrights, who were educated only up through high school, started researching flight in 1899, achieved it in 1903, and had made it practical by 1905. From thought to practicality in just six years!! It’s just incredible. People had been trying to figure this out for a loooong time. It’s just mind-boggling how quickly they accomplished this goal that has changed all of our lives and our world in immeasurable ways.

The Wrights’ 1903 plane, the first that ever flew, is at the Smithsonian. But Dayton has their first practical plane – their third (the second was destroyed in a crash) and the one that they perfected powered flight on – the 1905 Wright Flyer III. EEEEEK! It’s SO COOL you guys. The fourth-graders were enthralled as was I. It’s been years and years since I’ve seen it. It is amazing. Regrettably I forgot to bring my good camera with me, so these are just phone pics, but there are many excellent photos of this plane (including some of the Wrights flying it!!) on the internet .

Wright Flyer 1

Wright Flyer 2

All the kids went ga-ga over the plane and they also were attentive to and excited about a film explaining the Wrights’ remarkable achievements in flight. During the film, Joshua turned to me and said in awe, “Isn’t that amazing?” My heart swelled a little. It is pretty cool that Dayton’s most famous sons are still inspiring it’s current children, long after their deaths.

joshua with plane

Joshua with the Wright Flyer III

Joshua and I had a great day at the museum.  It was so fun to make memories with my little buddy and have him share some of my love of Dayton history. After the class departed on their bus back to school, he and I went back through a couple of exhibits we wanted to spend more time in. I hope you all will go visit Carillon Park this fall if you’re local, and if you’re not, it’s a great reason for a visit to Dayton, especially if you’ve got an aviation-lover in your home.

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