I recently watched a film starring Clark Gable and Gene Tierney called Never Let Me Go. In the film, which takes place post-WWII as US/Russian relations are getting tense, Gable is an American soldier stationed in Russia who meets a Russian ballerina and falls in love. He meets an English soldier in a similar situation. The Englishman tells him a story of how he met his Russian wife. She was acting as a translator for him during a dinner with a group of Russian soldiers. During the dinner the Russian soldiers keep making toast after toast and everyone is getting very drunk. But what’s funny is the toasts that they’re making. “To the inventor of the ,” they say and then give a decidedly Russian name. This goes on for a number of important inventions, including the airplane. When the Englishman tries to correct them, he figures it’s more trouble than it’s worth to insult his hosts and simply drinks the vodka. Well I can tell you that they did not toast the Wright Brothers as the inventors of the airplane.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, is, by my estimation, the region’s most visited landmark. That’s just a guess but it sure seems to be true. No matter the weather, the nationally recognized site of man’s first flight seems to be awful busy. If you’re in the vicinity, I highly recommend a visit.
Admittedly the museum inside the visitor’s center is small but it is informative. The displays tackle all of the important details, like how the brothers from Ohio got their start and how they engineered their planes. In an adjacent room there’s a life-size recreation of one of the Wright’s flyers surrounded by paintings of others who have set important precedents in air and space. (Although notably Graf Zeppelin seemed to be missing…) The park rangers do give wonderful talks about the site there, too.
But the real action, if you will, is outside. You can walk a trail lined with markers to see just how far each of four flights went. There are recreations of the small cabins the brothers lived and worked in while they were in North Carolina and, of course, there’s the Wright Memorial itself. Be sure to wear your walking shoes, it’s quite a steep climb but it’s great exercise and there’s a lovely few to the Atlantic Ocean on one side and to amazingly straight evergreens on the other.