A Rare Opportunity to Get an Inside Look at the Wright Brothers National Memorial

A Rare Opportunity to Get an Inside Look at the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Have you been to the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills during your time on the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Chances are you have. But it's highly unlikely that you've gotten a glimpse of what lies inside the monument. The triangular granite pylon stands 60 feet tall on top of a 90-foot hill where the Wright brothers launched hundreds of glider flights. The Outer Banks landmark stands above U.S. 158, but people rarely see it from the inside. That will change this summer!

So why is the Wright Brothers Memorial not accessible to the general public? Safety, the answer is safety.

The tower remains closed except for special events as it has for more than 20 years, for safety’s sake, according to Karen Warlitner, volunteer guide and director of the First Flight Foundation. The stairwell is too narrow to take action in case of an emergency. The steps are risky, not wide enough for an adult foot.

That's all about to change this summer, thought, when the Wright Brothers National Memorial plans to open access to the interior room on the base of the monument on a weekly basis, where guides will talk about its history including topics such as how it almost wasn’t built, how it contributed to Outer Banks tourism and how Orville Wright wanted no part of the celebrations that went with it.

The Secret to What's Inside the Wright Brothers National Memorial

Are the Wright Brothers buried inside? Are there secret tunnels? Hidden treasure? Sorry, the answer is no, no and no. Though there is a mysterious quality to the monument because it's rarely opened to the public, what's inside the Wright Brothers Memorial is a little more ordinary. The six-story monument is the largest ever built for a living person, according to Wright Brothers Historian Darren Collins. He recently got inside access and climbed the narrow steps to the top and checked out the view from the balcony.

So the answer to what lies inside, readers, is a stairwell that leads to a balcony with a view and the small, round interior room at the base of the monument we've previously mentioned. That's about it. Though you won't be able to climb the stairs nor enjoy the view, you will get a rare glimpse inside that interior room and get to hear more about the history it holds.

Miles of shoreline and maritime forest are part of the view from the top, but the focus of the Wright Brothers National Memorial really centers on the view from the bottom. The base directs onlookers northward to the grassy field of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight. It was all sand back in the day in 1903 when the brothers flew 120 feet in 12 seconds. The fourth and final flight went 852 feet in 59 seconds. That last flight is what set them apart, Collins said. "It would take the rest of the world four years to match that.”

First in Flight and the History Behind the Memorial

Marking aviation history and being the site of First in Flight warrants some special attention and recognition. U.S. Rep. Lindsay Warren of North Carolina sponsored a bill in 1926 to erect a proper monument on Kill Devil Hill, according to a National Park Service history.

Warren’s bill nearly failed the tests of cost, design and whether it should function as a lighthouse as well as a memorial. The Secretary of Commerce at that time, Herbert Hoover, said he was "reluctant to dump a quarter of a million dollars of public money on a sand dune where only a few neighborhood natives would see it.”

The corner-laying ceremony for the monument was held in 1928, but it wasn't until November 19, 1932, that the Kill Devil Hills Monument was dedicated. On December 1, 1953 it was renamed the Wright Brothers National Memorial. As you can see, it was a work in progress that spanned decades.

Why Orville Wright Wanted No Part in the Celebrations

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the 25th anniversary celebration of the epic flight, the building of the monument itself, and the ceremony that marked the big event. To make a long story short, they were met with obstacles at every turn and in all stages of planning, marking, building and attending the proposed Wright Brothers Memorial.

Orville was never one who enjoyed the public spotlight in the first place. During the corner-laying ceremony, Orville, who was typically modest, turned to Congressman Warren (whose idea it was to build the memorial) and said that this whole thing might be a mistake. "To do it now seems like an imposition on the taxpayers.”

During the final dedication ceremony for the monument's name change, Orville was not even listed on the program for the event—at his request. When it was time for him to come forward to speak, many people in the densely packed crowd did not recognize him and he had to push his way through to get to center stage.

We encourage you to read the full story behind the Wright Memorial to gain insight on all the ups and downs leading to its construction. It's a truly fascinating read!

How the Memorial Contributes to Tourism Then & Now

The memorial was originally built to memorialize an aviation event of historic proportions, as well as to boost tourism to this lesser-known region of coastal North Carolina. By today's standards, that has been a success. The Wright Brothers National Memorial and its surrounding park is a must-see attraction during your stay on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Marking a time and place in history, it makes for great education, discussion and exploration.

The 60-foot granite monument leads the way to the extensive National Park which features well-manicured grounds, historical markers, a visitors' center, and a cluster of museums and exhibits celebrating the last century of flight and beyond. Part historical monument, part museum, and part park, an exploration of the Wright Brothers National Memorial is an afternoon trip that everyone in the family will find simply awe-inspiring.

Make a special trip to Kill Devil Hills this summer, and get a sneak peek inside the Wright Brothers Memorial while you can. Transport yourself back in time to when aviation history was made and see how they taught the world to fly!

"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.”

Interested in learning more about the Wright Brothers? Read this: 25 Things You May Not Know About Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Do you have plans to visit the Wright Brothers Memorial on the OBX this summer for a rare sneak peak inside the monument?