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We had another glorious day to explore the Outer Banks. For this morning’s adventure, we planned to head north to Bodie Island and visit the Wright Brother’s Memorial.
Our first stop, however, was the Ranger Station at Bodie (pronounced “body) Lighthouse so that Genevieve and Sebastian could get sworn in as Jr. Rangers. They had worked diligently yesterday to satisfy their Jr. Ranger requirements. The “Night Lights” program last evening had been the final activity needed to obtain both a Jr. Ranger badge and an embroidered patch.
Ranger Meghann was kind enough to do the honors.
Genevieve got a hug of congratulations from my mom, aka “Nana.”
Bodie Lighthouse had a horizontally striped pattern, compared to the spiral striped pattern at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
The crowning light:
I was hoping to climb to the top this morning, although my mom said that she would sit out this experience—the stairs on yesterday’s lighthouse climb had winded her a bit.
Inside the lighthouse, we discovered that the stairs were blocked off. I’d have to get my cardio workout some other way today! We could still peer up the curving staircase.
The cast-iron stairs were originally created 137 years ago to handle the weight of one person going up and down each day. There are currently too many cracks and broken pieces in the steps to accommodate the 500 visitors each day that want to climb to the top. A 3.5 million dollar restoration project is now underway. The staircase will soon be removed completely, melted in a foundry, and cast into a new staircase that will be anchored into the lighthouse walls.
Genevieve, inside the lighthouse:
Barbara, a volunteer, entertained us with some interesting historical information.
She is a retired school teacher from New Jersey who has been living in the Outer Banks for 2 ½ years. Barbara explained that the lighthouse was constructed with 1 million bricks made in Maryland. Before the lighthouse was electrified in 1932, the light was made by igniting kerosene or lard in a big pan at the top. A half an hour before sunset, the lighthouse keeper would climb up to the top of the lighthouse with 3 gallons of lard or kerosene, ignite the fire, and then stay up there until 20 minutes after sunrise.
Bodie Lighthouse is in its original spot, located 3800 feet from the shoreline. There is a big freshwater pond between the lighthouse and the ocean. When initially placing the lighthouse, the builders had the choice of placing the lighthouse directly on the shore or placing it behind the freshwater pond, and they chose the latter. Good thing, because the beach has eroded over the years, and the original shoreline spot is now covered by ocean water.
My dad and mom sharing a smile while leaving the lighthouse:
While Genevieve and I were listening to Barbara, Ben and Sebastian were having a snack on the museum porch.
We continued driving northward through the town of Nags Head, which has many year-round residents.
Many of the homes here were smaller and older than the ones near our campground. Some of them were even single-story, as portions of the land are a bit higher than elsewhere in the Outer Banks, and thus less susceptible to flooding during storms.
Here is a pretty, shingled church:
The Wright Brothers National Memorial is located near the town of Kill Devil Hills.
It was at this spot, in December 1903, that brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright had “the first successful flight of an airplane.” Specifically, they launched the first motor-driven machine that raised itself into the air by its own power and, carrying a person, sailed forward without a reduction in speed until it landed at a point that was at least as high as the lift-off point. (There still exists some controversy around the world about who "flew" the first plane, so the exact description of what the Wright brothers did is important.)
The wind was whipping around today. Indeed, the Wright brothers were from Ohio and had specifically chosen this place for their flight testing because of the intense winds and high sandy hills. In 1900, Orville wrote in a letter to his sister Katharine: “. . . the sand nearly blinds us. It blows across the ground in clouds. We certainly can’t complain of the place. We came down here for wind and sand and we got them.”
Inside the Visitor’s Center and Museum, there was an authentic, full-scale reproduction of the motorized 1903 Wright Flyer, the plane that obtained lift-off and made history.
There was also a reproduction of the non-motorized glider that the Wright brothers had tested on the sandy hills in 1902.
Sebastian’s eyes were absorbing everything:
Nearby, there were two small buildings that were replicas of the sheds that the Wright brothers used when they stayed here two months each year during 1901 through 1903 to test their flying devices.
Ranger Dennis explained that the wing in the shed was a replica of the 1902 glider wing.
The wing joints had been held together with waxed string to make it easier for the brothers to reassemble the pieces when the plane crashed.
The bunk beds and kitchen of the shed had been reconstructed from a photo of the original.
We walked down the hill to where the plane had been launched from flat ground. The Wright brothers had constructed a monorail device because the soft sand prevented take-offs and landings with conventional wheels; once the engine was started, the plane could slide down the monorail until it had enough speed to lift into the air.
There were four take-offs on the historic day. The first take-off resulted in a 120-foot flight that lasted 12 seconds, with Orville on board at the controls. The last take-off provided the longest flight of 852 feet in 59 seconds. Each landing point had a numbered marker down the field.
In the distance we could see Kill-Devil Hill, with a large monument on top.
The Wright Brothers flew a glider off of this hill hundreds of times in 1901 and 1902 in order to perfect the wing shape and other features of their first motor-driven plane. They had a lot of problems with their initial gliders. The 1901 experiments were so dismal that Wilbur had stated in frustration, “Not within a thousand years would man ever fly!” He would prove himself wrong in just two years.
We set off to climb to the top of Kill-Devil Hill.
The monument was built between the years 1928 and 1932. Around the base was the inscription: “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”.
The Wright Brothers undeniably had genius and immense determination.
However, I question whether any person can ever “conquer” the air (as opposed to understanding and working with the powerful forces of nature). Word choice in monuments is always so interesting and must be looked at in relation to the time period in which the monument was built.
From the top of Kill Devil Hill, we could see the neighboring town.
The people who lived nearby had been critical in helping the Wright Brothers have a successful flight. William Tate, the postmaster for the town of Kitty Hawk, had initially invited the brothers to come to this area, saying, “If you decide to try your machine here . . . you will find a hospitable people . . . .” Many local families, as well as members of the local life-saving station, assisted the Wright Brothers in fulfilling their dream of flying.
A large interactive sculpture entitled “First Flight” had been installed in 2003 as a tribute to all of the local people who had supported the brothers’ endeavors. It was located behind Kill Devil Hill, and it depicted the plane and some of the local people who were present during the moments just before the plane left the ground for the first time.
The sculpture was one of our favorite parts of the Memorial. The kids enjoyed climbing up onto the plane and pretending to fly with Orville.
I couldn’t resist climbing up there myself:
(Genevieve is holding up a replica of the Wright plane that Sebastian bought in the Memorial gift shop.)
Ben had his own unique style in posing with one of the “locals”:
We also visited the separate museum at the Memorial, where we learned that the Wright Brothers weren’t warmly embraced and heralded as heroes immediately after their momentous flight. They spent many years perfecting the control elements of their plane, creating new designs, applying for patents, trying to create interest in a production plane, and fighting patent lawsuits.
Here is a painting inside the museum:
As we drove back to the campground, we passed once again through the long stretch of traffic congestion, strip malls, houses, and lots and lots of people that can be found around the Nags Head area.
Jockey’s Ridge is a big sandy hill in Nags Head where people can fly kites and take hang gliding lessons.
We had considered hang gliding lessons for our family, but Sebastian was too young for the standard group lesson. We decided to save that activity for another adventure when the kids are a bit older.
Once we passed the Roanoke Island cutoff and headed south toward Cape Hatteras, the road narrowed to two lanes without much traffic.
Ahhh, I emitted a sigh of relief—there was a lot of open space here. I felt as if I could breathe better in the less-crowded southern area of the islands.
The visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial had stimulated Sebastian’s imagination. He was fascinated with the small toy plane that he had purchased. During the 50 minute drive back to the RV, Sebastian chatted away on topics such as the shape of airplane wings (“like parachutes to push the plane up”), whether Wilbur took his hat off to fly, airplane loop de loops, oil leaks that might cause fires, the benefits of two wings versus one, how many people could ride on early planes, the first designs for helicopters, and Leonardo de Vinci’s inventions. Each sentence was premised by the word “Dad”, and my heart was full of delight and wonder while I listened to the flow of conversation between the two of them.
This evening after dinner we drove up to Roanoke Island to attend a performance of “The Lost Colony,” which is the first and longest running outdoor drama in the United States. It is held at the Waterside Theater at the Fort Raleigh National Historical Site. I had read good reviews of the performance, but WOW, we were all just blown away by how truly wonderful it was.
We had purchased tickets for the “backstage tour”, which started 2 hours before the performance. We were greeted at the front entrance by Mike Campbell, who was warm, welcoming and outrageously funny.
Mike had worked for years in theater, performing around the United States. He had fallen in love with the Roanoke Island area when acting in The Lost Colony years ago, so he had returned and now works in radio, in addition to greeting people at The Lost Colony during the summer.
Our guide on the tour was Hannah, who was one of the main actresses in the play.
She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and this is her second summer performing in The Lost Colony. She was a terrific guide, as well as a superb actress.
Her costume had an “expanded” shape below the waist.
Hannah joked that she had an air conditioner in the bottom. She later explained that in the 1500’s, the wealth of a woman was reflected by the width of her hips. Noble women wore “bum rolls” to make their hips wider, and the Queen of England had the widest dresses of all—one of the dresses worn by the Queen in The Lost Colony was 50 inches across.
Before Hannah delved into the history of the real Lost Colony, she asked our group what we knew. Over the last week before bedtime, the children and I had been reading the book “Roanoke: The Mystery of the Lost Colony” by Lee Miller. Genevieve shared some of the details that she remembered, and Hannah supplemented with more information.
Here is a not-so-brief synopsis of one version of the Lost Colony story:
Sir Walter Raleigh had a dream of establishing the first English colony in the New World. In 1584, his men found a wonderful island with massive trees and abundant grapes and other food. This place is currently known as Roanoke Island, which is located between the barrier islands (Outer Banks) and mainland North Carolina. The Native Americans (Secotan) who lived there were very hospitable and friendly and welcomed the explorers. The following year, the English returned with more men to build a fort, led by a man named Ralph Lane. However, there was a drought that year, and food was not plentiful. Lane stole food from the Secotan, took hostages, and ended up killing their revered leader. The Secotan were also dying in large numbers because they had no immunity to European germs or diseases. They resisted Lane’s atrocious conduct, and they retaliated with violence after Lane killed their leader. Lane abandoned the fort and returned to England.
Sir Walter Raleigh, however, persisted with his dream of a colony. In 1587, two years later, 117 men, women and children returned to Roanoke Island to try to establish a community there. Two weeks after they arrived, the first English child was born in the New World—her name was Virginia Dare. Times were difficult. In the fall, a ship returned to England to get more supplies for the settlers. Due to a combination of circumstances (piracy, lack of funds, the war between England and Spain, and other factors), the ship did not return to Roanoke Island for two and a half years. The sailors then discovered that the settlers had vanished completely. Carved into a nearby tree was the word “Croatoan”, which was the name of an island where a group of friendly Native Americans lived. Efforts to reach Croatoan and find the settlers were unsuccessful, due to stormy weather and lack of funding for additional rescue ships from England. This group of missing people is referred to as the “Lost Colony.” (Twenty years later, the English would establish their first “successful” colony at Jamestown, Virginia.)
The play called “The Lost Colony” was written by Paul Green and was first performed in the summer of 1937, to commemorate Virginia Dare’s 350th birthday. It was so wildly popular that it has been produced every summer since then.
Hannah took us to see the stage being decorated with “flats”, which are flat scenes that are layered in front of each other and subsequently removed throughout the play to give the stage different looks. The crew was preparing the stage to look like a Native American village.
Hannah explained that in 1947 a fire totally destroyed all of the sets except for the two wooden light stands that we could see. Andy Griffith was an actor in the “Lost Colony” then, and he led an ambitious effort to completely rebuild everything in seven days.
We then visited the costume shop.
In 2007, there was a fire in the shop, and most of the costumes were destroyed. People and groups across the United States rallied together to donate money and make new costumes. Over the years a hodge-podge of costumes had accumulated. The fire provided the designers with the opportunity to do extensive research regarding how the people in the 1500’s were actually dressed. The Native American costumes were completely revised to be as authentic as possible. The costume designers took the time to investigate who the settlers actually were back in England, and they discovered that the settlers were primarily “nobles”; so the settlers also received redesigned costumes.
The make-up for the Native American skin tones is sprayed on with a pressure washer, turned to its lowest setting. Sometimes an actor is cast to be both a Native American and a settler at various times during the play. Hannah explained that an actor may be a Native American in the first scene, take a shower to wash off the make-up in order to be a settler in another scene, and then get resprayed as a Native American for a scene in the final act.
There is an unusual method of cleaning the costumes. Every night the actors turn them inside out and then hang them up; the costumes are then sprayed with a mixture of water, vodka and a fabric softener sheet.
Backstage we saw the ship prop that is used to in one scene to give the illusion of a large ship sailing behind the trees. The “ship” prop is rolled behind the stage by hand, and is thus considered a “hand prop.” It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest hand prop in the world.
Across the water, we could see the Wright Brother’s Memorial on top of Kill Devil Hill.
Hannah introduced us to other actors who wandered by during our tour:
Sebastian was intrigued by the elaborate curving sword handles among the stash of sword props:
After the tour, we were on our way to get our jackets from the truck when we met Ranger Michael.
He enthusiastically asked the children if they wanted to earn a Jr. Ranger badge. Do fish like water? Generally, the requirements to earn Jr. Ranger badges have been extensive—some of them requiring many hours of study and activities. To earn the “Fort Raleigh” badge, however, the children only had two requirements: 1) to complete a word search puzzle and 2) to draw a picture about something that they had seen or learned while visiting Fort Raleigh and to discuss their drawing with a park ranger. The children set about immediately to complete their assignments.
Genevieve drew the backstage area that had the extra-wide chair for the Queen, whose wealth required a seat that had padded extensions on either side to accommodate her big-hip dresses. Sebastian drew the prop area where all of the swords are kept.
We also met Ranger Rob, who was positioned on the Hatteras Lighthouse during the big move in 1999. He rode the first 10 feet!
The path from the parking lot to the stage was filled with entertaining sights. Some “merchants” called to us buy their wares, shouting out funny sales spiels.
You had to clear the way for the marching soldiers!
And then there was our soon-to-be pal, the juggler. He started out with balls.
Then he moved on to large knives, which he called his “blades of death.”
We oohed and ahhed.
When he called for volunteers, Genevieve’s hand was the first to shoot up. She and Sebastian were chosen, along with other children, to create a “human obstacle course.” The juggler lined all of the kids up in a row and made them do various poses; then made his way between and around them, juggling his blades of death and making funny remarks about what was happening. We laughed and laughed.
The juggler then called for “family volunteers.” Ben immediately volunteered us. We then created a “family obstacle course.”
Our seats at the show were in the first row. (I just love the wonder of purchasing tickets in advance over the Internet.) We were very fortunate, as the seats were truly the best ones possible. (The stage was designed so that the seats were on the same level as the stage, instead of having an elevated stage where we would have had to crane our necks upward to view the show.)
Flash photography and filming were prohibited during the show. I took these photos of the Native American village before the show began.
The show lasted almost two hours, and I had been a bit apprehensive about Sebastian’s attention span. Ha! He sat mesmerized during the entire show, from beginning to end. At intermission, he pronounced the show to be “Awesome!”
During intermission, one of the managers, Sir Bobby, came by to see how we were enjoying the show.
He warned Genevieve that an arrow was going to come flying over her head during an upcoming scene, and he joked that she could either duck or hold her little brother over her head. (Yikes!) Sir Bobby was very funny and kept us, and the people around us, laughing.
Sure enough, near the end of the second half, an actor standing in the front of the stage was shot with an arrow and killed. Sebastian, Ben and my dad held a lively discussion later regarding the possible special effects that were used for that scene.
After the show, a dozen actors stood in the common area for autographs. Genevieve took her souvenir program and asked for an autograph from each actor—it was very exciting, and the actors were extremely gracious.
My parents would be driving back to their home in South Carolina very early the next morning, so we said our sad goodbyes when we returned to the RV park. This had been a special time that we had shared together on these beautiful islands. We would carry away some treasured memories.
<< Day 31: Cape Hatteras | Day 33: Cape Hatteras to Virginia Beach >>
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