Price of Progress: Orville Wright’s Shower

By Scott Spangler on December 18th, 2017

NAHA-207It’s Kitty Hawk Day. Every December 17 I take a few moments to thank aviation for enriching my life and to appreciate the contributions and sacrifices of those, past and present, that made it  possible. This reflection often involves an associated review of images, which led me to Orville Wright’s Shower, on the second floor of Hawthorn Hill, his home in Dayton. Better than anything else, it is a testament to the price he paid in furthering the art and science of flight.

Hawthorn Hill, Wright’s Dayton home, was on the tour of sites that are encompassed by the https://www.aviationheritagearea.org/. Our guides were Wright’s great grand niece and nephew, Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright, and Dr. Tom Crouch, senior curator at the National Air & Space Museum and Wright scholar, author of The Bishop’s Boys. He was the perfect person to ask about the large shower room on the second floor that resembled a half-hemispheric decontamination shower whose array of nozzles would leave no part of the body undrenched.

NAHA-211Referencing the crash at Fort Myer that took the life of Lt. Thomas Selfridge on September 17, 1908, Orville suffered a broken leg and ribs, as well as injuries to his back and pelvis, Dr. Crouch told me. For the rest of his life he suffered not only from everlasting pain of these injuries, but from greatly constrained physical range of motion. But being a Wright, he accommodated the price he’d paid in promoting aviation and the airplanes that made it possible, by designing this shower.

Later that evening I returned to it and carefully stepped onto the tile floor and into the encircling silver array of nozzles. I wondered if Orville stood here, hoping the soothing spray of hot water would wash away the pain that was his constant companion. Did he think back to the cold and windswept dunes of Kitty Hawk when he and his brother launched their airborne journey and appreciate how luxurious a moment in this shower would have been then? It certainly crossed my mind as this train of thought led me to my participation in the hypothermic centennial celebration of that rain-drenched event.

NAHA-206Downstairs was a more personal accommodation of the price Orville paid to aviation. How many hours of reading there wore the knap off the upholstery of the chair he’d modified to hold a book on a swing arm? Probably many times the number he logged in flight. As he sat in that chair, did he look up from his book and remember the days, good and bad, that let up to it? What memories coursed through his mind on Kitty Hawk Day? Did he take a moment to quietly appreciate all that he’d accomplished, including the lessons learned from his failures? Did he, as I have, accept that for better or worse, it was all worth it, and then return his eyes and mind to pages before him. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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One Response to “Price of Progress: Orville Wright’s Shower”

  1. Glen Says:

    I wish I had known about this house when I visited Dayton last July. I did really enjoy the Air Force museum and visiting the site the Wright bros did a lot of testing.

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