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Wings Over Kill Devil...and Legends of the Dunes of Dare, circa 1940
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"I love all things that cluster round the sea,
Sand Dunes wave washed, and wild glad wings that beat
Against the wind, the flash of children's feet.
I could ever smell the tang of great
Waves breaking, breaking. And in my
Ears I ever hear the Sand Dunes calling me."
-JOHN RICHARD MORELAND.
Capt. William J. Tate, with whom Orville and Wilbur Wright boarded while
conducting their first experiments at Kill Devil Hill, has given
permission for this reproduction of his own story of the Wright brothers,
first published in a brochure issued by him in 1928, of which only
twenty-five copies were printed.
It was on a bleak and isolated sand dune of our Carolina coast that the two
brothers tried out successfully their invention; and it was through
Captain Tate's instrumentality that the Wrights came to the shores of Dare
and made the flight on December 17,1903, that ushered in the Air Age and
brought a new and prosperous era to the little county.
In August, 1900, the assistant postmaster at Kitty .Hawk found a letter in
the mail from Orville and Wilbur Wright, his reply to which proved the
deciding factor in bringing the two brothers to Dare. Their letter stated
that they were looking for a suitable place to carry on an experiment in
"scientific kite-flying." Captain Tate had recently been reading up on
man's attempts to fly from mythological days to the present era, and the
term "scientific kite-flying" caught his attention. He answered the letter
at once, and gave a vivid description of the beach between Kitty Hawk and
Nags Head, and of the Kill Devil Hills, stating also the degree of slope
on both the north and south side of the larger hill. That information,
together with his description of the level terrain surrounding the hills,
the treeless plain and the steady winds, decided the Wrights to select
that spot for their experiment.
When the brothers arrived at Kitty Hawk they found Captain Tate not only
deeply interested in their work, but also hopeful of its successful
outcome. While local citizens scoffed at the idea that any machine could
invented that would enable man to fly, Captain Tate maintained that he saw
no reason why the boys would not succeed. He not only encouraged them by
his hopeful interest in their work, but he superintended the hauling of
the lumber to their camp and selected the men to build it. During the
whole of their stay at his home and at their Kill Devil camp, he remained
their "guide, philosopher and friend." The two brothers fully appreciated
his friendliness, and as long as Wilbur Wright lived they both kept in
constant touch with him; and Orville Wright today is one of Captain Tate's
most loyal friends.
The story of the long litigation in regard to the rights to their patents,
that dragged the brothers through court after court, is well known. During
those troubled days Wilbur Wright contracted typhoid fever. Worn out with
worry, he did not have the stamina to resist the disease that finally
brought his life to an end.
When the news of his death reached Kitty Hawk, Captain Tate was the first
to suggest that a marker ought to be placed on the spot where the 1900
glider was assembled, and some years later it was erected. Later still he
supplied the data for the Wright Memorial Monument, now crowning the
summit of the larger of the two Kill Devil Hills.
Captain Tate is a member of the National Aeronautic Association of the
United States, on whose board of governors he served for several years,
and at Whose annual convention he is always an honored guest. When
officials and dignitaries of the United States assembled on the historic
hill on March 4,1931, to begin construction of the Wright Monument, he
secured the spade with which the first earth was turned, and with W. 0.
Saunders of Elizabeth City, had it silver-plated and suitably inscribed.
Later, while in Dayton Ohio, the guest of Orville Wright, he presented the
spade to his host as a testimony of gratitude for the fame that the two
brothers had brought to Dare County.
Captain Tate's reply to the letter from the Wrights, resulting in their
selection of Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hill as the scene of their
experiment, has given Dare County's fame as the Birthplace of the Nation,
the added fame as the Birthplace of Aviation. Since that memorable flight
in December, 1903; Dare County has experienced a prosperity hitherto
undreamed of by its people, and Captain Tate's share in bringing this new
day to his native home deserves the gratitude not only of Dare, but of the
State as well.
As a distinguished statesman has said,, "Captain Tate rocked the cradle of
aviation down at Kitty Hawk, when no one save the Wrights was interested
in the subject."
Captain Tate is rounding out thirty years of service in three departments
of the Government, during which time he has lost only eleven days from
sickness or disability. He is now Supervisor of Aids to Navigation on a
section of the Intra-Coastal Waterway from North Landing Bridge in
Virginia to Albemarle Sound.
Captain Tate will reach retirement age in December, 1940-a fact no one
would suspect from his alert erect carriage and undimmed eye. His duties
have kept him closely confined to his work, but 'nevertheless he has found
time during these years to win his chosen title, "North Carolina's
Original Aviation Booster."
[Caption] CAPTAIN WILLIAM J. TATE
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