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Wings Over Kill Devil...and Legends of the Dunes of Dare, circa 1940

After weather printouts from the U.S. Weather Bureau stimulated the Wright Brothers interest in North Carolina, they mailed a letter to the Weather Bureau Station in Kitty Hawk explaining their experimental interests in gliding and requesting further information on the topography of the region. Bill Tate, the local postmaster’s assistant, kindly responded encouraging the two men to come and assuring them that they would discover a “hospitable people when you come among us.” Unknowingly, Tate had kindled a friendship that would last a lifetime.

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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."


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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 ever be

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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.

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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."

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Citation: Albertson, Catherine, ed. Wings over Kill Devil...and Legends of the Dunes of Dare. Wings Over Kill Devil, by Capt. William Tate. 1940.
Location: Stacks, Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858 USA
Call Number:F262.D2 A32x 1940   Display Catalog Record

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