Mementos left behind on Wright brothers' graves tell a story of love

Taking an autumn stroll through Woodland Cemetery’s gorgeous grounds, visitors might spot more than bright-colored leaves dropped atop the Wright brothers' gravestones.

For years, people have left various mementos and souvenirs at the resting place of the Dayton inventors of flight as a way to pay respects, or let the Wright family know that someone took time to visit.

Toy planes and other aircraft-related gizmos are often left by children of families who’ve come to see where the brothers now rest. Other miscellaneous objects, trinkets and flowers are sometimes left, too.

Maybe some of the most dedicated Wright brothers gift-givers, a local group of people who would rather their identity stay unknown, every summer, bring back beach shells from their North Carolina vacation to lay on the graves.

The shells, typically larger ones, will have names of the Wright family members painted inside or outside. Other shells have been painted with the letters “OBX” for “the Outer Banks” and “KDC” for “Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.” It was on the morning of Dec. 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright took turns piloting and monitoring their flying machine in Kill Devil Hills.

Over time, the thoughtfully placed shells would sometimes be accompanied by some sand from the beaches of North Carolina at the foot of the gravestone.

Since the group started leaving the shells several years back, according to Hoschouer, other visitors have started leaving smaller shells of their own.

Not specific to just the Wright brothers' graves, but many people also leave pennies or other coins after stopping. There are multiple meanings of significance behind leaving pennies on gravestones. Throughout history, people have left pennies or other coins as tokens of good luck, signs of respect to fallen soldiers and even as a tribute to the Greek mythology and paying the ferryman of Hades to cross the rivers Styx to reach the underworld.

“In the summertime or the fall when I’m giving tours to children, and they always ask this question, they’re like ‘Well what can we leave?’" said Angelina Hoschouer, Woodland’s manager of development and marketing. "Well, there is an Oak Tree right in front of the Wright brothers … we’ll pick up an acorn and lay that on their headstone and then that way, they know that you were there. So, sometimes, you know, it could just be as simple as laying a single flower.”

Even though Woodland staff does love to see the special gifts, graves do get cleaned-up every month or so to maintain the integrity of the site.

“We used to keep a lot of that stuff, but it’s just gotten to the point that we just can’t keep all of that stuff,” Hoschouer said.

Coins collected from graves — right down to every last penny — go to the Arboretum Foundation to purchase new trees and support the upkeep of Woodland.

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