You’ll see a Christmas tree devoted to the Wright Brothers on display at Carillon Park this holiday season. How it came to be there is a fascinating story.
“My boyfriend, Phillip Douglas, is a pilot and owns a small Cessna airplane,” explains the tree’s creator, Barbara June Thomas, who lives in Chicago. “A few years ago when I heard that the Wright Brothers’ home in Dayton was to be open to the public, I thought that it would be a great place for Phillip and me to visit.”
Thomas contacted Carillon Park, then she and Douglas came to Dayton to take the tour of Hawthorne Hill.
“We absolutely loved it,” she says adding that they also visited other Wright Brothers sites including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Wright Brothers Interpretive Center.
“We really began to get hooked on the Wrights,” Thomas says. “The world became smaller because of the Wright Brothers, a fact for which I am very grateful!”
Wilbur’s Indiana birthplace
Because she lives in Chicago and had been driving back and forth through Indiana, she soon discovered Wilbur Wright’s birthplace in Hagerstown, Indiana.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit and meet the man who runs the place, Thornton McKay,” she says. “Thornton told me that I ought to visit at Christmastime when they have the parade of trees all decorated by local merchants and people get to vote on their favorite tree and donate funds to keep Wilbur’s birthplace open to the public.”
So, at Christmas, in 2011, Phillip Douglas and Barbara June Thomas went to see the trees.
“It was truly beautiful to see all of the different Christmas trees decorated around the Wright Flyer inside of their Conference Center,” she recalls. “But as I walked around, taking in all of the beauty of the occasion, I asked Thornton, ‘Where’s Wilbur’s tree?’ He said, ‘Wilbur doesn’t have a tree!’ To which I said, ‘Wilbur’s going to have a Christmas tree next year!’ “
Thomas says she soon began designing ornaments in her head.
“I thought that the ornaments for the tree should — as close as possible — represent the times in which the Wright Brothers lived,” she explains, adding that she found the perfect background of “slightly dulled silver glitter” at a craft store.
Because she assumed wired hooks wouldn’t have been used a hundred years ago, Thomas decided to use navy blue and burgundy ribbons instead. She reproduced photos and information from various books and publications that had been written about the famous brothers.
“I liked using both antique silver and gold for the garland and the star, consistent with the times in which they lived,” she explained. ” Also, I saw the red berry branches — which look a lot like Hawthorne berries — consistent with the location of their home on Hawthorne Hill. “
Thomas says there is also a Hawthorne tree located near the Wilbur Wright Conference Center in Hagerstown.
Adding a brother to the tree
Because she had such great response to her Wilbur Christmas tree last year, Thomas decided to contact Carillon Park to see if they would like to have a tree in honor of both Wright Brothers. Staffers said they would.
“The Wright Brothers Christmas tree is identical to the tree that was at Wilbur’s birthplace, except for the fact that there are a lot more photos of Orville and the Wright family on the tree in Dayton,” Thomas says. “Also, hidden in the branches are 20 Wright Flyers but you have to look close to see them!”
Thomas says the star at the top represents the stars that the Wright Brothers became after accomplishing flight.
“It was a feat unknown to man before that!” says Thomas, who is determined to do everything she can “to help people understand the importance of who the Wright Brothers were in changing America and the world.”
She’s now a Dayton devotee as well.
“Big kudos to the City of Dayton, Carillon Park executives and staff for keeping the Wright Brothers alive in our hearts and minds,” Thomas says. “I am very interested in educating the world in knowing that the Wright Brothers truly got their start and lived in Dayton, Ohio, and not at Kitty Hawk, N.C. They only went there for the winds!”