The copper bust of Orville Wright stolen from the monument at Big Kill Devil Hill this weekend isn’t the original. That one was stolen, too, along with his brother Wilbur, 32 years ago.
Replicas of the Ohio brothers, the first human beings to sustain powered flight, have watched over the Wright Brothers National Memorial since 1960. But in April 1987, the original Orville and Wilbur Wright busts were unscrewed from their respective spots at the monument in Kill Devil Hills, leading to a “manhunt” for the duo that involved the FBI.
When the bronze busts weren’t readily found, the First Flight Society and local radio station WOBR-FM launched a nationwide fundraiser to replace them.
The effort raised $25,000 to create new busts from molds stored at the U.S. Airforce Museum in Ohio, where the Wright brothers are from.
The new busts were installed in April 1988 and the originals remained lost, until two years later. On Oct. 30, 1989, a maintenance employee opened the gate to the memorial and found the two original busts on the pavement in front of the entrance – one placed on the north side and one on the south side. Both were undamaged.
It’s still a mystery where the brothers were for those two and a half years. Despite a federal investigation, no arrests have ever been made.
The original busts were sculpted by artist Oskar J.W. Hansen of Charlottesville, Virginia, and are worth far more than the replicas in place today. After the 1987 theft, and a vandalism in 1985 when one bust was knocked over and the other stolen and dropped in the woods near the memorial – the National Park Service had had enough.
The originals are now safely tucked away from the public.
“The originals will never again be placed out where they can be vandalized,” NPS public information officer Bob Woody told newspaper reporters in 1989. “They will be kept in a collection room.”
The National Park Service and Dare County Sheriff’s Office are continuing the search for the suspects who stole Orville and damaged his granite pylon over the weekend.
Orville’s bust was found Wednesday tucked in a dune on the beach, not far from the Wrights Brothers memorial, but no arrests have yet been made.
Homeowners and business owners in the area of Wright Brothers National Memorial and 909 S. Virginia Dare Trail are encouraged to review security camera footage and report any suspicious activity from the night of Oct. 12 through the afternoon of Oct. 15. To report tips, contact the Dare County Community CrimeLine or the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch Tip Line at 888-653-0009. Tips may be submitted online at http://www.nps.gov/isb and click “Submit a Tip.”