The Wright Brothers

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt / Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

From the time we were very young, we were taught about the Wright brothers and their groundbreaking contributions to transportation. What you may not know is that there were more Wright brothers (plus a couple of sisters). Aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur were just two of seven siblings—five boys and two girls. You’ll find all but two of them at the Wright family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

Stacy Conradt

Twins Otis and Ida were born in 1870, between Wilbur (1867) and Orville (1871). Otis died of jaundice shortly after birth, according to Dayton’s “Record of Deaths.” Since we know now that jaundice is a discoloration due to other problems, it’s likely Otis actually died of an infection or liver failure. Ida fared slightly better than her twin brother, surviving five days before succumbing to marasmus (malnutrition). They were buried in a different cemetery before being relocated to the family plot many years later.

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Wilbur was the first of the famous siblings to die, having contracted typhoid fever, “likely from eating contaminated oysters.” He died in 1912 at the age of 45. “A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died,” his father wrote on the day of Wilbur’s death.

Sister Katharine (gravestone not pictured) was pretty well-known in her own (w)right. When Katharine’s famous brothers asked her to travel to Europe with them in 1909, she quickly became known for her chatty interviews and ease with reporters, something neither Wilbur and Orville never quite developed.

The trio was incredibly close and had an unspoken pact between them that they would never marry. In 1926, after much agonizing, Katharine decided to break the pact and marry her high school sweetheart. Knowing Orville would view her marriage as abandonment, Katharine waited for more than a year to break her engagement news. Her prediction was right—Orville was furious and refused to attend the nuptials. He cut off all ties with her until two years later, when she contracted pneumonia and fell very ill. Their brother Lorin convinced Orville to reconcile with their sister before she died, and after much coaxing, Orville agreed. He made it in time, and had her buried with Wilbur, their parents, and their infant twin siblings in Dayton.

Orville lived to the ripe old age of 76, suffering a heart attack and dying three days later on January 30, 1948.

The brothers not buried at the Wright family plot are Reuchlin (the eldest sibling) and Lorin (the second eldest). Reuch is buried with his wife in Kansas City, while Lorin is also buried at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton—but with his wife, not his siblings.

In addition to the Wright family plot, Woodland has another tribute to the brothers who changed the world: A sculpture inspired by a bench in the picture of the brothers' first flight.

Stacy Conradt

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.