Identifying the Wright Brother's Makeshift Table
ECU faculty, students work to authenticate Wright brothers artifact

When the Wright Brothers moved to Kitty Hawk to follow the wind more than a century ago, they brought limited household supplies. Their thoughts seemed to be focused more on glider materials at first than basic goods to get their “camp” established.

One of the crates that shipped supplies to “W. Wright, Elizabeth City, North Carolina” is believed to have been recycled by the Wrights to create the top of a wooden kitchen table, which resurfaced last month in Kitty Hawk.

A leading Wright brothers authority, Dr. Larry Tise, and several of his students at East Carolina University have worked since that time to analyze and authenticate the history of the small wooden table.

The table will be shown publicly for the first time April 24 at the Wright Brothers National Memorial site in Kill Devil Hills. It will be presented during a public program at 7 p.m., when Tise and his students will discuss their research and findings on the little known secret flights of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk in May 1908.

Tise, the Wilbur & Orville Wright Distinguished Professor of History in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, is author of the 2005 work, “Hidden Images: Discovering Details in the Wright Brothers’ Kitty Hawk Photographs 1900-1911.” In that book, Tise used modern computer technology to magnify and examine small areas of the black and white photos made by the Wright brothers to document their life and quest for flight while conducting experiments at Kitty Hawk.

Tise admitted he was skeptical when he was first contacted about the table by a Kill Devil Hills resident, but after close examination and further study, he said he is positive it is the same table shown in 1902 photographs of the Wright brothers’ living quarters.

How Ron Ciarmello, an Outer Banks jeweler, came to own the table is almost unbelievable: He answered a classified ad earlier this year.

A self-described aviation enthusiast, Ciarmello said he spotted the ad and called the telephone number. The person selling the table said her family had it for about a century and had used it through the years in the family laundry room and as a utility table in a family-operated barber shop. The family was moving and had decided to sell it. Ciarmello in his own research located a photo with the table in it on the Library of Congress Website.

Ciarmello contacted Tise after seeing his book at the Wright Brothers National Memorial gift shop and finding that the book contained a second image of the table.

Tise asked Ciarmello to send him digital images of the table. “When I saw the photos, I was 70 percent sure it was the table, but I wanted to see it in person,” Tise said.

Tise travelled to Kitty Hawk and met Ciarmello at the home of Bill Harris, whose grandfather welcomed the Wright brothers to the Outer Banks in 1900. “Bill has vast knowledge of the families in the area for the past century, which was quite helpful. We examined and studied the table for almost three hours. The more we looked, the more we decided this could not be a fluke,” Tise said.

The table consists of three “convincing” components: the legs are from a pre-existing writing table and the top is made from the sides of a shipping crate and two remnants of ash rib material used by the Wrights to build their gliders.

“The different types of wood combined with the shipping label, a distinctive exposed nail that can be seen in the photos which is in the same place in the table, it was exciting to put all the evidence together,” Tise said. The way the shipping crate has been addressed to Wilbur Wright was consistent with others that had been documented previously by Tise.

As for the future of the table, Ciarmello said he would like for it to be permanently displayed at the Wright Brothers National Memorial for the public to see. He has already begun discussions with the National Park Service about this possibility.

“The table, since 1902, has been in a 10-mile radius of the Wright Brothers’ camp, and I’d like to see that continue,” he said.

For more information on the Wright brothers’ life in Kitty Hawk, see the ECU website focusing on their 1908 flights:

Also, more on the Wright brothers can be found at East Carolina University's Joyner Library Wright Brothers Digital Exhibit

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