On a frozen lake in the mid-1880s, two legends of Dayton, Ohio history met in a hockey game that would help to determine the course of their lives. Wilbur Wright, one-half of the duo that built the first heavier-than-air flying machine, had his face smashed in by neighborhood bully Oliver Crook Haugh.
In his new book, The Wright Brothers, David McCullough addresses this story. Though he states that the incident could have been an accident, it nevertheless served as a seminal moment in the development of Wright’s life.
An excellent student and outstanding athlete, 18-year-old Wilbur had an eye on Yale. He excelled in all subjects and seemed destined for a life outside of the family’s Ohio home. Running a bicycle shop with his brother probably was not in the cards.
But as a result of the hockey stick to the face, Wilbur suffered facial and jaw injuries and had to be fitted with false upper teeth. McCullough writes that serious digestive complications arose, as did heart palpitations and bouts of depression. He became withdrawn. For weeks, his family fretted over his condition. Eventually his condition improved, but going off to Yale was never mentioned again.
However, there was a silver lining. During this time, McCullough writes, Wilbur began to read as he had never read before. His studies during these three years of self-imposed seclusion helped cement the foundation for the voracious appetite for learning that literally led the two Wright brothers to new heights.
As for the bully, his life took a much different path.
McCullough gives us some background. He writes that Haugh, who was three years younger than Wright, had been working for a druggist. In an effort to relieve him from the pain of rotting teeth, the druggist began giving him cocaine toothache drops. Eventually, though it is unclear when, Haugh became addicted to drugs and alcohol and was admitted to the Dayton Asylum for the Insane for a multi-month stint.
This use of drugs and undoubtedly had an effect on Haugh’s personality, as did the Robert Louis Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In 1891, Haugh was first linked to murder. He had become engaged, but his fiancée’s father did not approve of the marriage. Shortly thereafter, her father was dead. But given the lack of forensic science used in those days, a link between Haugh and the man’s death could not be proven.
Building on his knowledge of drugs, Haugh went on to become a medical doctor and opened his first practice in Dayton in 1893, writes Virginia Burroughs for The Dayton Daily News. But as would become his custom, he was soon forced to shut the practice down and move as a result of suspicious deaths and poor medical practices.
Haugh began practicing bigamy due to financial troubles, with several wives meeting untimely demises.
In the Dec. 30, 1905 edition of the Clinton Mirror, it was written that he used drugs to control women that he would then kill. His total number of victims is unknown, but the story lists at least 13 people who may have met death at his hands, including the three that led to his arrest: his family.
In an interview with The Dayton Daily News, Dayton historian Curt Dalton explains that Haugh made a visit to the house of his mother and father, and upon learning that his father was to leave his entire estate to his brother, proceeded to kills his parents and brother, mutilate their bodies, and burn the house down.
He was arrested, convicted, and subsequently electrocuted, but not before speaking to the court. From the Dec. 30, 1905 edition of the Clinton Mirror:
“They say that I murdered my father, my mother and brother with hyoscine for the sake of the money. Then they say that when I have taken enough of the hyoscine the man within me disappears, and Hyde is the power. It seems as though I must do something—destroy something. My only recourse is to get out into the street—out into the open country—away from men and women, lest I murder them. It is possible for me to have killed these people and know nothing of it. It is possible for me to have committed all the other murders of which they accuse me, and in my normal condition be in ignorance, for in my normal condition I am another man. All that I do know is, that if I die for these crimes, I shall have at least established the proof of the theory on which I have always insisted—that two beings, one of good, the other of evil, may exist in the same man, and in that respect at least I shall have rendered a distinct service to posterity.”
So from that winter day on a Dayton lake, two boys took wildly divergent paths. Wilbur Wright ascended into the annals of history, while Oliver Haugh descended into the depths of depravity.