Thomas Wolfe’s Sugar-Mama

A tour through the iconic Thomas Wolfe Memorial house in downtown Asheville and the accompanying Visitor’s Center will give you an in-depth look at Wolfe’s ‘Altamont,’ the fictional name he gave to his thinly veiled description of his hometown in his paramount work Look Homeward, Angel. During your visit you will learn how tourism in Asheville in the first part of the 20th-century led Wolfe’s mother Julia to buy the ‘Old Kentucky Home,’ in order to capitalize on the boom, and how the house and his family shaped Wolfe’s prolific writing, which by the end of his career amounted to a million pages, although the majority were edited out of final works.

 

DSCF3747But, unless you ask, you will probably not hear about Wolfe’s married lover, 20 years his senior, who gave Wolfe the financial and emotional support that allowed him to pursue his dreams of writing and publication. It’s not exactly a secret; he dedicated Look Homeward, Angel to A.B. (Aline Bernstein), but the families of both Wolfe and Bernstein, for obvious reasons, disapproved of the dramatic love affair.

Aline Bernstein was born in New York city in 1880. She was the first woman in the US to gain prominence as a costume and set designer, and was considered one of the most important designers of the first half of the 20th century. Her father was an actor, and Bernstein grew up within the NY theatre community. Her parent’s died while she was a teenager.  Recognizing her aptitude for drawing, a family friend helped her get a scholarship to Hunter College’s School of Fine Art.

In 1902 she married Theodore F. Bernstein, a successful Wall Street Broker. She had a son, Theodore, two years later, followed by a daughter, Edla, in 1906. Still interested in art and theatre, she began to volunteer at a friend’s small theatre group designing and creating sets and costumes. This group grew, and so did Bernstein’s opportunities for design. By the mid-1920s she had developed such a reputation on and off-Broadway that her subtly suggested style was copied by other designers.

In 1925 she was forty-four, sophisticated and successful, traveling between New York and Europe to gather materials for her set designs and costumes. Thomas Wolfe, on the other hand, was just on the verge of turning twenty-five, from the small southern mountain town of Asheville, and struggling between the yearning to be a writer and doubting his own genius. Wolfe had received his B.A. from UNC in 1920 and went on to study playwriting at Harvard, graduating with a Masters in 1922. After this he moved to New York City and took a position teaching at NYU while he tried to sell his plays, including his ten-scene play Welcome to Our City.

It was at this juncture, onboard the ship Olympic returning from Europe in August, 1925, that Aline met Thomas. According to Tom Muir, director of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Bernstein had one of Wolfe’s screenplay manuscripts in her suitcase aboard the ship, having an interest in introducing the unknown playwright to a theatre producer in England. Although she was traveling first class and Wolfe business, one of Wolfe’s friends snuck them into the first class part of the ship, where Wolfe was introduced to Bernstein. Wolfe recounts their initial meeting in his later novel Of Time and the River:

He turned, and saw her then, and so finding her, was lost, and so losing self, was found, and so seeing her, saw for a fading moment only the pleasant image of the woman that perhaps she was, and that life saw. He never knew: he only knew that from that moment his spirit was impaled upon the knife of love.

This passage exemplifies Wolfe’s writing style, as he continues on with the description for another 300 words, ending with:

After all the blind, tormented wanderings of youth, that woman would become his heart’s centre and the target of his life, the image of immortal one-ness that again collected him to one, and hurled the whole collected passion, power and might of his one life into the blazing certitude, the immortal governance and unity, of love. 

This began a tumultuous four-year relationship between the pair, so tumultuous that when it ended Aline attempting suicide. Their complicated romance is documented in the book My Other Loneliness: Letters of Thomas Wolfe and Aline Bernstein edited by Suzanne Stutman.

Although Bernstein was married with children, she was not a young mother neglecting toddlers to dabble in a love affair – her children were grown at the time of the affair, just a few years younger than Thomas himself, and Aline was a very successful woman who had to create her own path. She supported herself and Wolfe financially, while managing to keep her marriage together throughout her relationship with Wolfe. When in New York, Wolfe generally rented in Brooklyn, supposedly to keep a safe distance from Aline’s husband in Manhattan.

She says in a letter; “You are a young man, I am a middle-aged woman, but that gives me no ease or courage.”

Wolfe seems to love an idealized imaginary version of Aline, a ‘ghost’ as he states in a letter in October 1926 –

And you are a ghost, my dear, that will walk down the passages of my heart as long as I live. The pattern we wove together is fixed, absolute, like infinite time.

He admits to her in this same letter that so much of himself is going into his writing that he doesn’t have much to offer her: Badly and clumsily, because so much of me is going into the book, I unspin part of myself to you. (89)

I do not know whether these letters have been of any comfort to you or not. They have not always been cheerful, but they have been full of my love for you, and, I hope, they have rung true. My feeling for you rings true, at any rate – that is, there’s no doubting or changing it even though it’s mixed up with a great deal of torment. (190) Tom

Wolfe states explicitly in a letter from October 1933 why he loved Aline:

What I want to say to you especially is this: when I met you, you were the only person who had ever had faith in me, you were the only one who believed in me, and I think you were the only woman that ever loved me…that that woman who came to my room day after day for years was beyond every standard of comparison, the greatest, loveliest, and most beautiful woman I have ever known. And I also want to tell you that I now know I loved that woman with my life, that she is mixed into my blood, and that I shall love her forever…Aline, if you… could have known what my childhood and boyhood was like, how desperate and wretchedly lonely my life was, how I had to go on alone in a world whose people, even my own family, had no idea what I was or what I wished to do, and where I had noone to believe in me and no way of knowing whether I had any of the artist’s power in me, or was just another of the wretched, yearning, impotent young people one sees everywhere, who try to make art the basis of their life without talent, energy or creative power of any sort to see it through…” (354-355)

She believed in his genius – but felt like he needed discipline and care. Many of her letters warn him not to drink to much, and to focus more on his writing:

Darling, please be an angel and don’t get drunk, or if so not too drunk too often. You are attached to me some where by a string and it keeps pulling at me – My love to you. Aline. 3 June 1926. (47)

And please please, not too much corn whiskey…I hope you still love me, I love you – Aline. 7 June 1926.

Tom if you’ll only work and not drink all over Europe there will be some justification for your desertion of me…Please, make a schedule and stick to it. You are blessed with genius. I love you forever. Aline (May 23 1930 (305)

The letters trace their romance from the Fall of 1925, right after they met, to a last letter by Bernstein dated May 1936, although the book ends saying “Bernstein continued to write to Thomas Wolfe until 15 November 1936.” (376). Thomas Wolfe died September 15th, 1938, just shy of his 38th birthday. The last letter to Aline in the book was December 11th 1933, and this is included in the chapter called “1933-1934: One-Sided Love,” which begins: Although she had not received a single letter from him in 1932, Mrs. Bernstein continued writing to Wolfe in 1933, vowing her undying love.” (351)

After Wolfe’s death Bernstein negotiated for years before agreeing to sell her letters – thereby allowing the entire Wolfe Collection to be given to Harvard University’s Houghton Library collection, in return for a sizable donation to the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. This seemed to be a final power play by Bernstein, as Wolfe would use anti-semantic insults against Bernstein in the moments that he wanted to inflict the most pain upon her, because, you know, love hurts.

DSCF3727DSCF3695DSCF3699DSCF3701

Glamping with the Vagabonds

Edison, Firestone, Burroughs and Ford
Edison, Firestone, Burroughs and Ford

In the summer of 1918 Asheville was visited by a very famous troop of pioneering ‘Glampers,’ – the self-proclaimed ‘Vagabonds’ who included: Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor company and producer of the first automobile for the masses, the Model T (of which they were driving); Thomas Edison, called America’s Greatest Inventor, who was responsible for the first long-lasting electric light bulb in addition to the motion picture camera and the phonograph; Harvey Firestone, founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, one of the first global manufacturers of tires, and the original tires chosen for Ford’s Model T; and the naturalist and writer John Burroughs.

The press, who followed the group closely, headlined their travels as: ”Millions of Dollars Worth of Brains off on a Vacation” and “Genius to Sleep Under Stars.”

 

Each of the ‘Vagabonds’ had a specific job during the trips. Burroughs, 81 at the time, led the nature walks, teaching the group about plants and birds. Firestone was the youngest of the group at forty-nine, and he hired the chefs and curated the food. Edison, who was 71, was the guide, notorious for finding the bumpiest and most windy back roads with his compass and atlases – Firestone wrote of Edison’s navigation “We never know where we were going, and I suspect that he does not either.” Ford turned fifty-five that summer, and was, naturally, the mechanic of the group, and was often needed as the rumbling train of cars and trucks topping out around 18 mph through the mostly dirt roads frequently needed tuning.

The purposes of these trips, which took place two weeks almost every summer between 1914 and 1924, were three-fold: to get out into nature, to enjoy each other’s company and ideas, and to promote Ford cars and Firestone tires. Their cars were followed by trucks full of camping gear, food, private tents embossed with their names, and battery powered lights thanks to Edison (at a time when most people in the mountains outside of the city of Asheville didn’t have electricity). They also brought along cooks, servants, and even a photographer employed by the Ford Motor Company to capture ‘candid’ shots of the group which were touted in Press Releases promoting their adventures.

In 1918, even though there were over 200 car makers in the US, Ford produced more than half of the vehicles on the road – the Model T being affordable because of it’s continuity of design, ability to interchange parts, and simplicity (like the fact they were all black). The Model T touring car such as they were mostly driving on the trip was priced at $360 in 1918.  It was a 3 door, 5 passenger vehicle with two speeds forward and one reverse, a 4 cylinder water-cooled engine, 22.5 horsepower, and an electric horn (windshield wipers did not come standard, nor did air conditioning).

Burroughs, capturing their trip in a scrapbook entitled ‘Our Vacation Days 1918’ (available online through the Harvard Library https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:46429194$1i ) said of their excursion: “It often seemed to me that we were a luxuriously equipped expedition going forth to seek discomfort.” Riding the bumpy unpaved roads in Model T’s was a workout in and of itself, and while Burroughs found the riding very uncomfortable he pointed out that Edison was “cushiony and adjustable, and always carries his own shock absorbers with him.”

The octogenarian of the group decided to leave the trip early, writing “I had had more than my fill of joy-riding”. He caught the train back to New York from Asheville after staying the night at the Grove Park Inn, letting the others continue on without him.

129 copy 2
The group at the Grove Park Inn after Burroughs left. From the left – Firestone, Edison, Firestone Jr., and Ford (second from right). The other two men’s identities are contested – but it is probably E.W. Grove in the middle, and his son-in-law Fred Seely on the far right, since they owned the Grove Park Inn. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection at Pack Library (found in my book – Historic Inns of Asheville).

 

All photographs (except the Grove Park above) are courtesy of The Henry Ford and can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thehenryford/albums/72157628233721391

297 Haywood Street

    The Church building that houses the congregation now dubbed ‘Holy Chaos’ was originally built around 1891. It was renovated in 1917 by Smith & Carrier – the firm of Richard Sharp Smith, Asheville’s most influential and prolific architect.

    Smith was born in England in 1852. After studying architecture he immigrated to the United States, and in 1889 moved to Asheville to oversee the construction of the Biltmore Estate while working for the renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt.

After the completion of the Biltmore in 1895 Smith went on to build 700 other structures in the area. Between 1900 and 1920 Smith made a heavy mark on Asheville,responsible for nearly every landmark in the city at that time, many of which still stand: The Masonic Temple, the YMI Building, The Vance Monument, the Elks Home Building (Malaprops) and the Loughran Building across the street (Mobilia)  He collaborated with Guastavino on the Basilica of St. Lawrence, designed buildings in Biltmore Village, and his homes in Montford have set the building and design standards for the neighborhood today. His firm also designed the Jackson County Courthouse in Sylva, and the Madison County Courthouse in Marshall.

DSCF3856.jpg

The Haywood Street Methodist Church is a brick, Neo-Tuscan Renaissance style church with arched stained glass windows on the sides. During the 1917 renovation the tower and narthex were added in front, as well as a rear wing. The Sunday school wing added in 1950’s.

DSCF3853 (1).jpg

 

The church operated as Haywood Street United Methodist Church until 2006 when it merged with Central United Methodist Church on Church Street (Asheville’s first and longest continuously operated church according to their website). The Haywood Street building was kept for mission-oriented activity, although it was no longer used for church services.

    In 2009 Rev. Brian Combs answered the call for a urban ministry in Asheville, reaching out to the community with the mission of reminding every person, no matter their circumstances, of their sacred worth. Today the church offers a mid-week and Sunday worship service, along a free community lunch at the Downtown Welcome Table. They have a clothing closet where those in need can shop at not cost, and free hair cuts, yoga and acupuncture are offered, along with clean needle exchange services. There is a community garden called Loaves and Fishes, and even chickens, goats, and bees. In 2014 Haywood Street also opened Haywood Street Respite in the former Sunday School wing, where homeless adults can stay and recover from surgery or other hospital visits, healing through community.

     Richard Sharp Smith died in 1924, but many of his buildings, including the Haywood Street Methodist Church, remain today, an indelible mark on the landscape and an influence of style that can not be duplicated.

DSCF3888.jpg

For more information about Haywood Street visit their website

www.haywoodstreet.org

And check out this article in WNC Woman

 

http://www.wncwoman.com/2017/05/23/brook-van-der-linde-the-storyteller/

Zelda

 

 

Broadway
Sign on Broadway, near UNC Asheville

 

The name only calls one person to mind making it obvious that she wasn’t merely the wife of a writer. Therese Anne Fowler cuts it down even farther to just “Z” for her recent novel about Zelda Fitzgerald. And Lee Smith writes about Zelda, not her husband, in her recent book Guests on Earth. I admit I don’t get wrapped up much in the biography of writers, which is why I had to look up whether Hemingway was married – and he was, four times, three of the women were writers. Steinbeck was also married, three times. Faulkner and his wife Estelle were known to sit on the porch of Rowan Oak drinking whiskey together, but outside of that I’m not sure much aura surrounds her. Thomas Wolfe never married, but there is a bit of aura around his long time affair with Aline Bernstein, a married woman eighteen years his senior – and that deserves its own blog.

But sixty-six years after her death in Asheville the world is still fascinated by Zelda.

The Fitzgerald’s had a tumultuous relationship, but it is clear through their continued contact and constant mining of each other’s pain that they had passion. They were obsessed with each other and with the feelings they brought out of each other, loving each other to the point of self-destruction. Obviously these things don’t work out – but it is the quintessential live hard and die young, burning at both ends, story.

Rumbough House
Rumbough House at Highland Hospital

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald had a strong start, having great literary success in the 1920s, traveling the world and being famous for his partying. Then he seemed to blow it.

Zelda, on the other hand, didn’t seem to give up, but continued trying to make a name and a career for herself at a time when women had just gotten the right to vote. She was searching for peace through art and writing and dance and drinking and  psychiatry and God. Most people can relate to that. It also seems to be what Asheville was about, and why there were and are so many places to search for spiritual and mental peace here, like Highland Hospital where Zelda had checked herself in multiple times throughout the years, starting in 1936. Dr. Carroll’s program of exercise, diet, and occupational therapy seemed to work for Zelda, who was released from the hospital in 1940. In that same year her husband died, and her daughter married, but Zelda missed both events, and by 1943 she was back at Highland Hospital, where she checked in and out until March 10th 1948, when a fire broke out in the Central Building of the hospital, killing Zelda and eight other patients.

Highland Hall
Highland Hall

Their daughter Scottie was quoted as saying that if people aren’t crazy they got themselves out of crazy situations. She, unlike a lot of people in the public, didn’t blame Zelda for F. Scott’s drinking, just as she didn’t think his drinking led to Zelda’s mental illness. Maybe they were just two broken souls who found each other, sparked, burned, then extinguished. But they left behind more than just a trail of ashes – well into the next century the gossip still swirls around the daring couple and their great and terrible love story.

19 Zillicoa
Homewood. Home of Dr. Carroll and his wife Grace Potter Carroll.

 

Historic Inns – Walking tour of Asheville!

 Christmas 2013 018

Start at the Corner of Biltmore Avenue (previously South Main) and Eagle Street. Here you will find a statue of an eagle that marks the spot near where the first downtown hotel, the Eagle, was built by James Patton in 1814.

Before Urban Renewal in the 1960s and 70s, Eagle Street was the center of African-American commerce in Asheville. On the corner of Eagle and Market stood the Savoy Hotel and Diner, and many other businesses had homes around and along Eagle Street.

Across from Eagle Street, at 65-75 S. Main (Biltmore Avenue) once stood the Swannanoa Hotel, a huge 4-story hotel that was the first to have a bathroom – built especially for frequent guest G.W. Pack.

Head North on Biltmore toward Pack Square Park, named after G.W. Pack, and home to the Vance Monument. Pack commissioned the huge Obelisk to honor his friend Zebulon Baird Vance, Governor of NC during the Civil War and one of the most influential politicians during that time.

Christmas 2013 026

One block North of the Vance Monument is the BB&T parking garage. Not much to look at now, but this parking garage holds a “lot” of history. The 2nd hotel built downtown, the Buck Hotel, was built on that plot of land by James Smith, primarily to house animal drover’s walking from Tennessee to South Carolina along the Buncombe Turnpike. The pens for the animals were located where Pritchard Park is today. In 1907 the Buck Hotel was demolished to make way for a grander hotel for much different clientele – the Langren opened in 1912 to serve traveling businessmen.

Christmas 2013 039Christmas 2013 041

From College Street, follow Broadway north to Woodfin, and take a right.

The large building at the Southeast corner of Market and Woodfin was the Asheville-Biltmore Hotel (now Altamont Apartments).

Asheville Biltmore

Built during the 1920s economic boom, the Asheville-Biltmore was used during WWII as an Army Redistribution Center.

Head east past the Altamont Apartments and turn into the Thomas Wolfe Plaza (the Renaissance Hotel). Tucked between the towering hotel and neighboring apartment building you’ll find “Old Kentucky Home,” the boarding house run by Thomas Wolfe’s mother Julie, immortalized as Dixieland in Wolfe’s classic novel “Look Homeward, Angel.” At this State Historic Site you can learn all about Wolfe, and also about boarding houses and tourism in Asheville in the early 20th century. The tour is well worth the $5 to help maintain and preserve this site.

???????????????????????????????

Behind “Old Kentucky Home,” at the site of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Visitor Center and Museum, was once the first Harry’s Motor Inn (48-58 N. Market Street.) People staying downtown with motor cars in the 1920s needed a place to overnight them as well (they weren’t quite as waterproof as our automobiles today,) and Harry Blomberg provided that accommodation. He built this “Motor Inn” on land leased from Julie Wolfe, with materials used from the old Battery Park Hotel that was being torn down across town.

Walk South down Market Street to Walnut Street, and turn right heading towards Broadway. On the Southeast corner of Walnut and Broadway was the Windsor Hotel, one of the last residential hotels/low cost boarding houses in downtown Asheville. It opened in 1960, and was the 3rd Windsor Hotel on “Main Street,” (Broadway/Biltmore) in Asheville.

??????????????????????????????? Christmas 2013 043

The parking lot across the street on the southeast side of Walnut and Broadway was once the Charmil Hotel, from 1924-1956. From 1956 until 1980 (when it was razed) it was the Carolina Hotel.

Christmas 2013 045

Head up Walnut (west) to where it intersects with Haywood. On the Northeast corner is the “Asheville Hotel Building.” Opened in 1915 as an Asheville Elks Lodge, it is made entirely of stone, steel, and brick (except for the window panes.) In 1931 it became the Asheville Hotel, and in 1957 a department store. In 1997 Malaprop’s bookstore moved from its former location a few doors North on Haywood.

 Christmas 2013 050

Head south down Haywood Avenue to the corner of Battery Park. This building was designed by the same architect, William Lee Stoddart, who built the Battery Park and George Vanderbilt Hotels in Asheville. It was originally home to Asheville’s most famous department store, Bon Marche, from 1923-1937, and then Ivey’s from 1937-1975. Today it houses the Haywood Park Hotel, opened in 1985.

Christmas 2013 070

Head back North up Haywood, toward the Civic Center, to see the former George Vanderbilt Hotel, also designed by William Lee Stoddart. Now the Vanderbilt Apartments, the hotel got the opposite of a face-lift when it was converted to non-profit housing. Check out some historic pictures to see just how different it looks today!

Christmas 2013 056

Continue up Haywood to Page Avenue and turn left. The Battery Park Hotel building may seem imposing, but its former namesake was not only a huge rambling Victorian ship of a hotel, it also sat on Asheville’s highest knoll. Battery Porter Hill – a Confederate Ramification during the Civil War, was considered the “country side” by Asheville residents until the 1870s; so much so that townsfolk went hunting there. In 1886 Col. Frank Coxe opened the first hotel in the area with elevators and electric lights. In the 1920s E.W. Grove, father of the Grove Park Inn, tore down the hotel and 70 feet of the hill to create more real estate space in town. Grove also built one of the first indoor shopping malls – the Grove Arcade, across from his new Battery Park Hotel.

 Christmas 2013 060 Christmas 2013 065

Pass between the Battery Park and the Grove Arcade to O.Henry Avenue. The stone wall that still stands at O.Henry and Haywood was built as part of Margo Terrace, a 64 room “Family Resort” built in 1889. In 1925 it was purchased by E.W.Grove, who died in 1927 in the Battery Park Hotel. Margo Terrace was razed one year later.

margo wall

Great Walk! Time to reward yourself to some refreshment at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar in the Grove Arcade! If you’re interested in more photos/history – they may have a copy of my book for sale!

iphone 185

Snow! And a warm thanks.

Snow fell that night. It came howling down across the hills. It swept in on us fro the Smokies. By seven o’clock the air was blind with sweeping snow, the earth was carpeted, the streets were numb. The storm howled on, around the houses warm with crackling fires and shaded light. All life seemed to have withdrawn into thrilling isolation. (Thomas Wolfe, The Child by Tiger)ImageDowntown has been exceptionally deserted the last few nights with the wind, and the cold, and the off-season. I had some errands to run yesterday and had little company on the streets. Maybe because I’ve been reading a lot of Wolfe lately (he is really growing on me) it felt like Wolfe’s Asheville, deserted and cold, but familiar, as I hustled around Broadway, up Walnut, down Haywood. The streets and the storefronts all seemed from a different time, transported back in the frozen wind to a quieter simpleness.

Image

While I rushed from the library back to my truck it was obvious a lot of the people that were downtown weren’t in the same hurry to get out of the bitter cold because they didn’t have a welcoming place to go. I am forever thankful that I am so lucky – to have a great family and a warm place to call home. I couldn’t think of a better place to live than Asheville.

I hope everyone finds a little warmth and something to be grateful for today.

 

Killed by a Desperado

Ben Addison

November 13th, 1906

Asheville’s population wasn’t yet 20,000 people. Street cars were a popular mode of transportation – no interstate, no “cut” through Beaucatcher Mountain. Eagle Street stretched down to Valley Street (where Charlotte cuts a four lane swatch today) and it was the black side of town in a segregated Asheville, full of houses and businesses.

Will Harris, said to have escaped from a chain gang in Charlotte, came to Asheville and bought a rifle and a bottle of whiskey. He went to Valley Street looking for his girlfriend and raising a ruckus. Two policemen were dispatched to the disturbance, and both were shot, one dying from his wounds. Will Harris continued his rampage up Eagle Street, killing a dog, and shooting through a telephone pole near Pack Square at another police officer, James Bailey, and killing him. Three civilians, including Ben Addison, were killed as well.

Will Harris then took off toward South Asheville. Citizens armed themselves, some getting guns on loan from Finkelstein’s pawn shop, and went hunting for Will. They found him two days later in a thicket outside of Fletcher, and lit him up with bullets. His body was brought back to Asheville and put on display for the townspeople.

Thomas Wolfe was living in Asheville at the time of this massacre – he was six years old and sleeping less than a mile from where it occurred. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes fiction explains the truth better than a newspaper article ever can. Wolfe’s short story “The Child by Tiger” tells the story of the Will Harris rampage through the streets of Asheville and subsequent capture. If you’ve had trouble delving into the complex world of Wolfe’s novels, give his short stories a try. His descriptions are incomparable, and on a small scale they are easily digestible as well. The overt racism is challenging, there is no excuse for it. But is there a better photograph to capture this time than the words and emotions of someone who is completely unfiltered and trying with his whole heart to explain his experience to the world?

riverside entrancetw entrance

thomas wolfe Bailey

Riverside Cemetery in Asheville is the final resting place of not only Thomas Wolfe, but also Ben Addison, and James Bailey, both victims of the massacre. Will Harris is also said to have been buried there in an unmarked grave.

Asheville’s Flatiron Building

Thank goodness for Asheville’s Flatiron Building! Not only is it a cool piece of architecture, it provided the inspiration for a great sculpture that would rob buskers of prime real estate if it didn’t exist, and it also houses the SkyBar – a lofty establishment that offers great drinks and fantastic views like this:

Image

Last night was a perfect night for downtown Asheville, and I wanted to cap off the end of the hanging-outside-at-night season by enjoying a drink on the fire-escape of the Flatiron building. Built in 1925, during the real estate boom in Asheville when the new Battery Park Hotel, the Vanderbilt Hotel, and the Grove Arcade were all going up in the same neighborhood, the Flatiron building is the younger, smaller sibling of the giant Flatiron in New York. It is located on Wall Street and Battery Park, other names reminiscent of that larger city up North. There seems to be about a dozen other “flatiron” buildings around the country, similarly shaped, that pre-date Asheville’s, but we’re proud of it none-the-less.

Walking into what is now the lobby (the original door was at the skinny front end of the building) it feels like 1920. You press a button for the bell-hop to take you up to the eighth floor in the original elevator:

ImageImage

There was a couple playing a grand piano in the lobby while we waited.

Image

We made it just after the sunset and it was busy, but as soon as it got dark, and a little chilly (although there are heaters and a fire pit) the crowds died down.

Image

We had a drink, and watched for ghosts jumping off the Battery Park Hotel (didn’t see any).

My favorite part of visiting the SkyBar is skipping the elevator on the way back down (I tipped the operator on the way up) and wandering the old halls, with its dark wooden doors, Buddhist and Acupuncture Businesses stenciled on the safety glass in gold letters. The triangular hallways are dizzying, and the old black stairs are worn in the middle from almost a hundred years of foot steps.

After we finally left the Flatiron, we followed the music to Pritchard Park. A friday night in Asheville wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the drum circle. As we stood watching the crowd I though – if I didn’t live here, I would love to visit.

Image

Historic (Haunted) Inns of Asheville

Happy Halloween!

Asheville is the perfect place to spend this most spooky day of the year!

You could stay at the (Omni) Grove Park Inn, dressed in your best and waiting for the Pink Lady to make her appearance.

Or take a walk down Eagle Street, looking for the apparitions of the 5 people killed in the 1906 Will Harris Massacre.

Perhaps some of the victims (and Will Harris) will meet you in Riverside Cemetery, along with Thomas Wolfe, O. Henry, and some of the German Soldiers who died at the Kenilworth Inn during WWI?

The Battery Park Hotel is said to be haunted by Helen Clevenger, a 19 year-old New York College student brutally murdered in room 224 in 1936. Martin Moore, may also be walking those halls, especially if he was wrongly accused (Martin died in the gas chamber in Raleigh).

E.W. Grove spent his last moments in the Battery Park, a hotel he built and owned until his dying day. The hotel is also said to host apparitions falling from the roof – ghostly  suicides replayed.

Is Zelda Fitzgerald still wandering the long lost halls of the Central Building of Highland Hospital, where she died in a fire in 1948?

I’ll be talking about Asheville’s (haunted) Inns on Saturday, at 11am at Accent on Books (Merrimon Avenue – under Steinmart).  I’d love to see you there – and to hear about your Asheville ghost stories!

“Reb Circular”

Image

When the Battery Park Hotel opened in downtown Asheville in July of 1886 the youngest Civil War veterans were just in their forties. As Asheville’s first “modern” hotel, with electric lights and an Otis elevator, the Battery Park was advertised far and wide, hoping to bring a larger tourist base to Asheville now that the railroad had finally made it through the mountains.

Image

The Hotel was built by Col. Frank Coxe, who himself had been drafted as a Union and Confederate soldier, living in the South but having coal investments in Pennsylvania – Coxe actually paid “proxies” on both sides to replace him – men that were killed on the same day at the day battle (reportedly.)

Coxe was the Vice President of the Western North Carolina Railroad, and foresaw that Asheville needed a big modern resort to bring in tourists that were used to such accomodations in cities like New York. Once opened, ads were taken out in newspapers, including the New York Times, and brochures were widely distributed. The Ramsey Library has one of these brochures in its Special Collections, with a special inscription written on the back page:

Better keep you [dam?] Rebel Circurlar to yourselves. Understand already that you are filled with “Rebs” who continually insult any of the Northern fools who come to your place.

Do not Send any more of [?] things North

A. Yank

Image

I love this. It brought me straight into the time – 1886 – just 20 years after the end of the Civil War, and some wounds had not had time to heal. Asheville was South, New York was North, and A. Yank would not be staying at the Battery Park Hotel.

I’d like to think that by the time the Grove Park Inn was built – Yank had decided to give Asheville a try.