â€œWe are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1/30th of a second ago. We think we’re in the present, but we aren’t. The present we know is only a movie of the past.â€
My first full day in Asheville was set to be spent with a fellow writer and friend exploring the world of former Asheville resident, Thomas Wolfe. Having finally read Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, I was anxious to again tour the author’s childhood home. The day would also include a trip to Tom’s final resting place in Riverside Cemetery.
Asheville’s infamous weathermen predicted rain and more rain for my weekend in the mountain town. This being the case, Riverside Cemetery became the first stop that Saturday morning. My friend Jess knew exactly where the author and his family were buried in the well-known cemetery. Pulling my little sedan through the black gated property, I navigated the narrow roads until we found a place to park nearby the Wolfe family burial plot.
My initial reaction to seeing Tom and his family’s places of rest was one of odd excitement. I say “odd” because most people would believe any feeling of excitement felt in a cemetery is a bit odd. For me, the feeling was like bringing Look Homeward, Angel into reality. In the novel, Tom recounts his childhood and growing up in Asheville allowing us as readers a chance to “meet” and get to know his family between the book’s covers.
The family plot is a part of history for not only the Wolfe family, but for the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina. Being able to visit the final resting place for W.O. Wolfe, Julia Wolfe, Tom and all of his brothers and sisters was an educational and interesting part of my Thomas Wolfe experience. It was as much of a highlight for me as visiting The Old Kentucky Home and trekking to nearby Hendersonville to see the Angel that is said to be Tom’s inspiration for the novel.
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial was next after our Riverside Cemetery visit. Now, I had visited the Memorial back in 2008 about a month before I moved back to Florida. It was that tour of the home that brought on the real interest in reading Look Homeward, Angel. This time around, I was not only a bit educated about Wolfe, but had been anticipating getting another tour of the home the writer had grown up in. For my friend, this would be the first visit and her first taste of Thomas Wolfe.
Jess and myself joined about half a dozen other tourists headed by one of the Memorial’s guides. The exhibitor lead us from the Memorial’s main building a few hundred feet over to the boarding house that had been run by Julia Wolfe, Tom’s mother. From reading Angel, I knew that the Old Kentucky Home (called Dixieland in the book) was Julia’s pride and joy. She took in boarders under both short-term and long-term standing into the Home. Tom and his siblings also spent much of their time in the house. Considering the 29 room home was built in 1883, it is in amazing condition today. Julia Wolfe had purchased the Home in 1906 from the wealthy banker Erwin Sluder who had constructed it.
Our guide led us first through the first floor dining area and nearby rooms explaining the history that is known of each. Of interest is the tiny room off to the side of the kitchen where Julia would sleep very few hours before again rising to prepare breakfast and such for the day. The woman of the house would dedicate long hours to the upkeep of the home as well as taking care of her boarders and family.
The bedroom and bed itself where Thomas’ father, W.O. spent his final days is another key portion of the tour. What was more of interest however, was the bedroom where Tom’s brother Ben passed within. Tom goes into quite a great detail about the days leading up to Ben’s passing in Angel. Thomas was very close to Ben, so his sudden illness was difficult for him. In Angel, the author devotes a good deal of emotion to this tragic event for him and his family.
A small wooden desk stands in one of the rooms in which Thomas Wolfe spent his last days in Asheville in. We can only speculate the greatness that the author wrote on it’s brown wooden surface. Some of his final manuscript may have been written in that room. The final manuscript would later become two separate novels, The Web and the Rock and You Can’t Go Home Again.
The author would later become very ill with pneumonia while in Seattle visiting his brother, Fred. Pneumonia turned into tuberculosis after serious complications arose. He was sent to Baltimore and put under the care of a top neurosurgeon who discovered that the disease had overrun the writer’s entire right side of his brain. Thomas Wolfe died 18 days before his 38th birthday. His remains were transported back to Asheville for funeral services and burial at Riverside Cemetery.
I can’t recommend highly enough a visit to both The Thomas Wolfe Memorial as well as Riverside Cemetery. If you would like more information on the Memorial, please visit their website.