26 November 2009

Asheville, North Carolina: Thomas Wolfe<: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #17

Thomas Wolfe (1900–38) was born at 92 Woodfin Street, Asheville, North Carolina, the youngest of eight children. His father William Oliver (frequently just known as 'W. O.') was a stonemason with a tombstone shop in Asheville, and his mother, Julia Elizabeth Westall, was a hard-nosed businesswoman who took in boarders and aquired real estate. In 1906 the family bought and moved in to 48 Spruce Street near their former home, and ten years later Julia extended and modernised 'The Old Kentucky Home', as the boarding house was called'. Later, in Wolfe's autobiographical Look homeward, Angel (1929), he called it 'Dixieland'. The house is largely intact, family members having arranged the furnishings as it was then. Because Look Homeward, Angel was so heavily autobiographical, Asheville public library banned it for more than seven years due to less than complimentary outlines of the none too well disguised characters.

A replica of the card Julia got her children to distribute as an advertisement.

The marital bed in which Thomas Clayton Wolfe was born, although of course not in the same house.

The rather spacious dining room – the house has twenty-nine rooms.

A detail from the kitchen.

One of the guest rooms.

I have to add how much we enjoyed our visit to the Old Kentucky Home, which began with a number of photographic representations of Wolfe's brief life, continued with the most enthusiastic, brilliant performance (and that is the only word for it) that I have ever witnessed a guide give, and ended with a short biographical film. It was two (well, very nearly: the parking meter clock still registered a few minutes in our favor) very entertaining hours, and all for one dollar. Compared with the hugely disappointing (and comparatively savagely expensive) autopiloted guide to the Margaret Mitchell home in Atlanta, Georgia (to come: I'm saving the worst till last), well...

Between 13 September through 15 September (three nights), Dr John S. Phillipson, a fan of Thomas Wolfe, was the only guest at the Old Kentucky Home. He had come boarded a Greyhound from Rochester, New York state, to visit a friend in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and timed his visit to coincide with the anniversary of Wolfe's death on the final day of his stay. He was delighted to be able to talk to Julia Wolfe, and to make notes for the booklet he wrote about his experiences, which includes a rather hazy photo he took of Julia standing beside the writer's grave.

No comments: