news X asheville ing from all points. Wolfe's first job, at age 10 to 12, was to handbill the arriving passengers for his mother's boarding house. The Old Kentucky Home had $1-a-day rates with two meals included. Many of the people he later wrote about were visitors staying at the house, everything from street preachers to circus performers, businessmen and even sex workers (although that was, of course, kept quiet at that time).
What do you think about the state of the Thomas Wolfe house now? Restoring the house was quite a chore. Irreplaceable pieces were lost; other things could be repaired or replaced with period items. UNC and Harvard can send new diplomas to replace the burned ones, but they never passed through the hand of Thomas Wolfe; we lose that connection. In spite of the losses, if you walked into the house today and no one pointed out the fire damage, you might not even suspect it ever happened. That’s how good a job the state did. But there are places you can still see damage: smoke stains in old mirrors, tiles which don't quite match; small things. The state spent $2.4 million restoring the home; that money could have been used for other things. The arsonist took that money from me, from you, from us and has never even been identified. What challenges does the house face for the future? The home is having a lot of issues right now, partly due to state budget cuts and, frankly, Wolfe's star is fading a bit now. In his time, when you mentioned Hemingway or Fitzgerald, the next name would have been Wolfe. For some reason, those other writers’ fame continues, and Wolfe's has dimmed a bit. He died young, his work unfinished. His books haven’t translated well into screenplays. He wrote long. On edits, he added material. Hemingway and even Fitzgerald would be happy with Twitter; Wolfe not so much. A lot of things are aligned against the Thomas Wolfe home and his memory right now. If all I do is remind people that the home is there, get some readers back into Wolfe's work and interested in his home, well, that can't hurt. X Bill Rhodes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 144, or at brhodes@ mountainx.com. If you have information about the Thomas Wolfe or other local arson cases, please call Crimestoppers at 255-5050.
burnt by degrees: Christian Edwards displays Thomas Wolfe’s fire-damaged Harvard University diploma, one of many items not on public display at the state historic site. Photo by Bill Rhodes
“You want literary inspiration?” asks christian edwards, site manager for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in downtown Asheville. “Technology of the early 20th century? Asheville's rise as a destination? We have all that and more,” she says of Wolfe’s childhood home on Spruce Street. Wolfe, a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, penned several novels, including Look Homeward, Angel. His home, notes Edwards, is the only North Carolina Historic Site reflecting 20thcentury history. Restored after a devastating, stillunsolved arson fire during Bele
Chere weekend 1998, the home contains more than 3,000 original artifacts from Wolfe’s life and times, about 85 percent of them original. The rest are replacements from period pieces: The home’s original silver tea service (a first-anniversary present from Wolfe's father to his mother) melted into a puddle in the fire; a replacement was donated during the reconstruction. “Touring the memorial is important, because we are accessible on so many levels,” adds Edwards. “Very few historic house museums maintain anywhere near the number of original artifacts that we do.” — B.R.
mountainx.com • JULY 25 - JULY 31, 2012 19
Published on Jul 25, 2012