…and at what better time than the Halloween season to dwell on such a fact.
Today being All Saints’ Day signifies that fact that last night was Halloween, beginning the three-day observance of Allohallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed. But during all my years, Halloween has strictly been a secular event, having been taken over by popular culture, turning the remembrance of the dead into a night of the dead, ghosts and goblins. It’s been said that many Halloween traditions originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals that may have had pagan roots, however, others believe that Halloween began solely as a Christian holiday, separate from ancient festivals. Whichever it may be, it certainly has turned into an enormous celebration, a time for fun and partying while observing the morbid. side of human psyche.
The original site of Thomas Wolfe’s birth home, 92 Woodfin Street, now a YMCA parking lot.
But as I said, I truly have been haunted by the spirit of the great Asheville author Thomas Wolfe over the past weeks, which I’ve shared with you in my past couple of posts here. And just this past week leading up to All Hallows’ Eve, I’ve once again been exploring the environs of the Asheville of Thomas Wolfe, though so much of it has changed from his time. The first place I went to is the location of his birth home. It’s no longer there; it’s now a YMCA parking lot.
After reading Look Homeward Angel, I’d always wondered where this house was, and while doing research, I discovered that a memorial plaque had been placed at the location, roughly a block-and-a-half from the location of the boarding house Wolfe’s mother ran. Though he loved his birthplace, his mother insisted that he stay with her at the boarding house, Old Kentucky Home, known as “Dixieland” in Look Homeward Angel, a place he presented as more of a prison than a home in the novel. But it was here, in the many rooms that he slept in, and while sitting on the front porch with all the boarders, that his dreams came to fruition, his hopes of being loved and becoming famous.
Helen’s Bridge, but no sight of her ghost. Should have went in the evening!
But in keeping with the theme of Halloween and ghosts, I must now share with you the story of Helen’s Bridge, a place not much more than a mile from Thomas Wolfe’s original home. It was there that a lady supposedly hung herself after losing her daughter in a fire at a nearby home. Another version of the legend has it that she had been impregnated by the owner of the home leading to her suicide. Whichever it may be, ever since, the story has been told of her appearances at the bridge, during the evening hours.
Wolfe actually mentioned this bridge in Look Homeward Angel, having walked under it many times as a boy. One time he even told the tale of walking over what he called “the mountain,” referring to Beaucatcher Mountain where the bridge is located, with a girl, going over to the area of “the cove,” what I know as Chunns Cove. He then tells of their lovemaking in the very veiled way of that era. It was then that he mentioned walking under the bridge with the mention of a Helen in the paragraph, though no mention of the legend. He may have been alluding to Helen of Troy for his work was full of Greek references because of the education of his times and his train of thought always took him from the present to an allusion of something classical. Yes, one must always have an open mind when delving into his writings.
Nonetheless, my current trip to this bridge is my first visit ever, though I’ve heard about this tale my entire life of living here. It’s only through my newfound love of the works of Thomas Wolfe that I finally paid a visit. And once again, it was as if I was standing and observing and sharing a scene with Wolfe, him standing right beside me. But in reality, it was his spirit traveling with me, the spirit that fills my mind with the many wonders and thoughts that he so eloquently spoke of all those long years ago. Just like him, I’m an Asheville boy, and no matter where life’s journeys may take me, I will always “look homeward.”