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Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Salman Rushdie come to Asheville with new novel

Atheist believes in genies, novel revealsby Rob Neufeld             Salman Rushdie’s latest novel—“Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” (1,001 nights)—has permitted me to come up with a headline as wild as the one above because the book is so exuberantly and infectiously…See More
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City Lights Bookstore posted events
Saturday
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Jan 31
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

73 classic works about Appalachia going online

Key Appalachian studies publications now going onlinefrom press release, Jan. 27. 2016 Appalachian studies scholars and those interested in regional history will have greater access to out-of-print works thanks to a two-year National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Open Book Program grant totaling $88,000 awarded to Belk Library and Information Commons at Appalachian State University.  Pamela Mitchem, the library’s coordinator of digital scholarship and…See More
Jan 30
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

John Parris' home-grown prose

South of Sylva, back of yesterday: John Parris' inspiration             “For the life of me, I just can’t understand why folks stopped usin’ cradles,” John Parris’ 97-year-old maternal grandfather had told him 60 years ago.            The oil lamp, the buggy, and the spinning wheel—they all were replaced by things…See More
Jan 27
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

James Sturm expands scope of graphic novels

James Sturm blazes cartoon path to a new worldby Rob Neufeld             Why is it that when an author combines pictures with words, the medium is considered juvenile, like comics?  Words create literature; images, art.  Why, when you marry them, is it like pairing a milk cow with a mop?            Nothing against…See More
Jan 24
susannah eanes posted a blog post

The Writer as Pilgrim

Two articles leapt at my consciousness this week, both about writing. And suddenly, I know how to go forward from here. The first, The Price I Pay to Write, by Laura Bogart and published online in Dame Magazine, reflects on the difficulties of…See More
Jan 24
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Tired of thrillers with no soul?

Why read a 1940 man-on-the-run classicby Rob Neufeld             After reading a classic novel, you might think, “Oh, look at this superior ancestor of today’s fiction.”              For instance, “The Power and the Glory,” Graham Greene’s 1940 thriller about political oppression in Mexico, exemplifies the…See More
Jan 17
Susan True updated their profile
Jan 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Art of Grace by Sarah Kaufman

Dance critic applies grace to every moveby Rob Neufeld             It’s nice to find just the right word for something, especially when it sums up a main idea in your way of thinking.            That was the case with Sarah Kaufman when she’d first felt moved, nine years ago, to write her new book, “The Art of Grace” (W.W.…See More
Jan 9
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Jan 9
Rob Neufeld posted blog posts
Jan 8
Kathryn Hall posted a blog post

Fire and Ice Roses interview with author/gardening blogger Kathryn Hall

Fire and Ice Roses has been interviewing gardening bloggers and gardening experts and were kind enough to include this short interview recently which was quite fun and very much appreciated! http://fireandiceroses.com/ask-an-expert-kathryn-hall/See More
Jan 5
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

History in the making, January 2, 2016

History in the making: items of note, January 2, 2016It was reported in today’s print edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times that a new state law went into effect, requiring people who’ve filed for unemployment benefits to make at least 5 job contacts a week.  It had been 2.  How will that work?  Are there that many jobs for which a person is qualified?  Can you apply to the same job twice if it continues to be listed? Paul Bonesteel, noted Asheville filmmaker, revealed on Facebook that a…See More
Jan 2
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Local event of the day, Jan 1 2016

Tarantino, eminent domain, and emancipation Tarantino comes to townQuentin Tarantino’s New Year’s gore and gabfest, The Hateful Eight, is gutted by New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane, who says that Tarantino toys with rather than explores history, using it “for boyish fantasies of revenge, as if enormous crimes could be undone, after the event, by lone and wanton acts of humiliation.” …See More
Jan 1
Rob Neufeld's discussion was featured

Railroad history in Western North Carolina: a close-up and bottom-line look

Railroads in WNC: the perils, the people, and the profitby Rob NeufeldWritten in conjunction with exhibit, "How The West Was Won," in Rural Heritage Museum, Mars Hill University PHOTO CAPTION: The entrance to the railroad show at the Rural Heritage Museum is commanded by a mock-up of Climax engine…See More
Dec 24, 2015

Turn of the century Arden featured high class country festiveness

CHRISTMAS IN OLD ARDEN

by Rob Neufeld

 

            On Christmas Eve in 1928, Maria Taylor Beale, mistress of Arden House, instructed her family to bring her downstairs in her bathrobe for she would not miss the last Christmas party of her life.  For 56 years, she and her husband, the author Charles Willing Beale, had been throwing Christmas parties for the South Buncombe community, and had gained fame for them.  As the holiday approached in 1928, Mrs. Beale, afflicted with pneumonia, made it known that the tradition should not stop even if she were laid in her coffin Christmas Eve Day; and it should not stop in the years following her death.

            Maria Taylor was 14 when her family had fled Richmond as Federal troops were burning it down.  She carried painful memories of creaking wagon carts, loaded with limbs, leaving the hospital into which her family’s home had been transformed.  Her widowed mother, Mary, had married Major William Brown, having met him at the hospital, and moved to the Brown estate (where Rosscraggon was later established) along the Buncombe Turnpike.

            Soon, Maria was combining woodland objects, food treats, and small packages to fashion Christmas parties for neighbors, servants, and family members.  Although, as time proved, she approached this activity with unmatched dedication, parties and country crafts were typical activities for girls in the mountains.  Jenny Fleetwood Westfeldt, granddaughter of Swedish vice-consul and coffee importer, Gustav Adolphus Georg de Westfeldt, grew up at Rugby Grange near Fletcher and played hostess in the woods with her sister, setting up a small walnut tea table “to decorate it with every sort of pretty thing, mosses, feathers, leaves, flowers, and pebbles,” she recalled.

            Charles Willing Beale came to Western North Carolina to raise sheep.  Inquiring about land, he met Maria Taylor outside the Brown house.  In 1872, the two married.  They moved to a house that Maria, a Shakespeare lover, named Arden and they built Arden Park Hotel, the best and largest accommodations in the Limestone area.  Woodrow Wilson stayed in one of the hotel’s cottages (later named the Wilson Cottage) on both his honeymoons.  Teddy Roosevelt sojourned at Arden Park; Sidney Lanier visited.

            Beale was an intense character.  When he was four, he was sent to live with a rich aunt and uncle in Philadelphia while his siblings stayed behind in Alexandria.  Consequently, his granddaughter, Margaret Ella Youngblood, admits, he was spoiled.  When his aunt and uncle bequeathed most of their money to an animal hospital, Beale, searching for a livelihood, discovered that, despite his engineering degree, he did not excel at much of anything except running.

            The stories about Beale’s running feats spread throughout the mountains.  When Youngblood’s parents went on their honeymoon in the Pisgah Forest, they encountered a mountain man at a backwoods cabin who, when he learned of the connection to Beale, exclaimed, “Isn’t he the one that did that running?” 

            Once, when Beale had been criticized for racing his horse from his home to Asheville, he defended himself by saying he wouldn’t have the horse do what he couldn’t do.  To prove it, Beale and his horse were placed on a starting line back in Arden and, in the reenactment of the route, legend tells, Beale won.

            Charles Willing Beale was also the author of several books, including the very popular, “The Ghost of Guir House,” in which an innocent man accepts an invitation to an old house where a centuries-old mystic tries to get him to marry his half-ghost daughter. 

Beale loved to tell stories—including scary Wild West tales from his post-university experience as a surveyor; and fantasies using puppets he’d collected.  So did other members of his family.

            The Beales’ daughter, Margaret “Daisy” Beale Fletcher, told her children about the headless horseman who rode up and down the main wagon road.  It’s a famous story—a Union soldier died before overcoming the prohibitions of his sweetheart’s Confederate father.  It sounded like something real that Daisy had experienced. Once, her daughter, Margaret Ella, spotted a horseman as the family Model T passed what is now Oak Park.  “That’s him,” mother said.

            Aunt Bootie (Daisy’s sister, Bertha Beale) was a spiritualist.  She communed with the spirits and spoke in foreign voices.  She dressed all in white and, foreseeing World War I and its rationing, stocked up on white, rubber-soled tennis shoes, the only kind of footwear she’d use.

            Christmastime in the Beale household was a special affair.  Arden House—which burned down in 1921 and was replicated when rebuilt—had a large ballroom that was designed in one corner to accommodate the twenty-foot tall holly tree that Aunt Bootie would haul from the woods.  Decorating didn’t start until the day before Christmas.  Holly, mistletoe, and galax covered rooms that already bore the stamp of an artistic family.  The Beales clipped real candles to the tree; and had a ladder, water buckets, and firewatchers on hand to prevent a disaster.

            In 1905, Edith and George Washington Vanderbilt, whose estate was nearby, began the practice of attaching real candles to their tree.  They also attached 1,500 presents to give to the children of their employees.  Maria Beale herself gave out hundreds of presents, as children of the black community, then the white, and then her family’s special friends came to her party. 

            Mrs. Beale and Vanderbilt shopped in downtown Asheville, going into stores and buying dozens of certain items at a time.  Margaret Ella Youngblood recalled that her mother had gotten a speeding ticket going 26 miles per hour along the newly paved country road once, and that she (Margaret) had thus been deprived of new shoes until Cornelia Vanderbilt heard the story and helped out.

            The Beales were a little bit more country than the Vanderbilts.  Maria Beale had a habit of raising motherless piglets and nursing them with a bottle, Margaret recalled.  Once, Edith Vanderbilt, paying Maria a visit, was confused by a grunting sound in the house, until a movement of her skirt betrayed the wandering animal’s snuffling snout.

            Six-thirty in the evening, Christmas Eve at the Arden House: the presents were stored upstairs; the sliding doors of the ballroom were pulled to.  Dozens of guests entered in fancy dress.  Members of the African American community arrived singing Christmas carols.  The doors slid open to reveal a crackling fire and a table spread with oranges and candy for the community children.

            Santa Claus came up the hill in a buggy bedecked with bells.  Daisy Beale Fletcher’s daughter, Bertha Holland, recalls that Santa smoked the same pipe tobacco that Grandfather Beale smoked.  Children open presents.  Margaret Ella Youngblood relates that she opened her big presents on Christmas Day, but she had smaller ones to open with the other children.  Her most memorable present was a modest one: a black-skinned doll from her father’s brother’s wife.  “I just loved it,” Youngblood reminisces.

            Bill Nye, the most popular humorist of the day, and a Skyland resident, once gave his son, Frank, a pair of gold cuff links that he had wrapped in a nest of several boxes that took much effort and faith to remove.  Fathers liked playing games with their children.  Charles Willing Beale paid his grandchildren, Margaret and Beale Fletcher, a penny for each match they picked up from the ground after he had discarded them in repeated efforts to light his pipe on the porch.  Grandpa Beale was also a little fearsome, examining his watch a half hour before Christmas and Sunday dinners, impatient of lateness; and engaging in arguments with people who supported Prohibition.

            After presents, a 15-piece brass band got folks dancing.  Daisy Beale Fletcher was an expert tango dancer, and her husband, Robert Walter Fletcher was a buck-and-wing dancer.  In 1927, he called the square dances at Asheville’s first Rhododendron Parade.  Their son, Beale Fletcher, loved to perform for the family’s guests, and also danced to the rhythms the African American dairy men played while squirting milk into pails.  Later in life, Beale Fletcher established the famous Fletcher School of Dance.  His daughter, Maria Beale Fletcher, was crowned Miss America in 1962, after having done a tap dance for the talent portion of the competition.

            Christmas dinner proceeded from 9 to 11:30 p.m., after which folks went to Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher.  At Arden House, dinner was served buffet style, and people sat wherever they could, including up the winding stairs.  The Christmas menus of the Vanderbilts have been preserved and readers can vicariously experience oysters on the half shell, clear soup, custard and spinach blocks, deviled spaghetti, roasted turkey with chestnut stuffing, and five other courses.

            Departing was no easy affair at these Christmas gatherings.  Bertha Holland recalls that it was rare that someone didn’t get stuck in the mud driving out.  Frank Nye recalled in “Bill Nye: His Own Life Story”: “In 1892 this turnpike was paved with good intentions and bright red clay, which in the rainy season had the consistency of underdone molasses candy.”

            The old wagon road has become Hendersonville Road, more or less.  Arden Park and many other properties were sold to developers and industries.  Cars no longer get stuck in the mud.  The Headless Horseman hasn’t been sighted in years.  The great Christmas parties linger as sweet memories.

PHOTO CAPTION

Welcome home, Maria Beale Fletcher, Miss America 1962, in parade; from Jim Coman collection

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