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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
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City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
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The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
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Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
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Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 12
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Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 10
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Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
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Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
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It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

Asheville girls shaped Arthur Murray’s life

by Rob Neufeld


            Once upon a time, Asheville had been a dancing city.  Folk dancing and clogging persist in the mountains, but the hip dances in Southside joints and the ballroom dances downtown have become subjects for history.

            For the ballroom dancing, one figure and one place stand out: Arthur Murray at the old Battery Park Hotel, the Biltmore Estate-quality manor that had once sat atop a now-vanished hill.  (Battery Park Apartments now occupies the location.)

            In late 1914, as England was mounting its historic first aerial bombing on Germany, Arthur Murray, age nineteen, arrived at the Battery Park.  As a teen, he’d started dancing as a way of getting beyond his Jewish immigrant neighborhood, the Lower East Side in New York.  He discovered he had a gift.

            He won a waltz contest.  He taught at the Vernon and Irene Castle school.  Baroness de Kuttleson, an established dance teacher there, took him under her wing.  She advised him to lop off his last name, Teichman, because it sounded too German.  She took him to Asheville.  She charged his clients $50 per lesson, and pocketed $45 for herself.

            From all accounts, Murray—tall, foreign-looking, elegant, and a great dancer—had been a huge hit. 

            He grew a moustache.  “When Edith Vanderbilt saw him,” Jane Heimlich, his daughter, recounts, “she instructed him to take that fool thing off.  He was quick to do so.  She was one of his staunchest supporters, and often invited him to the Biltmore House to give lessons.”

            Heimlich, author of authoritative alternative medicine books and wife of surgeon Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver, has just published a memoir, titled, “Out of Step.”  In it, she vividly recalls her father’s charm because of its connection to her mother’s suicide attempt.

            Her mother, Kathryn, whom Arthur had married in 1925, would go on to be as big a star as he on the TV show, “The Arthur Murray Party” (a popular variety show, on which young comic Johnny Carson had gotten his TV break).

            But in 1930, Arthur, who had already established a world famous dance-by-mail business, further wedded himself to his work by starting a chain of dance studios.  He travelled from his suburban home to his founding studio in Manhattan and spent days and nights with young female teachers and socialites.

            “The women were like the Southern girls that Arthur had admired so much in Asheville,” Heimlich writes. 

            Murray published a book, “The Secret of Popularity.”

            Kathryn, who had enjoyed the life of a flapper, but who did not dance, went to parties and drank bathtub gin, Heimlich relates.  A hired woman took care of the house, which included the Murrays’ twin daughters.  One night, Kathryn climbed out a window, dropped, and broke her spine.

            Asheville had its own tragic post-Crash jumps.  But in 1914, the city had been flying high.  The Great Gatsby, if he’d been here, would have been drawn to Battery Park Hotel dances like an outsider to the glow of the good life.

            Murray’s path to high society involved wooing rather than the takeover approach of the fictional Gatsby.  In 1914, charming Arthur received a letter from Edith Vanderbilt, who stated she was in charge of arrangements for the Christmas Ball.

            “Dear Mr. Murray,” she wrote, “I have been requested…to ask you if you would be kind enough to perform an exhibition dance at the ball tomorrow, Tuesday evening, Dec. 25.   I understand there is a young lady in Asheville who would dance with you, and I will ask you to please extend to her this invitation.”

            At future dances, Murray partnered with such local lasses as Misses Dorothy Lytle, Jeanette Hartzog, Doris Davenport, Louise Wise and Eustice Hudley.  On Saturday afternoons, he gave classes to children. 

            “To dance smartly, as society girls must,” Murray wrote in a brochure, “it is necessary to learn from well-bred teachers who are reared in an atmosphere of culture.”


Information in this article has been drawn from Jane Murray Heimlich’s new book, “Out of Step” (Orange Frazer Press); an interview with her; and “Encyclopedia of World Biography (Advameg).



Arthur Murray poses with his wife Kathryn on the cover of their daughter Jane’s new book.

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I notice one of the local ladies who danced with Mr. Murray was Doris Davenport. I would assume this is the same lady who went on to marry Chester Pierce Munroe and lived for years on Edgemont Rd in Grove Park. Pack Library just received a collection of her papers last year which had ended up in the care of her neighbor after her death. The photo album, available online, is amazing and I can't wait to read the letters between her children, her end of the correspondence returned to her when they both died young.


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