September 10, 2020



A visitor to Asheville will quickly learn that American novelist, Thomas Wolfe, is the city’s most beloved author. But it was not always so. Tom Wolfe was a genius with a photographic memory. He is said to have almost total recall. His thinly veiled descriptions of life and times in Asheville was so frank and realistic that his classic, Look Homeward, Angel was banned from Asheville’s library for more than seven years. The town’s anger and hatred over their portrayal was so strong that Wolfe stayed away for eight long years.

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The last of eight children, he grew up in a boarding house, the Old Kentucky Home, owned by his mother, Julia Wolfe. She bought the boarding house at 48 Spruce Street in Asheville, taking up residence there with her young son, Tom. The rest of the family remained at the 92 Woodfin Street residence. His father, W. O. Wolfe ran a gravestone business as a successful stone carver. He used an angel in the window to attract customers. Thomas Wolfe “described the angel in great detail” in his novel Look Homeward, Angel. Thus, a replica welcomes visitors to his boarding house home, now called the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. At age fifteen or sixteen, Tom’s father paid for him to attend the University of North Carolina and from there, he went on to study at Harvard.

His time in the boarding house was a period when tuberculosis was rampant in the country and Asheville was considered having the ideal climate for those suffering with the disease. It is likely that some of the boarders at Old Kentucky Home were TB sufferers. And young Tom Wolfe may have been infected with the disease which apparently went into remission, although he writes to his mother in 1920 about a troubling cough and blood in his handkerchief.

Thomas Wolfe died at 37. It is said from his writings that he had a fear of TB, which haunted him and affected his writing long before the discovery of a tubercular lesion in his right lung following his death. It is believed that the lesion opened allowing TB cells to flow to his brain. He died of meningeal tuberculosis often called TB of the brain.

His grave is only a short distance from Applewood Manor at Riverside Cemetery not far from O. Henry’s plot. In the above photograph of his grave site note the pens and pencils left by visitors in memory of this prolific great American novelist


Asheville has been called many things—weirdest, happiest, quirkiest place in America, Santa Fe of the East, New Age Capital of the World, Paris of the South, Beer City USA, Most Haunted, Sky City and others. It has many secrets, mysteries, and legends—some factual, some alleged, some exaggerated and some just plain lies.


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