Tuesday History: The hermit of Dixieland

WOLFE PACK: Frank Wolfe sits beside his mother's and father's gravestone at Riverside Cemetery.
WOLFE PACK: Frank Wolfe sits beside his mother's and father's gravestone at Riverside Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial

The Thomas Wolfe Memorial recently acquired a series of letters written by Frank Wolfe, older brother of Thomas Wolfe. Frank is portrayed as Steve Gant in Look Homeward, Angel. He was the last member of the Wolfe family to live in the Old Kentucky Home, at 48 Spruce St. Frank played a crucial role in keeping his younger brother’s legacy alive, prior to the creation of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Association in 1949.

His letters are all addressed to Martha “Mollie” Carnesia Smathers Bulis, who grew up in Haywood County. The exact nature of their relationship is unknown.

Thanks to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial for its assistance.

On Nov. 14, 1947, Frank writes:

Dear Carnesia

Your fine letter was read + greatly enjoyed. Again let me say I’m indeed glad to know someone is a little interested in my wellbeing. It does count a lot, anyway “sorta,” makes you feel you are not quite alone, after all.

I guess a lot of my loneliness is to my own choosing. I could have people here in the house for company sake, and it’s not because we became queer or strange, that they are not here, but it’s the damnable criticisms, from others, the always ready gossip of those who misunderstand + make harm out of much that I’m innocent of. Hell I’ve been accused of most everything with the exception of murder, Rape, + arson. They do lay off accusing me of these, more because how different life at 48 is now than it was when Tom, wrote Look Homeward. Here I’ve become the “Hermit of Dixieland,” that house I get [to] live in, so crammed with memories, some better, some sweet, some beautiful, then some so ugly.

Whenever I review any part of “The Angel,” Carnesia, it’s a Biography to the fullest. All the characters, lived, + moved + breathed. Their shadows of the guests years linger in every corner of this big house. The Ghosts of the past, are always, with me. I can in a mind picture, see papa, mama, Ben, Tom, their voices long stilled, will forever echo, throughout, this big old house. ‘No,’ I’m never frightened here. I could go on forever, surrounded by the stillness that now exists + always be happy. Just to be here, + think of the past, yes; Carnesia, Edgar Guest, was right when he wrote his immortal poem, “it takes a Heap of Living to make a Home,” Hope you enjoy the Angel,

Love + Best

Frank

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

One thought on “Tuesday History: The hermit of Dixieland

  1. Mike Westall

    Nice pic of cousin Frank. Even though I grew up while several of Tom’s siblings were still living, the perceived wounds that Look Homeward inflicted upon the descendents of James Manassas Westall (the brother of Tom’s mother and my great grandfather) were such that we had no communication at all with them. (I’m your Uncle John’s BFF)

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