Exploring Asheville’s unknown: A Q&A with local author Marla Hardee Milling

HOT OFF THE PRESS: In her latest book, local writer Marla Hardee Milling examines Asheville's unknowns.
HOT OFF THE PRESS: In her latest book, local writer Marla Hardee Milling examines Asheville's unknowns.

Local writer and Asheville native Marla Hardee Milling‘s latest book, Legends, Secrets and Mysteries of Asheville, digs below the earth and looks toward the sky in its examination of the city’s hidden past. Milling explores stories of underground tunnels and the recent recovery of a time capsule from the Vance Monument.

The book also delves into secrets surrounding Biltmore Estate, including its role in the protection of some of the National Gallery’s art collection during World War II, along with tales about the Vanderbilt family. In addition, the author sheds light on Asheville’s ties to national figures such as Amelia Earhart and Billy the Kid.

Legends, Secrets and Mysteries of Asheville is Milling’s second book. On Monday, June 26, Malaprop’s will host the book’s release party. The event will feature a discussion between Milling and fellow writer Jan Schochet about the book. Following their talk, Milling will be available to sign copies.

Milling recently took time to speak with Xpress about Legends, Secrets and Mysteries of Asheville.

Mountain Xpress: How did you go about selecting which stories and histories to research?

Marla Hardee Milling: It’s kind of like following dominoes or following a trail. … I started talking to people about what I was doing. … Even having lived here all my life, people were telling me things that I had never heard about before. And so all of these things led me into new directions. … And then things started [being reported] in the newspaper: The Billy the Kid tintype that the attorney found at Smiley’s [Flea Market] was a big feature in the paper, and I’m like, that would work [for the book]. The time capsule pulled out of Vance [Monument] was a very timely thing. So, it just all kind of fit together. I just sort of followed the leads.

Did you include all researched topics in this book, or are you saving some for future publications?
I included most everything that I found. Like I said, some of the newspaper articles happened while I was writing the book. … You know, Jim Siemens, who is the attorney at the Patton Parker House, found all the documents in the ceiling. … [That story] wasn’t in my original table of contents. The book comes into view as I’m writing it.

Were there any myths or ghost stories that you found credible?
I can’t authenticate a ghost story, so I have to take it with a grain of salt. … I do believe Billy Sanders, innkeeper at Reynolds Mountain, when he says he had to go through a closet door to get into a guest room because they couldn’t get in — and [once they did], they saw every piece of luggage piled up against the back of the door. I have to trust that. I don’t see that there is any way he would make that up. Especially since he had the witnesses of the guests, and apparently the guests wouldn’t have had knowledge or access to some strange closet to be able to pull that off themselves. …. That was probably the most startling ghost story.

Camille and Genevieve Beatty are local sisters who have received international recognition for their robotic inventions and re-creations. Why did you select this present-day story to include in your book? In what way does it connect to the book’s overall focus on legends, secrets and mysteries? 
Well, I tied it in with their dad [Robert Beatty]. So he’s delving into the secrets of the Biltmore Estate by writing the Serafina novels, and while writing about the secrets of the fictional lives of a girl living in the Biltmore Estate, there was also a secret happening in his own garage with his own daughters. So, it was more a play on the story line in Biltmore, but obviously with these two teenage girls gaining international acclaim from robotics, they will be part of Asheville’s history; they’re not stopping right here. … They are only 15 and 17 now. When somebody reads this book in 50 years, there’s no telling what they will have created or accomplished and how that will tie back to Asheville. This will show the roots of that.

Was there a particular story that surprised you the most in your research?
I guess the one that is still ongoing is the Billy the Kid tintype. I personally find it very interesting that [Frank Abrams] just went to Smiley’s Flea Market. He’s just digging around. He finds all of these tintypes for 10 bucks that he personally likes and [he later discovers] they may be worth 10 million. … That number is still out there because he is still having it authenticated. But that certainly caught my attention: that something so rare could be found in an Asheville flea market.

WHAT: Legends, Secrets and Mysteries of Asheville

WHERE: Malaprop’s, 55 Haywood St. avl.mx/3vf

WHEN: Monday, June 26, 7 p.m. Free

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