On Sept. 12, 1938, Thomas Wolfe had exploratory surgery performed at Johns Hopkins Hospital at Baltimore. The surgery revealed tubercular meningitis of the brain. Wolfe died three days later, on Sept. 15. He was 37 years old.
Prior to falling ill, Wolfe had headed west for a road trip that took him through eight states and 11 national parks. He traveled over 4,000 miles in 13 days. His final letter was written from his room at Providence Hospital in Seattle, Wash., where Wolfe had sought initial treatment. The letter is addressed to Maxwell Perkins, Wolfe’s former editor. While the two men rarely saw each other after Wolfe ended their professional relationship in 1937, his letter makes it clear that he considered Perkins more than just an editor. Many scholars compare the relationship between Perkins and Wolfe to that of father (Perkins) and son (Wolfe).
This Thursday, Sept. 15, marks the anniversary of Wolfe’s death. The Asheville writer’s grave site is located in Riverside Cemetery, 53 Birch St.
Thanks to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial for its help.
On Aug. 12, 1938, Thomas Wolfe wrote:
Dear Max: I’m sneaking this against orders — but “I’ve got a hunch” — and I wanted to write these words to you.
— I’ve made a long voyage and been to a strange country, and I’ve seen the dark man very close; and I don’t think I was too much afraid of him, but so much of mortality still clings to me — I wanted most desperately to live and still do, and I thought about you all a 1000 times, and wanted to see you all again, and there was the impossible anguish and regret of all the work I had not done, of all the work I had to do — and I know now I’m just a grain of dust, and I feel as if a great window has been opened on life I did not know about before — and if I come through this I hope to God I am a better man, and in some strange way I can’t explain I know I am a deeper and wiser one — If I get on my feet and out of here, it will be months before I head back, but if I get on my feet, I’ll come back.
— Whatever happens — I had this “hunch” and wanted to write you and tell you, no matter what happens or has happened, I shall always think of you and feel about you the way it was that 4th of July 3 yrs. ago when you met me at the boat, and we went out on the cafe on the river and had a drink and later went on top of the tall building and all the strangeness and the glory and the power of life and the city were below — Yours Always,