Editor's note: This is the eighth installment of Jerry Sternberg's "Life in Seely's Castle" saga. The earlier pieces are available at mountainx.com or gospeljerry.com (which also contains additional photos of the castle and its furnishings).
Life in the castle ranged from the usual round of raising a family to the periodically bizarre feeling of living in a fishbowl. Because the castle was so isolated, perched high on a mountain with a fence and big gates and no neighbors, we encouraged the kids to have friends come to visit and stay overnight.
There was no shortage of takers eager to explore all the rooms and play hide-and-seek inside and out. It wasn’t unusual for me to sit down to dinner and find five or six additional little crumb-crushers chatting excitedly about the day’s adventures.
The whole world wanted to visit the place, and we hosted many charitable, school and cultural events there.
Many famous people came, but the most interesting was Gen. Yitzhak Rabin. He later became Israel’s prime minister and, sadly, was assassinated just when he seemed to be making real progress toward settling the Arab/Israeli dispute.
In the late 1950s and ’60s, I’d been part of a group of young Jewish businessmen who traveled all over the U.S. raising money to rescue, transport and rehabilitate Jewish refugees, many of whom went to Israel.
Our group also visited absorption centers in several European countries, spoke with refugees in transit, and met with the top Israeli leadership (including the prime minister) to assess the financial needs.
We arrived in Israel just as the Six-Day War was winding down. We were given an amazing tour of the little country that had just defeated a massive Arab army.
Rabin addressed us on a battlefield in northern Israel. Among my many souvenirs of the trip were his speaking notes, which he’d left on a table.
Years later, Rabin, then Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, came to Asheville to attend a conference at UNCA. He graciously agreed to speak at a reception at the castle for our local Jewish federation, which raised funds for Jewish causes.
The day of the event, the Mossad (the Israeli secret service) searched the house, crawling through the tunnels, searching every room, climbing on roofs and scouring the grounds. Agents with automatic weapons were stationed on the roofs; others mingled with the guests.
Rabin was very cordial; I showed him the notes and asked if he recognized the handwriting. He was truly amazed that I’d saved those notes for so long; I gave them back to him along with a photo of the castle.
Of course, besides our invited guests, we periodically had to deal with trespassers, whose natural curiosity would prompt them to take a chance and drive up the winding, narrow road in hopes of glimpsing the castle. We had gates, but keeping them closed was very inconvenient.
One lady was brave or naive enough to pull up at the gate, unload her children, walk up the road and spread a large picnic lunch on the front lawn. We had big German shepherds guarding the place; they weren’t vicious, but their ferocious barking was terrifying.
The dogs mostly stayed behind the house, but when they heard the family on the lawn they raced to the scene. The interlopers ran away screaming, the dogs enjoyed the lunch, and the woman left behind a very expensive picnic basket, with real china and silverware, which she never retrieved.
One very hot, moonlit July night soon after I moved into the castle, I woke up and decided to stroll down to the gate and back with Wolf, a huge German shepherd who never left my side when I was outdoors. As we walked down the driveway, however, Wolf took off toward a car parked just outside the gate. Before I could get there, he jumped up on the side of the car, stuck in his head, and went “Aroof!!!”
I called him back, but it was too late: A couple in a complete state of undress were doing whatever nefarious things people do in the back seat of a car. I never heard such screaming, such grinding of gears and burning of rubber, as I did then. Luckily, no one was driving on Town Mountain Road at that hour or it would have been disastrous.
I was laughing so hard I had to sit down on the curb. I could only imagine their trauma, which must have lingered for days.
— Asheville native Jerry Sternberg, a longtime observer of the local scene, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.