WNC Scary Stories: Do spirits still roam the Old Kentucky Home?

Tom Muir, historic site manager at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial 

Editor’s note: For Halloween, we asked our readers to share the scariest things they’ve experienced in our area. Readers came through with shivery accounts of mysterious occurrences, including this one below.

Visitors often ask about hauntings in the Old Kentucky Home, the historical boardinghouse located at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. I sense the house is now at peace, though it hasn’t always been.

In his 1929 debut novel, Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe reflects on his early experiences living in his mother’s boardinghouse, located in downtown Asheville. He writes, “A very quiet despair was in his heart, a weary peace that brooded too upon the house of death and tumult, that flowed, like a soft exploring wind, through its dark halls, bathing all things quietly with peace and weariness.”

Was it a house of death and tumult or a peaceful place?

In his 1935 follow-up, Of Time and the River, which is the sequel to Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe describes Oliver Gant on his deathbed. (Oliver, it should be noted, was based on the author’s father, William Oliver.) Startled from a dream, Oliver exclaims, “Did someone come into the house?” His wife, Eliza (inspired by Wolfe’s mother, Julia Elizabeth), looks at Oliver with troubled eyes and says, “Hah? What say? Why, no, I think not … unless you may have heard Gilmer come in an’ go up to his room.”

We know Wolfe’s father died in a back room of the boardinghouse in June 1922. It is a regular stop on the guided tour. But who was Gilmer?

Wolfe based Gilmer on the real-life Theodore Salmer, who lived at Julia’s boarding house from about 1921-33. Tragically, Salmer died one Sunday morning in November 1933 from a pulmonary hemorrhage. At the time, Julia was preparing tea in the kitchen, when she discovered Salmer standing in the hall. He collapsed on the floor, his hand to his mouth with blood spilling everywhere. Julia hurriedly made her way to the front porch, calling for her neighbor across the street. The neighbor was Ed Dunn of the Brownell-Dunn Funeral Home — exactly whom Salmer needed. When Dunn entered the house, Salmer was already gone.

But does his spirit still linger? To this day there is one place in the historic house where staff rarely goes — the tragic hallway where Salmer met his demise.

Tom Muir, historic site manager at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial


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One thought on “WNC Scary Stories: Do spirits still roam the Old Kentucky Home?

  1. Voirdire

    It’s pretty obvious from even the most cursory reading of Thomas Wolfe that he felt certain that we all carry the collective ghosts of our past with us until the day we die. Personally, I’m hoping he’s wrong about this… but so far he’s proven himself the muse that he so deservedly is. Sigh…. anyway, please tell me you now have fire suppression sprinklers in that damned house of his mother’s ;)

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