A look at some popular ghost stories from haunted Asheville, North Carolina, along with a strange F. Scott Fitzgerald conspiracy theory.

Highlights include:
• Haunted bridges
• Gruesome disinterments at a potter’s field
• A haunted high school
• Two dead women named Helen
• A bookseller’s memories of hanging out with F. Scott Fitzgerald
• An old tombstone shop
• The Brown Mountain Lights

Note: This episode contains mentions of murder, police brutality, suicide, drowning, and disrespectful disinterment of corpses.

 

Episode Script for Haunted Asheville, North Carolina

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“It is hard to see what Asheville is going to do. It seems that they did enough damage in two or three years to ruin the town for fifty years to come. Our people were flying too high and forgetting how to tell the truth — everything bluff and brag and blow — this is what the whole country was doing and we’re paying through the nose for it right now. They invested their whole lives in a toy balloon, and when the balloon burst there was nothing left …” -In 1933, Thomas Wolfe wrote to his mother about how Asheville fared during the depression

 

I have a bit more info about why Asheville was such a big place for health resorts from the 1880s-1930.

There are a few reasons for that:

  • Asheville has mild weather and  barometric pressure of 2,216 feet above sea level, as well as clean mountain air, and people thought those were the ideal conditions for recovery from TB.
  • Also, in 1880, the Asheville-Spartanburg railway was completed

Before that, wealthy people had already started moving there, but the railroad really kicked it off

 

Jackson Building

  • The Jackson Building was Asheville’s first skyscraper. It was built in 1924.
  • Before it was built, author Thomas Wolfe’s father had a shop there. He made tombstones.

○ There’s now a few monuments to the tombstone shop outside, which displays tombstone carving tools and an excerpt of Look Homeward, Angel.

  • The building is crowned with gargoyles and has gothic tracery at the top.
  • So, part of what made Fitzgerald’s time in Asheville extra depressing is that the Great Depression was going on then, and it hit Asheville extra hard.
  • The depression hit Asheville so hard that the city’s debts weren’t paid off until 1976
  • Legend has it that several people killed themselves by jumping out of the Jackson Building after the stock market crashed.
  • And some people have reported that they see a man’s face in the top window of the building, and they believe that he was one of the people who killed himself there.

○ That being said, that seems like it could just be pareidolia, but it’s interesting.

  • Another strange thing, but not a paranormal thing, is that there’s a bullseye pattern at the base of the building, put into the brick next to the monuments to the tombstone shop.
  • Let’s start with the Battery Park Hotel, because it deals with several of the characters we talked about last week.
  • The original Grove Park Hotel was built in 1886 by a Col. Frank Coxe. It was built on the site of an old Civil War artillery battery, up on a hill. The hill was already a tourist attraction because it afforded beautiful views of the city
  • Built in the Queen Anne style, the hotel was a very modern, with a fireplace in every room, steam radiators, modern elevators (the first in the south) and bathrooms, and electric lights. It cost $100,000 to build.
  • It was a grand and beloved hotel. Supposedly, when George Vanderbilt visited the Battery Park Hotel, he looked out at the land around it and decided to purchase 125,000 acres and build his 250-room estate, the Biltmore, which we’ll get to later.
  • But by 1921, the building had gotten run down, and it was purchased by Edwin Grove, who we talked about at length last time. He was a wealthy patent medicine mogul who built the Grove Park Inn and did a bunch of other development in Asheville.
  • Grove had the old hotel torn down using steam shovels–a relatively new invention. The hotel had stood on a hill called Battery Porter Hill, and he had that torn down too. (The hill was reduced by 100 feet and he ended up removing 250,000 cubic yards of dirt.)
  • People weren’t happy about that.
    • In his book You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe described the new version of the hotel:
      • It was being stamped out of the same mold, as if by some gigantic biscuit-cutter of hotels that had produced a thousand others like it all over the country.
    • People felt like Asheville was losing its interesting buildings
  • Built in a Neoclassical style, the new Battery Park Hotel opened in 1924
    • It had 220 rooms, 14 stories, a rooftop restaurant
    • It was really nice, and had great views of the city. It attracted literary guests like O. Henry, eventually, Thomas Wolfe, as well as other famous guests including Babe Ruth, Grace Kelly, and Boris Karloff
    • Grove died in the hotel in 1927
  • You’ll remember that F. Scott Fitzgerald lived at the Grove Park Inn for a couple years, including in 1936.
    • Though he never stayed at the Battery Park Hotel, he was known to visit the hotel frequently.
  • In July 1936, a 19-year-old NYU student from Staten Island named Helen Clevenger stayed in the Battery Park Hotel with her uncle, William Clevenger, who was a professor
    • They checked into the hotel on July 15, and then went to dinner with her uncle’s friends
    • They returned home at 10:30 pm and returned to their separate rooms. Helen was in room 224.
    • There was a terrible thunderstorm that night. During the storm, a guest in the room across from 224 thought he heard a gunshot.
    • He called the front desk, and the house detective, Daniel Gaddy went to look
    • He listened at a few doors and then declared it was just thunder
    • The next morning at 7:30, William went to check on his niece. When she didn’t answer, he opened the door–which was unlocked–and found her on the floor, in her PJs, with blood all over and a fatal bullet wound in her chest. She’d also been pistol-whipped, and her face was all messed up. A .32 caliber bullet lay in the room.
    • Aside from the bullet casing, the only other clue was that a lanky man had leapt 15 feet from a hotel stairway in the middle of the night. I read that the man was about 5’9″
    • Initially, the police detained suspects including William, the house detective, and a German violinist named Mark Wollner who had been on a date at the Battery Park on the night of the murder
    • All of the suspects were released, and police decided that a hotel employee must have committed the murder
    • They interrogated 60 hotel employees and were most suspicious of two young black men who worked as bellhops, Joe Urey and L.D. Roddy.
    • The NYPD sent two homicide detectives to Asheville
    • A hotel cook told the NYPD that the janitor, Martin Moore, a 22-year-old Black man, had a .32 revolver
    • The NYPD confronted Moore, who said he was innocent and gave the cops his gun. The NYPD flew the gun to a lab in Brooklyn and they decided that the gun had hairs similar to Helen’s
    • The cops then claimed that Moore confessed and produced a 700-word transcript. They declared that the motive was that he wanted to rob her, though why someone would want to rob a college student is beyond me.
    • Moore said the confession had been forced; he said “a fan man from new york” (meaning one of the NYPD detectives) had beaten him with a rubber hose until he confessed.
    • Moore had an alibi that placed him at  birthday party at the time of the murder
    • Nevertheless, he was rushed to trial on August 19, 11 days after he gave the cops the gun
    • Moore and his family testified that Moore had been at the birthday party that night
    • But the judge declared the confession valid, and the all-white jury declared Moore guilty within an hour.
    • He was given the death sentence.
    • The NAACP campaigned to save Moore, and Moore’s attourneys tried to get an appeal but were denied; the court didn’t want to hear it
    • So Moore was executed in North Carolina’s new gas chamber, in Raleigh, on December 11, 1936.
    • He said he was innocent up to the day of his death
    • One interesting thing: I’ve seen it implied that F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was about 5’9″ and was definitely lanky, may have been the murderer.
      • The logic is that F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to have been shooting a gun in the Grove Park Inn in July 1936, threatening to kill himself.
        • A secretary who Fitzgerald hired later recounted the story that a nurse told her:
          • She then went on to tell me the details of his getting his pistol and threatening to shoot himself. There was quite a commotion. In some way she got a bellboy, who got the pistol, and Scott, in pajamas and bathrobe, chased him over the hotel. After that, the hotel refused to let him stay there by himself.
  • So then a full-time nurse was hired so he could stay
  • He was obviously drunk all the time, and I could imagine him interacting with the young college student and things going wrong
  • I did read something that mentioned that while Fitzgerald was in Paris in 1930 and he and Thomas Wolfe met up, Fitzgerald was swarmed with “idolatrous college kids” so it does seem like young people knew who he was, etc.
  • There’s a book called Lost Summer, which is a memoir by Tony Buttitta, an Asheville bookseller who befriended Fitzgerald while he was in town in 1935. I’ve linked to the full text in the shownotes for anyone who’s interested in reading it.
    • I skimmed through some parts of it and saw a bit where Fitzgerald was hanging out at the pool with Rosemary, the married woman he was having an affair with.
      • When Rosemary had to go inside to take a phone call, Fitzgerald went over to talk to a younger woman named Lottie, who was sitting by the pool with a copy of The Great Gatsby trying to get his attention.
      • Buttitta describes Lottie as “one of Asheville’s most exclusive harlots, her charms . . . Available only to guests of the luxury hotels.” Though when Fitzgerald first learns who Lottie is and seems shocked, Buttitta says “I like her better than most of the society women.”
      • I’m not sure exactly how old Lottie was, but she seemed pretty young. When she told Fitzgerald she’d never met a writer before, he tried to impress her. To read a bit of that:
        • “They’re a breed apart from the human race,” Fitzgerald said, with the bravura he summoned up on meeting an impressionable girl. “Never tangle with a writer. Some are vegetarians, some prefer the flesh of their brothers. Many are alcoholics or lonely eccentrics who sit and dream up excitement to compensate for a sedentary life. You can never truly know one. He’s too many people trying to be one person—if he’s worth a damn as a writer.”
  • Also, soon after that their affair ended, and Rosemary moved into the Battery Park Hotel. This was in 1935. Rosemary left Asheville soon after, and Fitzgerald moved into the Battery Park Hotel for a while, then moved back into the grove park inn.
  • Another thing worth noting is that Fitzgerald was drunk all the time, and hurt himself doing stupid things like the swan dive that screwed up his shoulder, so I could imagine him recklessly jumping down a flight of stairs.
  • Also, I should mention that in the book it’s pretty clear that Fitzgerald is racist, against black people at least. At one point, Buttitta tells him about a book he’s writing with a black protagonist, and he says that Fitzgerald “frowned on” the idea of a black hero. And then at the end of the memoir, they get into a fight when Fitzgerald says some nasty stuff about “race mixing” and yells at Buttitta for supporting black writers and black people in general.
    • In addition to that, I think that the only thing Fitzgerald published between his summers in Asheville is an essay for Esquire called “The Crack-up,” which has a whole part about how he “can’t stand the sight of” black people, as well as some other groups of people. I’ve linked the full text to that in the shownotes if anyone wants to read that essay. It’s just basically about him falling into despair.
    • So I think it’s safe to say that in the Battery Park Hotel murder case, if someone had questioned Fitzgerald about who he thought committed the murder, he definitely would have pointed a finger at black hotel employees.
  • All of this is extremely circumstantial, but the Fitzgerald part of all of this was fairly intriguing to me, especially since he was so unstable during the summers he spent in Asheville.
  • And of course the cops were very motivated to pin the blame for the murder on someone, and just like today, it would have been easiest to frame a young black man, whereas potentially leveling the blame on someone like F. Scott Fitzgerald, or a wealthy hotel guest, would be much more trouble for them and would, in their eyes at least, reflect poorly on them.
  • Many people say that the hotel is haunted because of how a Moore had been so obviously railroaded
    • Apparently the elevator where Moore had worked as a bellhop behaves strangely, running through the night by itself and clattering, waking people up
    •  In the 70s and 80s, people claimed to see red light emanating from room 224
    • Some claim that the second floor is freezing cold, and changing the thermostat doesn’t help
    • It’s also been said that Helen haunts the hotel as well, though I haven’t heard specifics of that.
  • The Battery Park Hotel closed in 1972 and in 1980, it was made into an apartment building for senior citizens.

 

Helen’s Bridge, a bridge on Beaucatcher Mountain that was built in 1909 and was originally called Zealandia’s bridge. I assume it was named after Zealandia, a historic Tudor-style mansion in Asheville. It’s a pretty stone bridge with a road running under it.

  • A young mother named Helen lived on the mountain and lost her daughter in a fire. She was so devastated that she hanged herself from the bridge.
  • People now say that they have car trouble on the bridge, including having their batteries die while on the bridge. And some folks who’ve gone there for paranormal investigations have had car problems later on. In some cases, people have said they had car trouble a week after, and people have reported seeing a moving figure from the corner of their eye after leaving.
  • There have also been reports of Helen appearing and asking if they know where her child is. They say she wears a long dress
  • Apparently there’s a lot of paranormal activity around the bridge.
  • People have said they’ve also seen apparitions and figures that look like monsters in the underbrush nearby.
  • People have also been slapped, punched, and scratched while there

 

Erwin High School

  • In the 1970s, this high school was built on an old potters field called Country Home Cemetery. We’ve talked about potters fields before–Hart Island in NYC is one of them–but as a reminder, they’re cemeteries for people who can’t afford to be buried elsewhere. Many potters fields are for people who are indigent or whose bodies can’t be identified.
  • There had been an old folks’ home called Old County Home nearby, and many elderly people from there were buried in the potter’s field
  • There had been more than 1K graves, which were moved so they could build the school. But because most of the graves weren’t marked, some of the bodies couldn’t have been found and moved.
  • Contractors tried to field the bodies by shoving a T-handled rod into the ground and feeling for soft spots.
  • Many of the corpses didn’t have coffins; some were just wrapped in blankets.
  • The contractors put the decomposed remains into small wooden boxes, many of which were only 3 feet long.
  • According to research by paranormal researcher Joshua Warren, as reported in a 2002 article in Mountain Xpress, “a county commissioner, R. Curtis Ratcliff, reported that he saw workers punch a hole in a coffin, drag out a skull, and throw it on the ground; some of its false teeth fell out, and its hair fell off. An anonymous teacher claimed to have seen a coffin opened that contained the remains of a woman with flowing red hair, dressed in an old gown, and cradling in her arms a small corpse that appeared to be a stillborn baby.”
  • The bodies were moved to a hillside behind an elementary school, and the graves were marked with military-style white crosses
  • The school technically wasn’t built exactly on top of the cemetery–the cemetery was between the school and the football field
  • Strange phenomena supposedly started after students got ahold of some skulls and started using them in pranks
  • People have reported poltergeist activity like the elevator moving by itself, flying objects, slamming doors, and floating heads
  • Students and custodial staff have seen pictures fly off classroom walls, TVs turn themselves on and off
  • The reporter in 2002 claimed that if you walk around in the fields behind the school, there are shapes visible in the moonlit grass that look like human bodies
  • The football team is notoriously terrible, and in the 1990s during a really bad losing streak, the half-time show was a mock exorcism. (It didn’t work)
  • Custodial staff, who often work there late at night alone, have said that motion detectors go off when no one’s there, etc. But One former assistant principal claims that they’re being set off by animals who were abandoned at the Human Society, which is next door

 

Craven Street Bridge

  • The French Broad River is a river that runs through Asheville that people used to swim in back in the day. The Craven Street Bridge crosses the river, and there’s an odd ghost story associated with it.
  • Supposedly, in the early 20th century, some boys went for a swim in the river around sunset on a summer evening.
  • Not everyone owned bathing suits back then, so they swam naked.
  • Unfortunately, the river was flowing faster than usual that day because of some storms that had happened elsewhere a few days before.
  • When playing in the river, the boys were swept toward the Craven Street Bridge, where dangerous rapids had formed. So they went to go home, and then realized that someone in their party was missing.
  • They looked for the boy, and got other people to help him throughout the night, but they didn’t find him. The next day, boats dredged the river, but his body wasn’t found.
  • Soon after that, people started seeing a naked boy run across the bridge, but when they tried to get his attention, he didn’t respond. If they tried to catch up with him, he’d disappear.

 

Brown Mountain Lights

  • Orbs seem to rise off the mountain, hover 15 feet up, then vanish
  • Tons of people have seen them over the centuries
  • Cherokee legend says that they were the souls of the women searching for their men who’d died in a battle between the Cherokee and Catawba that happened on Brown Mountain
  • Some people say that they’re the lights from a search for a missing woman, echoing back from when the search happened in the 19th century
  • There’s one legend that romanticized slavery, saying that a slave-owner and an enslaved man were in the mountains together, and the slave-owned disappeared while the enslaved man continued looking for him. It became a popular mid-20th century song by Lulu Belle and Scotty called Brown Mountain Light.
  • Some scientific explanations that have been offered are swamp gas or reflected car headlights.
    • But there’s no swamp on Brown Mountain.
    • And the lights appeared before cars existed, and were still seen in 1916 when a flood shut down all train and car traffic in the area.
    • Some people say instead that they’re some kind of electrical discharge from the nearby fault lines.
  • We didn’t get to see them, especially since they’re observed at night and the folks I’m traveling with are very scared of ghosts.
    • And anyway, the best time to see them is October or November, once the trees have lost their leaves

Sources consulted RE: Haunted Asheville, North Carolina

Websites RE: Haunted Asheville, North Carolina

  • The Crack Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald: https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a4310/the-crack-up/

  • Tony Buttitta’s memoir of his time with F. Scott Fitzgerald: http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/bio/buttitta-lostsummer01.html

  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/

  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/ghost-chicken-alley/

  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/pink-lady-grove-park-inn/

  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/naked-ghost-craven-street-bridge/

  • https://www.romanticasheville.com/brown_mountain_lights.htm

  • http://brownmountainlights.com/

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Omni_Grove_Park_Inn

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Wiley_Grove

  • https://traveltips.usatoday.com/history-grove-park-inn-asheville-22468.html

  • https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/history/elimination_us.html

  • https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park/property-details/history

  • Haunted Asheville, NC

  • Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, North Carolina

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pony_glass

  • https://www.npr.org/2013/09/03/216164420/for-f-scott-and-zelda-fitzgerald-a-dark-chapter-in-asheville-n-c

  • https://blueridgecountry.com/archive/favorites/fitzgeralds-asheville-days/

  • https://blueridgecountry.com/newsstand/magazine/the-tragic-death-of-zelda-fitzgerald/

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F._Scott_Fitzgerald

  • https://ashevilleterrors.com/grove-park-inn/

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internment_of_Japanese_Americans

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_the_Philippines

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_in_exile_of_the_Commonwealth_of_the_Philippines

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_occupation_of_the_Philippines

  • https://northcarolinaghosts.com/mountains/pink-lady-grove-park-inn/

  • https://the-line-up.com/the-pink-lady

  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/pink-lady-grove-park-inn

  • https://ghosthuntersofasheville.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-pink-lady-of-ghost-park-inn.html

  • https://avltoday.6amcity.com/asheville-ghosts/
  • The Story Behind This Haunted Bridge In North Carolina Is Truly Creepy

  • https://mountainx.com/news/community-news/0703erwin-php/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zealandia_(Asheville,_North_Carolina)

  • Murder at the Battery Park

  • http://library.uncg.edu/dp/nclitmap/tours/details/Fitzgerald/index.aspx?pid=1683

  • Life, death and drama in the Battery Park Apartments

  • https://sites.google.com/a/clevelandcountyschools.org/asheville-intensive/battery-park-hotel

  • https://wcudigitalcollection.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16232coll3/id/76#_ga=1.199196139.531283170.1399304231

  • https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/asheville/bat.htm

  • https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/asheville/resort.htm

  • Episode 51 Murder At The Battery Park Hotel

  • https://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/nyu-student-killer-rushed-execution-5-months-1936-article-1.3368737

  • https://swords-pens.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-haunting-of-battery-park-hotel.html

  • https://wncmagazine.com/feature/queen_hill

  • Gatsby’s Asheville

  • http://library.uncg.edu/dp/nclitmap/tours/details/Fitzgerald/index.aspx

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_Park_Hotel

  • Murder at the Battery Park

  • Historic (Haunted) Inns of Asheville

  • Let’s Be Honest about these Celebrated Asheville Writer’s

  • https://www.strangecarolinas.com/2016/09/the-jackson-building-ghost-asheville-nc.html

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