From Riverside Cemetery Alan and I drove through the historic Montford neighborhood and into downtown Asheville. We contemplated stopping at the Wolfe Memorial, but decided that our time was running out. We headed east out of town on I-40 toward the town of Old Fort (aka “Old Stockade” in Look Homeward Angel.)
Old Fort Cemetery, Old Fort, NC
Like other cemeteries we visited on this day, the Old Fort Cemetery hangs on the side of a steep hill. The one angel looks very much out of place among the more humble monuments. This one has perhaps the most interesting story of all the Wolfe Angels.
So far I had spotted a trend. First, all of these monuments were above the graves of deceased women – no men. That makes sense. Yet, in so many of these I could find information and news clippings about the husbands, but not the deceased women. That could just be normal for early 20th Century.
I also noticed that in many of these cases the wife died young and the husband erected an elaborate monument to their memory. The widowers would then remarry and go on to lead long lives. In the case of Sam McCanless, this got him into a bit of hot water with his new wife.
10. Hattie McCanless Grave
I had visited this site just last fall, only minimally aware of its history. I was running short on time and only hopped out to photograph the angel then move on.
The angel above the grave of Hattie McCanless is more like the classical angel form. As with the angel in Hendersonville, this one is also protected by a fence.
James M. McCandless and Samuel A. McCanless were brothers, despite the different spelling of their last name. The McCan(d)less Brothers were part of a large family of ten children. In addition to other business ventures, the brothers set up separate photography studios. Both men were personal friends of William Oliver Wolfe.
James, the older of the two, was the more prominent photographer and settled in Asheville operating a studio in town.
Sam stayed in Old Fort, where he married Hattie Dalton. In 1909, at the age of 27, Hattie died suddenly of a ruptured appendix. She was buried in the Old Fort Cemetery with the Wolfe angel as her monument.
After an appropriate mourning period, Sam married Hattie’s younger sister, Geneva. According to a story relayed to the Asheville Citizen by a McCanless niece, Geneva was jealous of her deceased sister, and especially of the elaborate monument over her grave. She knew how much photographers did (or didn’t) make, and considered it an extravagance. She also complained that given Sam’s prospects, she would never have a monument as grand as Hattie’s. Sam said that he didn’t pay a penny for the statue. He had won it in a poker game from W. O. Wolfe.
Regardless of whether or not the poker story is true, this is the only instance where I found documentation that W. O. Wolfe was directly involved with the monument. For all of the others I’ve not seen the primary sources and records, but have had to rely on what’s been passed down and accepted by historians.
This article also states that Wolfe “erected a handsome statue, from Italy, over the grave of Mr. Sternberg’s child, in the Hebrew cemetery.” I wonder if this was the cemetery Alan and I found when we were looking for Green Hills, and if therein resides another Wolfe angel.
Because of Sam’s occupation we have several photographs of the couple.
Despite Geneva’s complaints, she didn’t get an angel comparable to Hattie’s. In fact, both she and Sam are buried in unmarked graves next to Hattie’s angel.
One last word about Brother James…
It seems that he had quite the temper. He shot his cousin in a business dispute. The cousin recovered. In 1907 James was singing in the choir at All Souls Episcopal Church in the Biltmore Village (where I have also had the privilege of singing.) During one rehearsal the choir master scolded the choir about something and James didn’t take it kindly. Later he encountered the choirmaster and “dusted him up.”
I’ll have to bear that in mind as I start my venture with my new church choir.
After visiting the McCanless grave Alan and I drove through the small cemetery but didn’t stop. From Old Fort we cut a corner by taking the Bat Cave-Old Fort Road down to Hickory Nut Gorge. Admiring the icicles along the road, it was a beautiful drive on a cold day, and a great way to end our adventure.
But the adventure isn’t quite over. There is still the angel in Bryson City. Some think that this, rather than the angel in Hendersonville, more closely fits the angel fromWolfe’s novel. Here’s a photo of it from Find-a-Grave.
There is also the matter of the angel over the “Sternberg’s child in the Hebrew Cemetery. ” I’ll have to do some more research for that one.
UPDATE: I was able to find another Asheville Citizen Times article about W. O. Wolfe’s work. This one lists several monuments from the Wolfe shop placed in the Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC. I checked Find-a-Grave for the names on this list and each of these looks like a standard monument rather than a statue. There were a couple of crosses, but most were typical grave markers.
I’m sure regular, non-statuary markers from the Wolfe shop can be found all over the state. I don’t think I’ll try to track down all of those.
This tale involved lots of research over a couple of years, taking notes here and there as I followed leads. Most of my notes and references not already linked in this post are available in from the link below. Thanks goodness for Find-a-Grave, The Pack Library, and Newspapers.com through the Greenville County Library.