Introduction

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Article 1

Seelys Castle, An Asheville Wonder

Article 2

Buying Seelys Castle

Article 3

A Mans Castle Is His Home

Article 4

Furnishing The Great Room

Article 5

The Library

Article 6

Warm Parties in the Cold Castle

Article 7

Miss Beaulah Young

Article 8

Generals, Guards, and Guests

Article 9

Annual Parties

Article 10

Charlotte Street Jam

Article 11

Asheville Sprawl

Article 12

Education Frustration

Article 13

Martin Nesbitt

Article 14

Graffiti

Article 15

Gospel Langren Hotel

Article 16

Fighting City Hall

Article 17

Rebutting Riverlink

Article 18

Confessions of a Recovering Racist

Article 19

Sin City

Article 20

Moonshine Memories

Article 21

Shot Heard Round Buncome County

Article 22

Long Arm of the Law

Article 23

Luck of the Draw

Article 24

Birth of Ashevilles Riverfront

Article 25

Ballad of King Coal

Article 26

Hard Times and Cheap Thrills

Article 27

Cataclysmic Change

Article 28

Honor Flight

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Article 26

Hard Times and Cheap Thrills

The black population suffered the most: Their educational level was minimal, and ever since their emancipation, they’d been the last ones hired and the first ones fired. Only the women could really find jobs: low-paying but at least steady work taking care of the white man’s houses and children.

The men, meanwhile, were reduced to desperate measures, catching catfish out of what they knew was a dangerously polluted river in order to put food on the table. Hunters and trappers decimated the populations of coon, beaver and mink to make ends meet.

Even many of the formerly rich and educated could now be seen trudging along the river roads and in the Depot Street area dressed in their best suits, begging for jobs — no matter how debasing — with those businesses that remained open. Much of the river commerce had been reduced to recycling plants for metals, waste paper and textiles. The riverfront was peppered with open yards selling used chariots and so called junkyards selling used parts for repairs.

Those who couldn’t afford the newfangled powered chariots still depended on horse-drawn wagons. A livestock yard was opened near the tannery; besides serving those who came to trade horses and mules, it was a market where farmers could sell or trade the cattle, hogs and sheep they’d raised.

There was always a bustle of activity on Friday, which was sale day: In the lively atmosphere of a huge bazaar, farm products, crafts, handmade clothing and pocketknives were bought and sold in a cash-only market.

Street preachers shouted religious admonitions in exchange for alms. Within earshot of their warnings that the devil was watching, however, the kingdom’s male subjects might be spied hiding behind a wagon, surreptitiously tilting up a fruit jar to taste the popular restorative elixir distilled from corn.

And amid the gloom and doom, the River District provided entertainment venues for the struggling masses. The big excitement was when, from time to time, a circus came to town and pitched its big tent in one of several large, flat lots along the riverbanks. The whole town would turn out down at the team track behind Roberts Street to watch as exotic animals large and small, including many that the populace had never seen before, were unloaded from the rail cars.

After that, there’d be a parade through the village, the streets lined with cheering spectators. Watching the huge elephants lumbering along, swinging their massive trunks, was breathtaking. Seeing the big, caged lions and tigers prancing and roaring was both frightening and awe-inspiring. Watching the clowns cavort in their hilarious outfits and floppy shoes, spraying water and confetti, brought big smiles and peals of laughter.

The big show was magical, with animal acts, acrobatics and music. It left the population with a warm feeling and some respite from the misery of those terrible times.

The merchants, meanwhile, were happy to find a temporary market for their goods and services. However, they quickly learned an old reality: When you do business with the circus, you’d better collect your money up front, because once it leaves town, the only things left will be “peanut sacks, wagon tracks and fond memories.”

All sorts of fairs and carnivals also found the vacant lots a favorable location for their midway. Barkers touted many kinds of rides, and booths with games of chance, mostly rigged, were there to take the suckers’ last quarters. There were also “freak shows” featuring what were then called midgets, giants, Siamese twins and tattooed ladies. “Over her left kidney was a bird’s-eye view of Sidney.”

Of course there was also the hoochie-coochie pavilion — a little tent where the menfolk would congregate. Inside, exotic princesses who traveled from kingdom to kingdom would titillate their audiences by performing in various stages of undress dictated by the palace guard’s scrutiny or lack thereof.

Itinerant holy men would also pitch their big tents to hold ritualistic revivals wherever a flat piece of land could be found. They were great family affairs. Shouting and screaming, the oracle would proclaim his healing powers, promising to deliver his mesmerized congregants from their ailments and misery and save them from an eternal hell that was far worse than the one they were already living in. All they had to do was repent their sins and place a few coins in the collection plates — inverted tambourines often proffered by scantily clad, ethereal princesses, some of whom appeared to be moonlighting from the hoochie-coochie show.


Asheville native Jerry Sternberg, a longtime observer of the local scene, can be reached at gospeljerry@aol.com.

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