Anne Chesky Smith, Special to Black Mountain News
Published 9:06 a.m. ET Oct. 23, 2019
Scarecrows, cornstalks, hay bales and pumpkins huddle on Black Mountain’s street corners, in the Town Square and on front porches and door steps. Fall has arrived, and soon it will be Halloween.
To celebrate the season of ghosts, spirits, and the unexplained, the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will offer Historic Haunted House Walking Tours of downtown Black Mountain on Friday, Oct. 25 and Saturday, Oct. 26.
Each night, tours will start at the museum at 5:30 p.m and leave every half an hour until 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for museum members and $35 for nonmembers, include a light meal, and all proceeds benefit the nonprofit museum. Preregistration via the museum’s website is recommended as there is limited space available on each tour.
The walking tours will take participants into buildings and businesses decorated for the season throughout Black Mountain’s Downtown Historic District, where costumed presenters will tell tales of the town’s haunted history.
A favorite Black Mountain ghost story takes place at a stop on last year’s tour, Inn Around the Corner. One snowy February day two decades ago, a guest—in town to speak to students about black history—checked into the bed-and-breakfast. She stayed in one of the first floor bedrooms, known by the owners at the time as Grandma’s Room.
The next morning, over breakfast, she asked the inn’s then-proprietor, Nancy Schnepp: “Are you aware you have a spirit at this inn?”
Surprised, Schnepp answered in the negative. The woman told her not to worry, the spirit was a “very happy” one.
Nothing more came of the happy spirit in the room until a few years later when a woman, who had spent the night, asked if the inn was haunted. She told Schnepp that out of the corner of her eye, she had seen a tall, slender man. Later, she felt a cold cloth brush across her face.
Soon, other guests of Grandma’s Room began reporting unexplained occurrences. Three sisters saw a book fly off a shelf; others guests heard string music but could not pinpoint the source.
Who was this spirit making himself known at Inn Around the Corner? A look into the inn’s ownership history leads to a likely suspect.
Built between 1912 and 1915 by retired school teachers, Luna Williams and Estella Walker, who used it as a boarding house, the large Victorian house changed hands fairly frequently until 1962.
It was that year that an artist from Florida bought the house to use as a private residence. His name was Charles Seidel.
Seidel’s family came to the United States from Austria, before his Aug. 29, 1905 birth, and settled in New York City.
“When I was in first grade, the teacher asked us to draw a cat,” he said in a 1990 interview for an article that would appear in the local newspaper, East Neighbors. “Well, I hated cats, but I drew one anyway. When the teacher saw it, she told me to bring my mother to school the next day. When I told [my mother], she asked me what I had done wrong. Then the next day the teacher told her I drew a better cat than she could and that I should continue in art.”
Seidel began studying at an industrial arts school in Philadelphia at the age of 12. During the summers, he worked at the Roman Bronze Works on Long Island learning to mold metal and plaster.
In 1925, at 20 years old, Seidel moved to Florida to work with one of America’s best-known architects at the time, Addison Mixner. The architect was a somewhat eccentric, giant of a man, who left his stamp across South Florida.
Seidel helped Mixner produce his signature antique look in new buildings by producing reproductions of antique fireplace facings as well as gothic windows and doors.
“I used to see him walking around all the time with a monkey on his shoulder,” Seidel remembered of Mizner.
But, as a young man, Seidel was uncomfortable with his role overseeing people twice or three times his age, and he soon returned to Philadelphia where he helped produce some massive statuary pieces commissioned for the city’s 150th anniversary.
Seidel continued to make his living as a sculptor. In the early 1930s, John D. Rockefeller commissioned him to create a tile fireplace and birdbath at Rockefeller’s Ormond Beach, Florida estate.
“Rockefeller was a real cheapskate,” Seidel remembered. After the work was complete, Rockefeller took the bill and wrote in a smaller amount. “I asked him what he was doing, and he said it was his usual discount, that he got the same kind of markdown from everyone he did business with, from his butcher on down. But I told him I didn’t give discounts.”
Seidel also worked on the circular balustrade at the entrance to the Hialeah Race Track in Hialeah, Florida; the gothic columns and arches at The Cloisters Museum in New York and, his personal favorite, a bronze statue of explorer Leif Erikson in Iceland—a gift from the United States and one of the best known landmarks in Reykjavik.
Though the statue is attributed to Alexander Stirling Calder, who won a 1929 competition for the design of the monument, Seidel said, “Calder was originally commissioned to do it, but he was too sick, so I got it instead.”
“It was done in 1931,” Seidel said. He created the design from research on Erikson as there were no known likenesses of him. “I never got to see it once it was set up, but I have pictures of it.”
By 1940, Seidel had married June Toole, who he met in Tampa, Florida, and had a daughter, Melisse, in Manhattan were he continued to work as a sculptor. By the end of 1945, the couple had relocated to Florida and added Charles A. Seidel, Jr., to the family.
In 1962, Seidel moved by himself to Black Mountain and purchased 109 Church Street, the house that would eventually become Inn Around the Corner. Seidel decorated the home with some of his work, including several “wildlife bas-relief type sculptings cast in fiberglass which he did simply for his own pleasure,” according to Peggy Higgins who interviewed Seidel for the 1990 article in East Neighbors.
Interestingly, there is only one image of Seidel in the Museum’s collection. It is believed to have been taken in 1930 on the steps of the boarding house at 109 Church Street on Thanksgiving Day.
Seidel, pictured on the first row at left, traveled frequently between the northeast and Florida for work; perhaps that Thanksgiving he rented a room at the house that he would buy more than 30 years later.
What happened to the Seidel family between 1945 and 1962, when Charles Sr. arrived in Black Mountain alone, is a little murkier; however, this is where the ghost story continues.
Schnepp told The Black Mountain News in 2016 that she answered the door bell at Inn Around the Corner one Saturday morning in the 2000s. A woman stood on the porch and told Schnepp that her father used to own the house and she was hoping to take a look around.
“She told me her father was an artist in Florida who hung around with kind of avant-garde artists and musicians down there,” Schnepp recalled. “She said one night he never came home.”
The woman, though Schnepp could not remember her name, presumably was Melisse Seidel. She told Nancy that years after he left, he sent her a letter, postmarked Black Mountain, apologizing for leaving.
He invited Melisse and her brother to visit and stay with him. Melisse remembered her father’s bedroom as being the one known as Grandma’s Room.
In describing her father, Melissa talked about him being tall and thin, which sparked Nancy’s curiosity. She told Melisse about the spirit that guests had encountered in the room over the years and asked, “Did your father like string music?”
Melisse replied, “There wasn’t a stringed instrument he couldn’t play.”
Charles Seidel died at Memorial Mission Hospital in Asheville on June 30, 1993 at 87, after a battle with cancer.
When Melisse left her father’s house that day, Nancy remembered her turning to her and saying: “If anyone sees my father again, tell them to tell him that his daughter loves him.”
The ghost at Inn Around the Corner has not been heard from since.
To register for the Museum’s Historic Haunted House Walking Tours and hear more stories of people’s past, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org/events or call 828-669-9566.