“Rockefeller was a real cheapskate. I asked him what he was doing, and he said it was his usual discount…but I told him I didn’t do discounts.” – Charles Seidel
THE GHOST AT INN AROUND THE CORNER
“Are you aware you have a spirit at this inn?” Nancy Schnepp, the then-proprietor of Black Mountain’s Inn Around the Corner bed-and-breakfast, remembered a guest saying to her at breakfast one morning in the late 1990s.
Surprised and having never experienced the supernatural before, Nancy told the woman that she was not aware of a spirit. The woman, who had been staying in Grandma’s Room at the inn, told Nancy not to worry, the spirit was a “very happy” one.
Nothing more came of the happy spirit until a few years later when another guest of Grandma’s Room asked Nancy if the inn was haunted. She said that out of the corner of her eye, she had seen a tall, slender man in her room, but when she turned her head he was gone. Later that night, the same guest felt a cold cloth brush across her face. Again, no one was there.
Soon, other guests staying in Grandma’s Room began reporting unexplained occurrences. Three sisters sharing the room saw a book fly off a shelf; others guests heard string music but could not pinpoint the source.
Was this tall, slender, string-music-loving spirit a past resident of the home with unfinished business? A look into the inn’s history gives a potential answer to this question.
Inn Around the Corner was built between 1912 and 1915 for retired school teachers, Luna Williams and Estella Walker, who opened it as a boarding house. Over the next half century, the large Victorian house changed hands fairly frequently.
Then, in 1962, an artist from Florida bought the house to use as a private residence. His name was Charles Seidel.
Seidel’s family had come to the United States from Austria before his Aug. 29, 1905 birth and settled in New York City where he would attend grade school.
“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 Asheville’s 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 Mizner, who Seidel described as a somewhat eccentric, giant of a man. “I used to see him walking around all the time with a monkey on his shoulder,” Seidel remembered.
Seidel quickly climbed the ladder by helping Mizner produce his signature antique look in new buildings by producing reproductions of antique fireplace facings as well as gothic windows and doors.
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 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.”
Interestingly, there is an image of Seidel on the steps of the boarding house at 109 Church Street on Thanksgiving Day 1930, long before he purchased the property. 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. But the ghost haunting Inn Around the Corner has helped to fill in that gap.
Nancy told Black Mountain News in 2016 that she answered the door at Inn Around the Corner one Saturday morning in the 2000s. A woman stood on the porch. She told Nancy 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,” Nancy recalled. “She said one night he never came home.”
The woman, though Nancy 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.
Anne Chesky Smith is the Executive Director of Asheville Museum of History.