Telling Stories — and Getting It Right

There were no special little journeys on my schedule this past week, as all of our time here in the office was focused on meeting our deadline for the 88-page Arts and Crafts Conference Catalog. Last week was also a time of transitions, as our sons and family members were packing and preparing for their journeys back to their homes. It seems hard to believe that not only has the new year arrived, but that we are already a full week into it.

My only diversion this past week was a quick trip up to the Grove Park Inn on Friday afternoon for a speaking engagement in the Heritage Ballroom. It was a large group, nearly 1,000 people in the audience, most of who had traveled all day and had just arrived in Asheville that afternoon. I was their opening act, scheduled just after check-in and just before dinner. Not an ideal time slot, but certainly better than trying to keep 1,000 people awake after having watched them plow their way through one of the Grove Park Inn’s mile-long dinner buffets. But that was a problem for their evening speaker, not me.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks to them on Friday, when I gave my very first talk on the history of the Grove Park Inn, the hotel was celebrating its 75th anniversary. Now, here I was again, taking yet another group through the inn’s storied history, but this time, as I pointed out to them, the hotel is celebrating its 100th anniversary. I still had just 45 minutes to speak, but I now had an additional 25 years of history to cover.

Despite all that has happened at the Grove Park Inn these past 25 years — not the least of which is the role played by the Arts and Crafts Conference in awakening the owners and management to the importance of its Arts and Crafts heritage to the character and the appearance of the historic 1913 hotel — everyone still wants to hear about its two most notorious guests: F. Scott Fitzgerald and the inn’s resident ghost, the Pink Lady.

The two of them are largely responsible for my most recent book, one that has been more than 25 years in the making. In 1988, the year of the inaugural Arts and Crafts Conference, I began researching and writing my first book on the hotel, entitled Built For the Ages: A History of the Grove Park Inn. That book has since been through four editions, the most recent scheduled to arrive on February 1st. This hardback history book was first commissioned by Elaine Sammons, in part to commemorate her late husband Charles Sammons, who had owned the Grove Park Inn since 1955. In short, I was told how many pages I had and how many years of history I had to cover in those pages. By the time I had finished, I had more stories left in my notes than I did in the book.

But Built For the Ages did well and I found plenty of other projects to keep myself busy, so the stories stayed in their file folders. As time went by, however, the file folders kept growing and growing, as I kept finding out more and more about the people — from a succession of owners to such famous guests as Fitzgerald, Houdini, Ford, Edison, Roosevelt, Wilson, Hoover, Schwab, Firestone, and on and on — who had come to the Grove Park Inn, many on more than one occasion.

And so I decided that 2013, the 100th anniversary of the opening of this famous Arts and Crafts hotel, would be the appropriate time to release a softcover history, one not limited in its scope or restricted in its detail by anyone other than myself. Last year I began organizing, writing and eventually editing what evolved into 25 stories entitled Tales of the Grove Park Inn. It, too, will be released later this month, and will make its debut at the 26th National Arts and Crafts Conference. In it I get to tell in detail the stories I never had room for in Built For the Ages: the courtroom drama over who would inherit the hotel upon E. W. Grove’s death in 1927, the dark and disastrous year the Fitzgeralds spent at the Grove Park Inn in 1936, the story behind the Pink Lady, and President Roosevelt’s much heralded campaign visit and how his aides kept photographs of his polio-stricken body out of the newspapers.

I wish I could say the book was a delight to write, but I would be lying. As someone once said, “Any fool can make history; it takes hard work to write one.” When writing fiction, I discovered, you only worry if people will like it. When writing non-fiction, first you worry if you got it right, then you worry if people will like it.

I read the manuscript one final time before sending it off, and I liked it, so perhaps that is a good sign.

We’ll see….

Until next Monday,

Make it a great week!


Lower photo: F. Scott Fitzgerald