A Saluda woman’s new book is based on a tale about her spooky home.
by H. Byron Ballard . photos by Brent Fleury
In 1991, Corinne Gerwe and her late husband David purchased an intriguing old house in Saluda, North Carolina. The former church has a rich and eccentric history, and now it’s the setting for a new book, The Strange Case of the Doyle Diary Murders.
Construction began in 1888 on the Saluda First Baptist Church, and it was dedicated, appropriately enough, on Halloween in 1894. The congregation eventually outgrew its home, and it was bought by Mrs. J. D. Hunt, who converted it into a private residence. Mrs. Hunt was a spiritualist whose decorating taste ran to the dramatic, including flamingo-pink interior and outside trim.
When Corinne and David bought the house from Mrs. Hunt’s heirs, it was a dusty time capsule with most of the furniture and effects as Mrs. Hunt had left them—“down to the hairpins,” Gerwe chuckles. The couple did extensive renovations, including removing the garish trim and returning the house to a sedate grey. They found all sorts of interesting artifacts from the Hunt days, including a Ouija board and a book by Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. Gerwe, who has a Ph.D. in biological psychology and has taught at Clemson University, is a fan of Doyle’s work but didn’t know this particular book—one of his later works on spiritualism.
Ten years later, Gerwe was plunged into shocked grief when David was killed by a drunk driver. “I thought I knew about grief,” she says, “until that happened to me.” Doyle’s spiritualism began to make a certain sense to her, as she struggled to make sense of her life. “If a psychic had come to my door, I would have paid anything to talk to David again.”
The year David died, her work in neuropsychology and addictive behaviors at Clemson led to an invitation to the Ural Mountains of Russia to work with high-risk youth. She wasn’t sure she had anything to offer the program but found that the healing work began facilitating her own healing. “We were all the walking wounded,” she says.
An idea occurred to Gerwe: could she take what she’d discovered about her house and one of her favorite authors and write a book? Using her own home and story as inspiration, she constructed a mystery based on Doyle’s work and the whiff of Celtic lore that lies in Western North Carolina’s crags and hollers.
The Strange Case of the Doyle Diary Murders was published in June by Mitchell Publishing, and Gerwe is planning a second book. She retired from her clinical associate professor job at Clemson to write and is now embarking on a book tour. “There are lots of truths in this book,” Gerwe says. “It wasn’t just about restoring a building. It’s also about the restoration that went on inside me.”
And the odd house? Guests have sometimes spoken of shadowy figures and a ghostly feel, but Corinne has nothing but love for the sturdy old place. It’s also the perfect place for a mystery writer to work her magic.
Find The Strange Case of the Doyle Dairy Murders at local booksellers or at www.wubbit.com. Gerwe reads from it at the M.A. Pace store in Saluda in late October.