I heard a song recently that caught my attention. Canton native, Richard Hurley, a local musician and song writer who focuses on folk ballads about Western North Carolina, recently released an album, “My Mountains, My Songs”, featuring a unique ballad about Haywood County’s own Cold Mountain. The song, called “The Cold Mountain Bomber Crash”, told a story about the famous mountain that I had only heard mention of growing up, but was intrigued to learn more. Most of you know the name of Haywood County’s famous mountain thanks to the talented author Charles Frazier and his 1997 debut novel, “Cold Mountain”. The story tells of a Civil War soldier named Inman and his tireless odyssey to return home to the woman he loves, Ada. This powerful novel was later made even more famous when it became a major motion picture starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger. While we in Haywood County love that our majestic mountain has this claim to fame, it’s not the first time it has been the center of a tragic tale.
On Friday, September 13, 1946, Cold Mountain became the final resting place of a post WWII B-25 Bomber, whose crash claimed the lives of its five crew members. Oddly enough, no one saw or heard the crash when it happened. It was only found days later after a large group of planes were dispatched to search for the lost plane when it never reached it’s destination. The B-25 was in route from Tampa, Florida to Detroit, Michigan when it apparently crashed near the mountain top because of a miscalculation in altitude due to very foggy, rainy conditions. Five members of the United States Army, including Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith, the temporary commander of the Eighth Air Force, lost their lives upon impact. The other four officers were Lt. Col. F.L Trickey of Tampa; Lt. Col. P.R. Okerbloom of Tampa; MSGT Hosey W. Merrit of Geneva, AL; Staff SGT Hoyt W. Crump of Tampa.
In the weeks, months, and years to come, the wreckage sight was frequented by those intrigued by the crash and in search of souvenirs. Now, 68 years later, the site can barely be identified as the area has become overgrown and most of the wreckage has either been taken or deteriorated. In April 1989, one of the last remaining pieces of wreckage, the B25’s twin engines were actually airlifted from the site and returned to Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan. Their purpose was to serve as memorials to commemorate the late General Wurtsmith, who the base was named after. While most evidence of the crash is no longer visible, you can still find one remaining piece here in Haywood County. The Canton Historical Museum, located on Park St. in downtown Canton, houses the single propeller that was recovered from the Bomber crash and can be viewed by public.
For those that want to explore Cold Mountain and are up for the challenge, you can hike to the summit. The nearly 11 mile round-trip hike is strenuous, with an elevation climb of more than 2,800 feet in a wilderness area with no trail markers. The Cold Mountain summit trail can be accessed via the Art Loeb Trail which can be reached from either Camp Daniel Boone Scout Camp or the Shining Rock Wilderness Area. For those that prefer an easily-accessed scenic overlook of Cold Mountain, one of the best spots to view it is along the Blue Ridge Parkway near mile post 411. This is one of the most popular spots to photograph the majestic mountain.
If you are interested in learning more about Richard Hurley’s songs about Haywood County and Western North Carolina, visit www.richardhurleymusic.com.