Samuel Alonzo McCanless Wins a Marble Angel from W.O. Wolfe in a Poker Game

Last week’s post on Asheville photographer James M. McCanless made mention of James’s brother, Samuel Alonzo McCanless, winning a marble angel from William O. Wolfe in a poker game. That’s a story unto itself.

Samuel, also a photographer, was born in 1859 in McDowell County and died March 6, 1923. The two brothers are listed together in the 1890 Asheville City Directory as McCanless & Brother. They worked separately in following years, with Samuel using the business name “Asheville Photo Studio” and “Asheville Photo Co.” Samuel is not listed in the city directories after 1901. His wife, Hattie Dalton McCanless, died of a ruptured appendix on November 7, 1901. Apparently, Samuel had recently won the statue and he placed it on Hattie’s grave and then headed out west. He returned to Western North Carolina a few years later and married Hattie’s sister, Geneva, and lived in Old Fort, again having a photo gallery there. The photograph below is one of Samuel McCandless’s portraits showing his business signatory while in Asheville.

Professional portrait of a girl about 4 years old in a lacy white dress standing beside an ornate wicker chair or couch. Her long hair is in pony tails tied with bows. 4 X 2/3/4 print glued to 6 X 4 1/4 dark gray cardboard. Photographer’s identification printed in drop-out letters on an ornate silver ribbon at bottom of the card: “Asheville Photo Studio Asheville, N. C.” with a monogram in the center. The monogram has the overlapping letters “S. A. MC” for Samuel Alonzo McCanless.

The story of the marble statue being won in a poker game was told by newspaper columnist Bob Terrell in the Asheville Citizen September 2, 1984 in a story titled, “‘I Never Told This Story Before.'” Geneva McCanless’s niece Daintry Graham told the story. Daintry had gone over to her Aunt Geneva’s house and found her aunt accusing her husband Samuel of not loving her as much as he did his first wife Hattie. “You wouldn’t buy me a good looking tombstone like you did her.” Samuel finally set the story straight. “I didn’t buy that tombstone,” he said. “I won it in a poker game.” He then added, “I used to gamble with Old Man Wolfe.” It was known that W.O. Wolfe, father of the novelist Thomas Clayton Wolfe, did not carve statues, other than their bases. Wolfe purchased them from importers who got them from Carrara, Italy. Daintry Graham Allison of Fairview had never told the story because she was ashamed of it — that her Uncle Mac won Aunt Hattie’s tombstone in a poker game! This is Hattie’s tombstone where she rests in the Old Fort Cemetery.

Marker over the grave of Hattie McCanless, wife of Asheville photographer S. Alonzo McCanless, (12/25/1873-11/7/1901), “Her spirit smiles from that bright shore and softly whispers. Weep no more.” Old Fort, McDowell County.

Samuel was buried a little below Hattie’s marker, and Geneva was buried a little below him, both in unmarked graves.



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