Mt. Mitchell is the highest mountain in the east so it naturally became a travel destination for my daughter and me on her recent visit. Mt. Mitchell is so named in honor of Rev. Elisha Mitchell, a Presbyterian minister and professor of math and natural philosophy at the University of North Carolina. Elisha Mitchell measured the mountain in 1835.
Mt. Mitchell State Park became North Carolina's very first state park in 1915. I remember visits to the summit during my childhood, including the more primitive path and the steps up to the top of the tower. A new observation tower was completed in 2009 along with a wide paved path that allowed handicapped access to the summit.
A view of the observation tower from the path below.
The weather was ever changing and by the time we reached the top the clouds were beginning to encircle the summit.
This is the tomb of Elisha Mitchell. The cloud cover obscured the mountain views.
The marker noting the elevation of 6, 684 feet.
The clouds moved briskly and we got one decent shot of the mountains from the summit.
This is the road below with a cloud band sweeping past us. Soon we were in the midst of the cloud.
As you can see, the tomb is situated near the observation tower. It was not moved or disturbed during the construction of the new tower.
The wide ramp allows handicapped access to the top.
Controversy about the mountain's elevation began almost immediately after Mitchell first measured it. Senator Thomas Clingman challenged Mitchell's measurements and insisted that he (Clingman) had measured another mountain that was taller. Several years of loud public arguments followed. Admitting the possibility that his measurements could be inaccurate Elisha Mitchell took his son and others on a return trip in 1857. With better instruments he planned to measure the mountain height again.
The group gathered on the mountain and on June 27, 1857, Mitchell left the camp alone to visit the men who had served as his guides on his first trip. A search party was organized when he failed to return to camp.
Eleven days later a searcher found Mitchell's hat. The searchers saw Mitchell's footprints and followed them. Apparently he had tried to walk around a waterfall. Moss was torn up at the area where he slipped and fell into the water. His body lay in the crystal clear water in the basin of the falls. He was found lying face up with outstretched arms. The waterfall is now known as Mitchell Falls.
Elisha Mitchell was buried in nearby Asheville, NC. The following year his body was moved and re-buried in a tomb on the mountain's summit where it lies today.
In 1882 the US Geological Survey upheld Mitchell's original measurements and officially named the mountain Mt. Mitchell, declaring it to be the highest peak east of the Mississippi.
General Zebulon Vance (1830-1894) wrote a poem about Mitchell which says, in part:
On the highest peak of a mighty chain
Of hill and mountain fastness,
Where Nature doth per primal rule maintain
Amid their solemn vastness,
There's a lonely grave that the mountain gave
Which the sorrowing moonbeams gently lave.
Whenever we go to Mt. Mitchell I always take a minute to pause at the tomb. Few people give it more than a cursory glance and perhaps a photograph. I stand there and wonder about the brave man, his life and his death. While I have never seen the moonbeams gently lave, the clouds flowing past did indeed seem to refresh and soothe Mitchell's tomb. And me.