New Appalachian Moments Blog Post!
By Scott Ballard
What do the US Senate, movie star Jean Harlow, a bull walrus and the Hope Diamond all have in common: A connection to Robert Rice Reynolds…it didn’t matter that he claimed no kinship to the Reynolds tobacco fortune…because he made his own way as Buncombe Bob…
Born in Buncombe County, NC in 1884…he got his law degree and soon began seeking public office. After a failed bid for both lieutenant governor and the US Senate he tried again in 1932 as the down-home populist “Our Bob” running and winning against the entrenched Washington Elite…
In a time when the South had some of the most splashy and bombastic politicians, few of them exceeded Buncombe Bob. He was married five times, fathered four children, kissed movie star Jean Harlow on the Capitol Steps and is the only US Senator on record to have shot an enraged bull walrus at 20 feet.
I’m sure all of his wives were lovely, but he’s most remembered for his fifth and final wife. When he was 57 years old he married 19 year old socialite Evalyn McLean, who was the heiress to the Hope Diamond…yes, THAT Hope diamond…the one once owned by King Louis the 16th and worn by Marie “Let them eat cake” Antoinette.
The legend of the Hope Diamond curse was well entrenched before tragedy touched Bob. His young wife, 38 years his junior, died of an overdose of sleeping pills, leaving Bob, then at age 61 with a 4-year old daughter to raise.
Outside of The Curse, Bob ultimately found himself on the wrong side of history as well. Infamously, he thought we should negotiate with Hitler and Mussolini, claiming it would be foolish to oppose them, and he’s on record praising the effectiveness of their fascist regimes.
We are not going to be apologists for Buncombe Bob, but hindsight is 20/20…and Reynolds wasn’t alone in his thinking in our country at that time in history.
Bob was soon replaced in the Senate by a fellow Democrat and he spent his remaining years with his young daughter traveling the world.
His home, Reynolds Mansion, is now an award-winning bed and breakfast in Asheville…the 112 karat Hope Diamond, well, it’s on display at the Smithsonian!