“Hermits are hermits at home before they hit the jungles. Everybody ought to be a hermit for a few minutes or so every twenty-four hours, to study, meditate and commune with their creator.” Robert E. Harrill (1893-1972)
Robert Harrill had some difficulties in life. He was born on February 2, 1893. His mother died of typhoid fever when he was 7-years-old and he was sent to live with his authoritarian grandfather and an abusive step-grandmother. As a child he learned to find solace in the woods, hiding among the trees and playing in the creeks, to escape his family.
Originally, he wanted to be a Baptist minister. He didn’t have financial support from his family, though, so he worked on farms until he earned enough money to attend the Boiling Springs Baptist Boarding School. While in school, he acquired a “printing outfit” and worked for local newspapers as an apprentice. This lead to a newspaper career that lasted until he was 40-years-old when, according to The Reluctant Hermit of Fort Fisher, he began to have health problems from lead poisoning. After that, he worked an assortment of jobs in an effort to support his family. He and his wife, Katie, had five children total but lost two children, an infant daughter and a son, Alvin, who committed suicide as a young man.
Robert battled what he called demons in his head for many years. On one occasion, his wife’s family had him committed to Broughton Mental Hospital in western NC, but the stay was brief and he left on his own. All of these factors produced stress on his marriage and eventually Katie left to accept a job as a housekeeper in Pennsylvania. She took the children.
At the age of 62, Robert hitchhiked to Fort Fisher, NC where he set up residence in an abandoned WWII bunker and eventually became the Fort Fisher Hermit. Robert was a curious “hermit”, though. Initially, he retreated to the marshes of Fort Fisher to escape the demands of the modern world and even judgement from other people, but he was a likeable man, well-spoken and described as a “gentle” spirit, and people were drawn to him. Whenever someone crossed his path in the marsh, he generally welcomed the company and before long, he was receiving many visitors. During his stay at the bunker, he received about 100,000 visitors and eventually he became the second largest tourist attraction in North Carolina behind the USS Battleship North Carolina. Had he been a blogger, I think he would have had a heck of a following.
Unfortunately, not all of his visitors came with the best of intentions. He was beat up and robbed on several occasions and on June 3, 1972, he died under suspicious circumstances. The only consolation those close to him could take from his death was that he died on his own terms and he died free.
“Millions of people, at some time or another, want to do just what I am doing, but since it is so much easier thought than done, they subconsciously elect me to represent them.”
For more information on Robert check out the following links to the book and film which are the sources for my blog: