Oak Island Lighthouse

Currently, there are seven coastal lighthouses in North Carolina. So far, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting three: Cape Lookout, the Oak Island Lighthouse and Old Baldy. I hope to visit them all.

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I traveled to the Oak Island Lighthouse a few weeks ago. It was a Sunday afternoon, I wanted to get out the house, and I remembered that I’d been planning to visit the lighthouse, which was a little less than an hour’s drive from my home, for quite a while. As I drove through the rural route that would take me to the lighthouse, I remember thinking, I would never live out here, because there didn’t appear to be much to do. I would see things a little differently once I reached my destination.

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The light from the lighthouse, located on Caswell Beach Rd on Oak Island, can be seen for 16 miles. It’s rather exciting to see it flashing in the distance as you approach the beach. The lighthouse was built in 1957 to replace a steel lighthouse on Bald Head Island (Bald Head and Oak Island are very close to one another) and when it was first lit in 1958, carbon-arc mercury lamps, which were used prior to incandescent lights, provided so much light that it was the brightest in the United States and the second brightest in the world. The light is currently powered by a 1,000 watt halogen bulb and displays 4 one second flashes then 6 seconds of blank. It stands 153 feet tall and has 131 steps that can be climbed to reach an outside balcony, although you must schedule a time to climb the lighthouse. It is not open during any set hours.

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It is very easy to access because it sits just by the road. There is a tiny parking lot directly in front of the lighthouse with free parking for 30 minutes. I saw another public access parking lot just down the road. Across the street is a walkway onto Caswell Beach. After I poked around the lighthouse, I crossed the street to check out the beach. It was super quiet compared to the beaches where I live, and I saw several pelicans flying so close to the shore that I could actually make out their little pelican faces. I glanced behind me to see the flashes from the lighthouse, and it occurred to me how fortunate the locals are to live so close to such a quiet beach adorned with their own personal lighthouse. Ok, I thought, maybe I would live here.

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The Fort Fisher Hermit

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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For more information on Robert check out the following links to the book and film which are the sources for my blog:

 

The Reluctant Hermit 

 

THE FORT FISHER HERMIT | FilmBuff

 

Meandering along the Basin Trail

In case you haven’t noticed, I quite enjoy walks and hikes. My latest excursion, last weekend, was The Basin Trail at Fort Fisher. The Basin Trail (difficulty: easy) is 1.10 miles one way-so a little over 2 miles there and back.  It begins at the Fort Fisher Visitor Center and winds along the sound side of Fort Fisher across straw, wooded walkways and sand. It travels down a path surrounded by trees, shrubbery, the marsh, a World War II bunker and it ends at an observation deck overlooking the Basin.

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Along the way, you can expect to see Spartina salt marsh, hermit crabs and an assortment of seabirds, including but not limited to, plovers and oystercatchers. There is also an abundance of fish, shrimp, clams and oysters. Depending on the time of year, you may also see loggerhead turtles, hawks, ducks and many more species.

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You will pass a WWII bunker that was originally built by the Army Service Forces in 1942 when Fort Fisher was part of a training and support facility for Camp Davis, located in Holly Ridge. Fort Fisher closed as a training facility in 1944 and the bunker was abandoned; but from 1956-1972, Robert Harrill, a hermit who lived on the salt marsh, found and occupied the bunker. Mr. Harrill fascinates me and I intend to talk about him further in a separate post. 

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Once you reach the observation deck, you will see Zeke’s Island across the water. You may also see Brown pelicans fishing, kayakers or even an occasional wind skier.  

After you walk the trail, you can do like I did and enjoy the beach. The parking at the visitor center is free and provides access to the beach. The visitor center also provides restrooms, tables and an area to rinse off when you exit the beach.

Not a bad afternoon for free fun.

Brookgreen Gardens

A few days ago, I wrote my Haiku of the Spectacular Pig whom I met recently when I visited Brookgreen Gardens. I actually saw several beautiful sculptures that day and thought I would share a few more with you.

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Brookgreen Gardens was founded in Myrtle Beach, SC in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Their intent was to display American sculpture, develop gardens using plants from the South Carolina Low Country, and educate others about art, conservation and the history of the region.

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Archer Huntington wrote that Brookgreen was “a quiet joining of hand between science and art”.  Today, among other things, it contains several plant and sculpture gardens, a zoo that houses animals which are native to the region and an old rice plantation. Brookgreen offers exhibits, classes, pontoon rides, nature excursions and much more.

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I spent several hours at Brookgreen and only saw a small portion of what it has to offer. My first trip focused mostly on the sculpture gardens. I have yet to see the zoo or experience the excursions. 

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But Brookgreen is not a place that you want to rush. I enjoyed savoring the trip. I will go back later to see more. 

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On a practical note, Brookgreen contains two restaurants which are affordably priced so you can stay all day. And if that isn’t long enough, tickets, which are $16 for adults, are good for seven days so you can go back later if you are still in the area!