The Quick 10: 10 Hermits

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Don't you ever have days where you'd just like to chuck it all and go live in a hut in Hawaii or something? I know lots of hermits end up in the mountains, but that's not for me. If I'm going to live off the land with absolutely no possessions, I at least want to be somewhere enjoyable. Here are 10 people who actually followed through on that urge - I tried to avoid hermits of the spiritual kind because there are a ton of them.

harrill1. Robert Harrill was just the average down-on-his luck guy "“ he had some crappy jobs and a failed marriage. But unlike most people, he decided to scrap society and go live in the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area in North Carolina at the age of 62. He lived off of oysters and planted a vegetable garden; his home was an abandoned WWII bunker. But he didn't avoid people the way most hermits do: he had tons of visitors and even a guestbook for them to sign. He was arrested as a vagrant several times, but was able to successfully defend himself in court nearly 100% of the time. Eventually, they just gave up trying to prosecute him. Sadly, he was discovered dead in 1972, his body bloody and covered in wounds. The official cause of death was listed as a heart attack, but most people think he was intentionally beaten to death by a group of men.

2. Noah John Rondeau was famous as the hermit of the Adirondack Mountains. Prior to hermithood, Rondeau was a guide in the western Adirondack High Peaks, which served him well when he retreated from society. He started living alone in the Cold River area in 1929 and was so reclusive that he even coded all of his journals with ciphers. The Conversation Department kicked him out in 1950, at which time 67-year-old Noah John started working as Santa Claus in Wilmington, N.Y. This didn't really create enough of an income for him to live off of, though, and he eventually went on welfare. Although he died in 1967, his ciphers weren't cracked until 1992.

penn3. William Wilson, AKA the Pennsylvania Hermit, is a tragic tale. In 1784, his sister, Elizabeth (sometimes called Harriot), gave birth to twin boys out of wedlock. In October of the same year, she disappeared for a few days to supposedly meet with the boys' father, but when she returned, the babies were gone. Their bodies were found in the nearby woods, and of course, the guilty finger was pointed at Elizabeth. She was found guilty of the horrendous offense a year later and was sentenced to death. William had been working out of town and didn't find out about his sister's problem until a couple of months after the sentencing, where he was able to extract the truth from her "“ the boys' father met her in the woods and killed the babies, then told Elizabeth to keep quiet about the whole thing. William immediately started procedures to have Elizabeth declared innocent but had to ride around from town to town finding witnesses and talking to judges and things like that. The story goes that he rode back into town yelling "A pardon! A pardon" just after Elizabeth had been hanged. His horse freaked out when it saw Elizabeth's swaying body and bucked him off; he landed facedown in the mud underneath her body. When he came back up, his hair had turned white and he was babbling gibberish. I'm sure these dramatics have been added after the fact, but there is definitely some historical fact in there. William withdrew from society several months after that and lived in a cave in Welsh Mountain. He died on October 13, 1821, with the Harrisburg Intelligencer reporting his strange behavior after his sister's death.

4. Willard Kitchener MacDonald was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, but hid in a shack near Gully Lake in Canada for more than 60 years. His reasoning? He wanted to avoid fighting in WWII. His records are a little sketchy, as you imagine a hermit's might be, but it's believed that he took up residence in the shack sometime between 1944 and 1950. He lived there alone until 2002, when his hut perished in a forest fire, taking his few possessions with it. The County then built him a little cabin, but in 2003, when some people tried to make him seek medical help, he fled back into woods. His dead body was found on June 27, 2004.

lucas5. James Lucas was known as the Hermit of Hertfordshire, which I think has a great ring to it. He kind of sounds like the Howard Hughes of Victorian England "“ he had an education, he studied medicine and was very social and pleasant to be around. But all of this changed when his mother died. He had always been known as a bit eccentric, but her death brought it out a thousandfold. He didn't allow her to be buried for three months, was terrified of all of his living relatives and locked himself in his mansion. He slept in the kitchen on a bed of ashes and stopped wearing clothes, save for a blanket that he sometimes wrapped around himself when he needed to appear at his window. He was rich enough to hire two armed guards to stop people from intruding upon him, but he did enjoy visitors from time to time "“ Charles Dickens among them. He died in 1874 and a large sum of money was found hoarded in his living room.

cave6. Valerio Ricetti lived a hermit life in New South Wales, Australia, like it was a fairytale "“ he turned a cave into an amazing dwelling that included a chapel, landscaping, terraced gardens and stairs. He lived in his little utopia for at least six years, until he fell and broke a leg. A passerby found him and took him to the hospital, which is how his hermitage was discovered "“ he had to give an "address" and his amazing work was discovered. He was unable to pay the doctor but instead sneaked into town and worked on his garden at night when no one would notice him. He and the doctor became good friends and he eventually became more sociable, even working for a while. Government officials deemed him harmless (and highly skilled in stonework), but he definitely had some mental problems "“ he had to quit his job because there was apparently a man and a woman in the sky who told him that his work in the cave wasn't finished. He ended up taking the money he had earned at his job to go visit his brother in Italy but never came back to his cave Deemed "Hermit Cave," the humble abode now has a place on the New South Wales State Heritage Register.

7. Manfred Gnädinger was a hermit who lived in the village of Camelle south of Germany. No one in the village knew where he had been beforehand, but he arrived wearing nice clothes and appeared to be well-educated. The story is that when a teacher in town rejected him, he built himself a little hut on the beach and lived there for the next 40 years. He wore only a loincloth and was a vegetarian who only ate what he grew. When the Prestige oil tanker sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 2002, it claimed Man (as he was known) as one of its victims along with a plethora of natural wildlife. OK, it's not like he drowned in oil or anything like that, but it's locally believed that Man was so devastated by the destruction to his natural habitat and the environment that he died. And it's true, he was found dead in his hut just a month after the oil spill.

8. Despina Achladioti was a Greek woman born on the island of Kastellorizo in 1890. Just before the start of WWII she said to the deserted island of Rho with her husband and her mom. The three of them lived off of goats, chickens and a garden for a couple of years, but after just two years on the island both her mother and husband died. Despina stayed on the island, though, and made it her mission to fly the Greek flag every single day. When she died in 1982, the Greek military rewarded her with a burial on the island with full military honors.

ted9. Ted Kaczynski, AKA the Unabomber, lived alone in a cabin with no electricity or water in Lincoln, Montana, for a good 25 years before he was arrested for all of the bombings he perpetrated. When he was captured and later asked about how he felt about being in prison, he said,
"What worries me is that I might in a sense adapt to this environment and come to be comfortable here and not resent it anymore. And I am afraid that as the years go by that I may forget, I may begin to lose my memories of the mountains and the woods and that's what really worries me, that I might lose those memories, and lose that sense of contact with wild nature in general. But I am not afraid they are going to break my spirit."

10. Herman's Hermits. Sorry, I couldn't resist. "Herman" is actually Peter Noone, but he became known as Herman after a pub owner told Noone that he looked like boy Sherman from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Noone misheard and thought he said "Herman." "Hermits" was chosen simply for the alliteration.

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April 3, 2009 - 11:37am
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