Life & Times of the Fort Fisher Hermit
– through the lens of Fred Pickler
What causes a 62 year-old man to travel from his lifelong home in the mountains to the coast of North Carolina and spend the remainder of his life without the responsibility of a house, a job, or any other physical means of support, and in the process becomes the second largest tourist attraction in North Carolina” of the late 1960’s?
Robert E. Harrill, who became known as the ‘Fort Fisher Hermit’, lived for 17 years under the stars, living off the land and the contributions of visitors who came by the thousands every year to meet “The Hermit.” A misnomer from almost the beginning, “The Hermit” treated anyone who came by with a warmth and friendly appreciation that was contagious. Many people came year after year to sit and listen to Mr. Harrill’s philosophies at “The School of Common Sense.” He was a man who had finally come home.
Robert Harrill became the second greatest tourist attraction in the state of North Carolina, trailing only the USS North Carolina in number of visitors. Visitors to Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Fort Fisher and Southport would routinely take time to visit the man living in the salt marshes.
His first 62 years were a completely different story, though. Growing up with a tyrant father and an overly strict stepmother, Robert lived in an abusive home. Later moving in with relatives, he often found peace in the woods and streams around his home. His adult life was spent chasing one failed business idea after another. He was even committed to an asylum for a time until his escape. Disappointing career choices a disintegrating marriage and the suicide of his oldest son, led Robert to look for a simpler life on the beaches of Carolina Beach. Life wasn’t so ideal, and in the end, the questions surrounding his death created an even more compelling story.
Hardcover: 123 pages
Publisher: Jostens Commercial Printing (2008)