The only hermit I’ve ever seen on a regular basis (I know – that’s a contradiction in terms) was a man who lived on Lower Mark Island, off Southport, in Maine. It was the mid-nineteen fifties, I was about ten years old, and my family had rented a home for the summer in Cozy Harbor while they looked for a home to buy.
I spent the summer crabbing and walking through the woods on Pratts Island and collecting shells on the small beach there. But I wasn’t the only one to notice the tall, dark-haired man who wore his hair in a ponytail and who rowed or paddled his skiff into the harbor about once a week. No one I talked to knew his name, or anything about him other than that he’d built a small shed (no water or electricity) on Lower Mark Island, and that he sometimes got mail from Boston at the general store. People called him “Ponytail” or “The Character.” I heard several years later that in the summer of 1964 he’d drowned.
He fascinated me. I was young, and he was by far the most interesting person I’d ever seen. Like everyone else, I wondered what his history was, and what had brought him to Maine, and to his remote shack. Years later, in 2008, I attended a local lecture about him at the Boothbay Harbor YMCA. Someone else had been thinking about him all these years and had investigated.
Hi name was Robert Speed, and he’d had a disrupted childhood, with dramatic financial highs and lows. He’d joined the Army at the end of World War II, worked in a VA psychotherapy ward, and was released in 1947, at one point ending up in a mental institution himself in upstate New York. In 1956 his father died and left him $1500 and he bought Lower Mark Island and a dory. He lived on the island for the last seven years of his life.
He wasn’t the only Maine hermit. More recently, in 2013, a man was found living alone in a tent in woods near Rome, Maine. He’d lived there for twenty-seven years, talking to no one, unknown to everyone, surviving on food and books and batteries for his radio that he’d stolen from summer camps in the area. Dubbed the North Pond Hermit, Christopher Knight is now in the Kennebec County Jail, serving time for the more than 1,000 burglaries he committed to get supplies.
Both men chose to live isolated lives. Neither bothered anyone else (although Knight did steal food and clothing.) They were not fully self-sufficient, but, in today’s world, they came close to that goal.
When I was writing DANGLING BY A THREAD, the fourth in my Mainely Needlepoint series, I thought of both of these men, and created Jesse Lockhart, known in Haven Harbor as The Solitary. Jesse lives alone on Kings Island. I gave Jesse a purpose – something Robert Speed and Christopher Knight might have had, but, like other details of their lives, kept to themselves.
And I gave Jesse a friend – Dave Percy, the ex-Navy veteran who now teaches biology at Haven Harbor High and has a poison garden. Dave’s one of the Mainely Needlepointers, and he introduces Jesse to Angie Curtis, the protagonist of my series … and then, of course, the mystery begins.
To find out more you can read a free prequel to DANGLING BY A THREAD linked to my website, http://www.leawait.com.
And, of course, soon you can read Jesse’s story, in DANGLING BY A THREAD.