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The Hermit's Guide to Spirituality

When Robert Harrill was very young, his mother and two brothers died from an outbreak of typhoid fever, and his grandfather was trampled to death by a runaway mule. His father remarried to a woman, Robert said, was "...the tyrant in my family." He was often picked on and abused not only by neighbors and fellow schoolmates, but by members of his own family. He ran away from the torment by laying in quite solitude by the creeks and streams nearby, becoming one with Nature.

Throughout most of his life, Robert was tormented by "...voices in my head, telling me how bad I was." He eventually met a man who helped to change the destructive attitudes of self-doubt and guilt-Dr. William Marcus Taylor, the president of the Taylor School of Bio-Psychology. Robert met Dr. Taylor in Spruce Pine, NC, while he was on a speaking tour. He gave Robert a renewed purpose in life by enrolling him in his correspondence degree program. The studies were firmly entrenched in the belief that the body and the mind were inseparable and interacted with each other for optimum health and happiness. Dr. Taylor insisted through the years that Robert had the power in himself to accomplish any goal that he would set his mind to, and that virtually no thing or no one could stand in his way. Dr. Taylor suggested he remove himself from all the negatives in his life, including friends and family, and start over.

In the summer of 1955, at age 62, Robert finally took the advice. He packed his brown-leather suitcase, stuck out his thumb, and headed to Fort Fisher, NC. Upon arriving, he immediately ran into trouble with the local authorities, who charged him with vagrancy. The Sheriff later "assisted" him back to Shelby. However, the following summer, he returned with even greater determination. He located a deserted WWII bunker in the saltmarsh, midway between the pounding surf of the Atlantic and the mighty Cape Fear River, and moved in.

With the help of a few friends, including another individual who had chosen to leave society Empie, "the wild man"-he learned to live off the land and become one with Nature. Robert and Empie would sit by the comfort of a blazing fire on cold nights and make jokes about the crumbling world around them, while enjoying their own little world of contentment, serenity, and truth. Although they had few material possessions, they had more than they needed, including an abundance of four-legged friends.

Robert planted a thriving garden in the sandy soil to supplement a diet of fresh seafood and natural vegetation. Within a few years, Robert became known by thousands who visited the area as "the Fort Fisher Hermit." When Robert was questioned about his goals by reporters and visitors, he often said that one was to write a book called A Tyrant in Every Home to tell the truth about the tyrants in families and the ability of this dysfunction to be carried on through offspring, generation after generation.

Through the years, people from all over the world came to visit Robert from all 50 states and over 20 foreign countries. By the mid-60s, his "guest register" recorded over 17,000 guests a year. Not bad for a "hermit!"

Robert continued to spread his thoughts and beliefs from the shade of oak trees near the bunker as his audience sat on wooden crates, rocks, or the sand at his feet, while the rest of the world whirled around him. He taught about the evils of society, the greedy politicians, the hoodlums, the crooked law enforcement, and people jammed his sandy road to hear him. When asked why he attracted so many people, he said simply, "Everyone has the desire from time to time to be a 'hermit' to be alone, to relax and perhaps converse with their maker. It's much easier to wish yourself a hermit than to be one... I represented the hermit in them- that's why I'm so successful."

He had found his meaning and purpose in life. He had found his spirituality, his inner strength, his independence, and his freedom. He had learned the rhythm of Nature. As Robert put it, "My life here goes up and down like the tides of this old sea out here...only Nature determines my existence."

I still gain inspiration from visiting his home on the marsh. It still stands, defying all forces of man and nature. The Hermit's life at the bunker represents, to me, the ultimate test of human strength and determination. He gave his life in his search, but in the end he was a success not only in his own mind, but in the minds of thousands who knew him and others who have learned of him since his passing.

On what would have been Robert Harrill's 100th birthday, both the towns of Kure Beach and Carolina Beach proclaimed February 2, 1993, Robert E. Harrill Day for his many contributions to the tourism industry-he had become the largest attraction in the area.

Michael Edwards knew the hermit for many years, and in 1993 was elected president of The Hermit Society. At age 54, Michael completed his MA in Health Education and has just completed his 4th book about Robert Harrill, The Last Battle For Independence: The Story of The Fort Fisher Hermit.

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