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
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.