I, like many people in and out of Maine, have been struck by the story of the North Pond Hermit. If you don’t know who or what that is, there are at least a dozen news articles, columns, blog posts and even a song posted on the BDN website right now (and elsewhere) that can tell you much about him – how he squatted on someone else’s land undetected for 27 years and then finally was caught by police after (allegedly) committing possibly more than 1,000 burglaries of neighboring properties. Police say he told them he stole only what he needed to survive.
The story has attracted national and international attention, for obvious reasons. It’s just plain weird. Really weird. People don’t do things like that and, if they try to, 999 times out of 1,000 they will give up or get caught long before 27 cold Maine winters come and go. And hermits of such longevity are unusual enough without them (allegedly) committing more than 1,000 burglaries. I’ve been reading and writing about crimes in Maine for 15 years, and I’ve never seen an estimate that high for just one burglar. I am sure I never will again.
As much as I or anyone likes stories about flamboyant, notorious or even dumb criminals, real or imagined, the most interesting thing about the North Pond Hermit case is the reactions it has elicited from people. Comments I’ve seen or heard range from ‘he must be mentally ill’ to ‘he’s my freaking hero!’ to ‘he’s a lowlife thieving scum.’ It runs the gamut. Debates have raged on social media and in online comments sections throughout the country and overseas.
Feedback on media coverage of the case also runs to the extremes, from people who say they can’t get enough – be it articles, songs or parody Twitter or Facebook accounts – to others who say the hermit is getting too much ink and is being inappropriately glorified. As much as I’ve been fascinated, I (for what it’s worth) think he should be tried for his alleged crimes and, if found guilty, should serve an appropriate punishment. But God only knows how his life will change yet again come the day he is let out of jail.
I do think he has been glorified by some for what they interpret as some sort of anti-establishment protest against modern society, but I haven’t seen any media coverage that suggests he was justified in (allegedly) trespassing and stealing. The song written by my colleague Troy Bennett, in my opinion, is simply an acknowledgement of the folkloric proportions the hermit’s story has attained around the world. People frequently write and sing songs about things they don’t endorse (Mack the Knife, anyone?), and the practice of journalism through storytelling or song has been around longer than any newspaper I can think of.
So, while there’s still a lot about him that we don’t know, such as why he did it (he’s not giving jailhouse interviews to the media, just maybe, BECAUSE HE’S A HERMIT), I have learned a lot about other people from their reactions to his story. Isn’t it odd that a guy who went without looking at himself in a mirror for 27 years and just wanted to get away from everybody could end up being so effective at holding up a mirror to the society he left behind?