Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fort Fisher and the Hermit’s Bunker

Posted by Stu On May - 3 - 2012

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Fort Fisher photos from May 2010
Hermit Bunker & Grave photos from May 2011

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This wound up being a 2 part trip.  My wife and I have been vacationing in southern North Carolina for a few years.  While looking up things to do, both traditional and nontraditional (you can only go to Myrtle Beach so many times), I found something about Fort Fisher, which saw some combat during the Civil War.  This was somewhat intriguing, but what was even more interesting was something being mentioned about a hermit living in a World War II-era bunker near the fort.  So off we went.

The fort has a small but informative museum regarding Fort Fisher’s history and involvement with the Civil War and World War II.  We walked around the fort grounds for a bit.  There wasn’t all that much – a few cannons and some mounds.  No signs indicated anything about a WWII bunker or a hermit.  After going to the nearby state aquarium (that had an albino alligator), we resumed our search for the elusive bunker but came up empty.  Running out of daylight, we decided to do some more research and try again next year.

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The following year, we were much better prepared.  With coordinates and geocaching hints, we had a much better idea of where we were going.  We parked near the beach access and walked down the beach.  Eventually, a boardwalk led the way.

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As we progressed, the flies became more unbearable.  Finally, we reached the bunker, which was much smaller than I expected, and not necessarily what I think of when I hear the word “bunker.”  By this point, the flies had left, but immediately upon arriving at the bunker site, we were attacked by the largest, most persistent swarm of mosquitoes I have ever encountered.  Seriously.  Just in the area in front of the bunker.  How does that work?

I quickly snapped pictures of the outside of the bunker, the inside, a plaque on it, and a sign to the sign which I’m guessing highlighted the life of Robert E. Harrill, the Fort Fisher Hermit.  I’m not really sure, to be honest, because I didn’t get to read it.  I took my 4 pics and hauled out of there.  We must have killed a hundred mosquitoes each.  Our arms were literally covered in them.  Interestingly, just a few yards away from the hermit’s homestead, the mosquitoes stopped following us.

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Robert Harrill lived in this tiny building for nearly 15 years; all it took for me was about 30 seconds to decide to vacate.  Considered somewhat of a philosopher, he received many visitors during his time as a hermit.

We learned Harrill’s grave was found a few miles from Fort Fisher (he was found dead in his bunker in 1972).

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I found it interesting that Fort Fisher’s official website mentions nothing of its hermit.  Little indication is given as to where exactly the bunker is, and it seems a private group provided the signage and plaques in his honor.  Robert’s story, and his final dwelling, are fairly elusive to the casual tourist.

Perhaps that’s the way he would want it to be.

Popularity: 16% [?]

Grave of Beth Doe

Posted by Stu On August - 12 - 2010

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Who is Beth Doe?  This question has remained unanswered since December of 1976, when a woman’s body, cut up and stuffed into 3 suitcases, was tossed from a bridge along Route 80 near White Haven.  There was no identification on her.  There were no leads.  Nobody ever reported anyone as missing.  She was labeled as Beth Doe, and she and her baby (she was pregnant at the time of her murder) were buried in a potter’s field in Weatherly.

To this day, nobody has any idea who she was.  In 2007, Doe’s body was exhumed to see if modern technology could help identify her.  A few possible leads arose, but her identity remains a mystery.

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Directly behind Beth is a Baby Jane Doe:

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Popularity: 15% [?]

Block Island Indian Cemetery

Posted by Stu On February - 1 - 2010

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I read about this cemetery after my first trip to Block Island and decided to look for it on my second trip.  I had never been to an “Indian” cemetery before and was curious to see one.  This graveyard was used by the Manisee tribe who originally inhabited the island.  Upon the introduction of white settlers, it was also used to inter slaves.  The natives’ graves are simply marked with rocks, although there are a few more recent headstones to be found as well.

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Popularity: 21% [?]

Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery

Posted by Stu On December - 29 - 2009

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Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery is the oldest in the US that’s run by an animal welfare group.  We originally came here because we read about a few celebrities’ pets being interred here, but it’s an impressive place so we stayed a while.  Some sections are especially old and showing their age.

There were 2 particular graves that we came here for, and all I had to do was turn around to find the first one:

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Igloo was Admiral Richard Byrd’s terrier and was there on his expedition to the South Pole, hence the iceberg-shaped stone.

On the way down the path to try and find our second goal, we sidetracked quite a bit and just walked around.

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After a while, we came across our next objective – Lizzie Borden’s dogs are buried here as well.

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We poked around a bit more, then headed for Rhode Island.

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Popularity: 17% [?]

Rausch Gap

Posted by Stu On July - 10 - 2009

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Hidden in between Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation and Swatara State Park in northern Lebanon County are the ruins of the town of Rausch Gap, once a mining and railroad town.  The basics are up on that sign right there, so I’m not going to reiterate all of them.  Basically, the area’s coal mines went dry quickly.  Soon after, the railroad company moved all its employees and operations to larger and busier towns along the tracks, leaving virtually no employment in the area.  Throw in the fact that Rausch is smack in the middle of an area known as Saint Anthony’s Wilderness (it’s still almost wilderness today), and you have the recipe for a ghost town.

Rausch Gap can only be accessed by a hiking/biking trail that runs partially along the Appalachian Trail.  One end is shorter but is much more brutal on cars to reach its parking area.  The other end, the one I ended up using, has much more accessible parking but requires a 3.5 mile hike to get to the town.  This is, to date, the farthest I’ve hiked to reach a site and easily crushes my previous record of 1.5 miles to reach Dana, MA.

On the trail to the town are several random mile markers spray painted onto trees:

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Also along the trail are concrete markers.  I’d find out later on that the trail leading to town was once the very railroad track that gave life to the towns of the “Wilderness,” and these concrete things actually held spare pieces of track in case the rail line ever needed repairs.

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After a long and seemingly perpetual 3 1/2 mile hike, you come across a bridge and a sign.  One side of the sign is the info pictured above.  The other is a map:

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Let’s back up a bit.  Just before coming up to this sign…if we go about 300 feet off the right side of the trail, we come across some of the town’s ruins, including a well.

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OK, back up at the bridge, there’s a small trail that goes off to the left just before crossing it.  Taking this down about 1/3 of a mile leads to a tiny cemetery with only 3 headstones.  There is a 4th stone but nobody’s really sure if it’s a badly weathered headstone or just a rock.

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I didn’t have much daylight left and still had to hike another 3 1/2 miles back out, so I quickly explored the other side of the bridge.  I found the remains of an old stone bridge.

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That was about all I had time to find.  I had about an hour to get back out to the road.

Popularity: 44% [?]

Vanderslice Cemetery

Posted by Stu On February - 9 - 2009

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We found this on our way to the ghost town of Celestia. At first glance, this looks like a small cemetery next to a ravine and with only a handful of graves. Truth is, in 1906 the middle of the cemetery was washed away in a flood. There is a whole other area to it; you just have to cross the ditch. It’s not very deep but it is somewhat of a steep climb to the other side.
The graveyard is no longer in use, and if it weren’t for the sign along the road, I doubt anyone would even know it’s there.

Popularity: 7% [?]

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