The North Pond Hermit
One week after the capture of the North Pond Hermit, a group went to his camp in search of answers.
Christopher Knight ran into the woods of Rome, Maine, in 1986, set up camp, and didn't leave for twenty-seven years. He had only one brief interaction with another human during that time and committed more than 1,000 burglaries in order to feed and clothe himself. He was finally caught on April 4 stealing from Pine Tree Camp.
The CNN reporters who flew up from New York City tapped furiously on their iPhones, easily ignoring the spread of homemade cookies baked by Pine Tree Camp facilities manager Harvey Chesley. Camera crews from Bangor chatted in the corner of the camp’s mess hall, while members of the North Pond Association (NPA) eagerly awaited instruction. Maine State Police gathered in the industrial kitchen — the site of the big arrest — strategizing. While Christopher Knight, aka the “North Pond Hermit” sat in jail, the police prepared to dismantle his camp of twenty-seven years, but not before giving the group assembled a look around.
“Do you think he’s telling the truth?” one reporter asked Chesley, questioning whether Knight could really have lived in the woods since 1986 with no human contact (aside from a conversation with one hiker in the ‘90s), and no hunting or fishing skills. Chesley, the man who spent the better part of two decades trying to find him, was sure of it. His gut told him so. “Once I saw the camp, I knew. He’s been there the whole time.” With Knight ignoring reporters, the campsite held out the best hope for insight: Would it be organized, methodical, and ingenious — a survivalist’s Pee-Wee’s Playhouse? Or would it be chaotic and ridden with trash — suggesting a darker story?
The police led the group for a mile along a nondescript dirt road off Route 225 in Rome. With North Pond visible and the site another three hundred yards into the woods, everyone was asked to wait. As people’s boots sank into the mud, the questions flew: “How did no one ever run into him?” one cameraman asked, pointing to a nearby summer home. “Why didn’t his family seem to care (where he was)?”
While journalists hoped the camp would provide answers, the rest sought closure. Chesley’s daughter, Danielle, grew up hearing about the hermit, and wanted to see the site for herself. Same for Jodie Mosher-Towle, editor of the NPA newsletter, who remembers when Knight turned from nuisance into legend. “It wasn’t until we gathered for a meeting that we realized it was the same person going to all of our houses,” she recalls. Others, like David Proulx, simply wanted his stuff back: “I’m pretty sure my mini TV is out there.” Proulx, like the hundreds of victims around North Pond, knew the hermit’s likes (Budweiser, peanut butter, chicken) and his dislikes (Miller Lite, tuna, Skinny Girl margaritas), as if he were another member of the community — albeit not one people were particularly fond of.
Twenty minutes passed and Sgt. Peter Michaud emerged from the woods with disappointing news: Without explanation, the property owner had rescinded permission to see the campsite. Downtrodden, the group turned around and walked back through the mud, without answers, closure, a mini TV, or the gut feeling that made Chesley so certain. And just like that, the CNN reporters were again tapping away on their phones, arranging their flight home. — Will Bleakley
Photo Courtesy of Maine State Police