Posted: 02/02/2007


The Fort Fisher Hermit: The Life and Death of Robert E. Harrill


by Amanda Giarratano

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There was something whimsical about Robert Harrill. His life wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t necessarily happy. But for the thousands of visitors who flocked to Fort Fisher, North Carolina each year, he provided a smile and a nugget of wisdom to each friendly face that passed by his tiny hovel. The Fort Fisher Hermit seeks to tell the true story of this man’s life, from his early years of family troubles and failed marriages to his seventeen years living along the Carolina shore, ending with a violent and mysterious death.

A short documentary narrated by Barry Corbin of Northern Exposure fame, the 54-minute film manages the perfect mix of background, history and true-crime drama. Interviews with many people who had known and enjoyed the friendship of the Fort Fisher Hermit interspersed with long-cut dialogue from those who had officiated over the investigation of the untimely death of the Hermit paint a dark and cheerless end to the practically lovable man who had delighted tourists and locals alike.

Who killed the Fort Fisher Hermit? What was their motive? Answers to these questions will probably never be known. Yet still remaining are the last vestiges of a man who touched so many lives. The documentary presents not only the insight into the life of this wonderfully eccentric man, but also a startling glimpse at the prejudicial treatment he was afforded in life and death by not only local officials, but the rare local or visitor who would harass and bother the harmless man.

Many people were robbed of the opportunity to meet this enigmatic man, but his legacy lives on. While the mystery of his death may never be solved, this film is a fitting tribute to the all-to-short life he led.

Amanda Giarratano is a film critic living in Chicago.

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