You’ve probably never heard of the “Adam and Eve of the Maine woods,” but if you’d been reading newspapers in 1915, the names Walter and Olive Estes would have been as inescapable to you as the Kardashians are to us. The Esteses were a young couple from the town of Gray who decided to pursue riches and fame by becoming “hermits.”
Dressed only in tights and taking no tools with them (not even matches), Walter and Olive disappeared into the woods near Bingham to live entirely off the land. They made shoes out of birch bark, trapped deer for buckskin, and rubbed sticks together to build fires. Mostly, though, they angled for attention. The Esteses used sharpened charcoal “pencils” to write reports of their adventures on scrolls of paper birch. These they furnished to a scrum of journalists who were more than happy to promote the couple’s publicity stunt to a national audience hungry for weird tales.
Adam and Eve spent only two months in the woods. Christopher Knight, the so-called “North Pond Hermit,” [page 20] seems to have lasted considerably longer — twenty-seven years. On April 4 he was arrested in the act of burglarizing Pine Tree Camp in Rome for at least the fiftieth time (the camp is a facility for children with disabilities). He told the state trooper who took him to jail that he hadn’t spoken with another person since the 1990s. For nearly three decades, Knight lived alone in a hidden compound, venturing out at night to steal food, clothing, and camping supplies. Unlike the Esteses, he didn’t hunt or fish. His approach to survival was less like Bear Grylls and more like that of Yogi Bear.
Knight, 47, says he doesn’t know what drove him into the woods in 1986, beyond a boyhood interest in Robinson Crusoe. It certainly wasn’t a quest for fame. One sad aspect of the case is that no one ever reported him missing.
For someone who wanted to disappear completely, Knight has now found himself inside a multimedia maelstrom that didn’t exist when he began his self-imposed exile. His story has been broadcast from Bangor to Buenos Aires to Brisbane. Meanwhile, the hermit sits behind bars in the Kennebec County Jail, awaiting trial on a handful of theft charges. He is said to be a model prisoner. So far, he has refused all media interviews.
How different from Walter and Olive Estes, who parlayed their two-month camping trip into fifteen minutes of fame. The photogenic couple made money selling pictures of themselves dressed in furs and appeared in vaudeville shows; Olive even wrote a book titled True Experiences, including Adam and Eve in the Maine Woods. It remains to be seen whether Knight will succumb to the inevitable pressure to cash in by selling the rights to his life. What seems clear is that Adam and Eve were far better adapted to this era of reality TV stars and celebrity wannabes than the most famous hermit of the new century.
— Editor-in-Chief Paul Doiron