All Things Maine
All Things Maine

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Hermits of Moosehead

This item appeared in the New York Times of Aug. 5, 1873:
A paper published in Penobscot County, Maine, prints the following: "About ten years ago a traveling tinker named Kenniston, well known throughout this and Piscataquis Counties, mysteriously disappeared, and fears were entertained that he had been murdered. But in a short time he was discovered to be living the life of a hermit on a lonely island in Moosehead Lake. His dwelling-house befitted the fortunes of a retired tinker, being in Summer a large dry-goods box. In Winter, Diogenes-like, he ensconced himself in a hogshead. He lived on the frugal fare which dame nature provides in that region and appeared happy. His clothing bill during the ten years of his voluntary exile did not amount to $5. His original garments were in a few years entirely gone, and replaced by patches innumerable and of all colors. His social visits were limited to occasional journeys across the lake to another island, on which also lived a hermit of like habits of life. This Summer Kenniston's friends sought him out, and yielding to their persuasions he has abandoned his Summer and Winter 'residences' and returned to civilized life." [Link]
The man described was Asa Kenniston. In 1860, he was the only resident at "Burnt Jacket," which lay in Gore A2 above Greenville (now Beaver Cove). In 1870, he was living in "No 2 Range 6 Bingham Purchase Including Deer Island." (Click map to enlarge.)

Enumerated in the same township in 1870 was John Cusack, called the "hermit king of Moose Island." Though he lived the life of a hermit, Cusack was by no means destitute.
By 1885, Cusack was a celebrity mentioned in at least one guidebook. He ran a large farm on Moose Island, according to "Farrar's Illustrated Guide Book to Moosehead Lake and Vicinity." He was by turns a guide, farmer and lumberman.

The Bangor Daily Commercial described him as an extraordinarily skilled river driver. The paper quoted him saying he had been offered $100 a week if he would go to New York City and perform log rolling tricks in theaters, "but I would rather stay here and eat a dozen fresh eggs a day and talk to the lambs and old Frank [his horse]."

When Cusack died on Dec. 5, 1904, probate records now on file at the Piscataquis County Courthouse indicate his estate included sheep, pigs, geese, cows, and a large amount of hay. He also owned a fine horse, which he was known to take with him on the train when he visited his relatives in Saint John. [Link]
Cusack deeded "the southerly point of Moose Island" to "the public" in 1885 for use as a park, but the plan never came to fruition.


At 7:07 PM, October 15, 2007, Blogger Psst! said...

You disappeared from the blogosphere for a while; what happened?

At 8:24 PM, October 15, 2007, Blogger Chris said...

Just a temporary interruption. I'm helping my parents build their new house, so posting may still be intermittent this fall.


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