Memorial for a hermit

By Estella Bennett | Jul 15, 2017
The late Ralph Albert Perkins, aka "Hank the Hermit," rests in Grove Cemetery, Belfast. On July 30, two American Legion posts will recognize his WWI service and the placement of a headstone on his grave.

In August 2015, the Monson Historical Society was contacted by a University of Maine student who was writing a thesis on Hermits of Maine. Apparently the Monson/Elliotsville/Onawa area of Piscataquis County contained many such reclusive men over a span of years. This was the beginning of a fact-finding journey for several members of the Historical Society.

One of the men, known locally as “Hank the Hermit,” was particularly interesting to MHS member Estella Bennett because her father was one of only three people who attended Hank’s funeral. Census records found that Hank was born to a family in Belfast, the only child of Horace and Villa Perkins. His name was Ralph Albert Perkins. At a young age the family of three moved to Massachusetts where Ralph’s father was foreman in a large shoe factory in Chelsea. Ralph himself worked in the shoe factory in his late teens. At age 20, Ralph lost his father in a tragic train accident. In 1917, at the age of 24, Ralph enlisted in the Army.

After returning from WWI, he moved to Chesuncook, Maine, to work in a woods camp for Great Northern. There the paper trail ends as he moved further into the woods of the Elliotsville area and became known to all as “Hank the Hermit.”

After interviews with several people in the Monson area who remembered Hank, the consensus was he was a large man in stature, bearded and friendly on his own terms. He was known to enjoy the company of the quarry workers in his later years but rarely ventured into Monson.

Hank became a hero for one family. In April 1948, he was at his cabin near South Pond when he heard cries for help. Two men and a boy were out fishing in a canoe that had overturned in the frigid water. Tragically, by the time he arrived on the scene, Bob Zimmerman had drowned. Clifford Douglass had made it to shore, but Charles Douglass was still clinging to the canoe. Hank found a nearby tethered canoe, broke the chain and rescued Charles. Without fanfare he built a fire for the two men and returned to his cabin.

Many stories of Hank survive and one known photo. Hank died in his sleep Oct. 20, 1962, and was buried in Belfast next to his family. It was discovered by the Monson Historical Society that he did not have a headstone. They applied for and received a stone from the Veterans Administration in the fall of 2016 for his grave site.

This spring Estella Bennett found Ralph, aka Hank, had relatives in Belfast. The family knew very little about him other than his given name and a brief mention of him in the obituary for his father filed in the family Bible.

A ceremony will be held for Ralph Sunday, July 30, at 2 p.m. at Grove Cemetery, 98 Waldo Ave., Belfast. This WWI veteran will be honored by the Jerry W. Dobbins American Legion Post 157 of Stockton Springs and the Towne-Holmbom Post 116 of Monson. The public is welcome to attend. For further information, contact Estella Bennett at 876-3073 or at embweb@myfairpoint.net.

 

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