A nature photographer from Rome, Maine, successfully sought out the dismantled camp of Christopher Knight, known to locals as the “North Pond Hermit,” on Saturday after combing the forest for hours.
Alec Hartman, 24, offered the photos to the BDN this week, and the collection shows that law enforcement officials left many items at the campsite. The items — body spray, crushed and weathered cans, partially degraded magazines — offer glimpses of what Knight’s secluded life in the Maine woods may have been like.
Hartman has a page on the photo-sharing site Flickr with many images of the campsite.
Police officials last week told the BDN they had completed dismantling the encampment and all that remained were a few bits of trash. Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland confirmed this on Tuesday, saying, “I think we’re done with it.”
McCausland added that most likely the landowner will clean up anything else.
Knight, 47, was taken into police custody on April 4 after police officials said they caught him breaking into the Pine Tree Camp for disabled children and adults in Rome. The Albion native told them that he had been living in the woods for 27 years and had spoken to another person only once during that period. He also said that he committed more than 1,000 burglaries of nearby dwellings during that time to take supplies he needed to survive.
Hartman and his mother, Charlie Hartman, 60, of Vassalboro, went into the woods of Rome at 1 p.m. Saturday in search for the mysterious dwelling.
“He’s a nature photographer, so he walks through the woods all the time,” said Charlie Hartman.
The pair used information from local and national media outlets to determine the approximate location of Knight’s camp. They started out from a friend’s camp, located not far from Pine Tree Camp, and hiked in to Little Pond.
“As we got closer to the pond, I began to get a bit nervous that we may not be allowed to be there since the authorities had been investigating the area so recently,” Alec Hartman wrote Tuesday in an email interview. “But not once did we see any ‘No Trespassing’ signs, and there was never any sign of crime scene tape, or really any sign of life at all.”
They traced the shore of Little Pond before striking into the woods with a GPS in hand.
“We actually found two campsites,” said Charlie Hartman. “We found the second campsite first … it seemed really obvious that it belonged to Christopher Knight, but it hadn’t been used for a very long time.”
The second campsite was a small, makeshift wooden structure with two windows, one at each end. The interior was insulated with styrofoam and blankets, Charlie Hartman recalled.
“The whole thing had fallen apart,” she said. “It was full of leaves and it was in tatters.”
Of the many items sinking into the forest floor around the structure, the Hartmans paid particular attention to a green milk crate from West Lynn Creamery, a Massachusetts company that was purchased in 1998 and now operates as Garelick Farms, according to lynnlegacies.org.
After documenting the location, the pair struck out again in search of the camp that Knight led police officials earlier this month and that was dismantled on April 11, when officials took items out of the woods to be logged as evidence as part of their investigation.
“I began looking for denser tree cover and clumps of evergreens, but it was beginning to seem hopeless — after all, he’d remained hidden there for 27 years without ever being discovered, so the chances of me finding his camp after only a few hours of searching seemed slim,” Alec Hartman said. “My mom was insisting we head back, as it was getting dark and she didn’t expect there was any possibility of finding it any time soon, but I didn’t want to give up just yet and started to get a feeling that we were very close.”
After about three hours of searching, Alec Hartman spied a black garbage bag hanging in a tree about 10 yards from where he stood.
“I’m not sure we would have found it if he hadn’t seen that,” Charlie Hartman said. “And that may have been something that the game wardens or state troopers moved around and left out.”
They were only about a quarter mile from the wooden structure they found, according to their GPS.
“I remember saying ‘we found it!’ and then taking another few steps and coming to the
main campsite itself,” Alec Hartman said.
“Being in this place and exploring it was a very odd experience; both eerie and profound,” he continued. “Someone had lived here in total isolation for nearly three decades, completely undetected, and knowing that made being there feel somewhat surreal.”
“It was very strange being on that site because there were so many touches of the personal there,” Charlie Hartman said, “Like a coat hanger hanging on the limb of a tree or a really old, battered National Geographic next to an old Playboy mashed into the ground.”
A bed, complete with bed frame, box spring and a mattress, still remains at the site, she said, as well as many propane tanks and 12-volt batteries. Then there were smaller items left behind — a wooden cigar box, crumpled Bud Light and Minute Maid lemonade cans, a sponge, wine corks and a tiny Panasonic television perched on a mossy boulder.
Some of the items that Alec Hartman remembers include a belt tied around a tree, a pair of duct-taped boots, a folding chair, an empty bottle of honey powder, a trash can lid painted in a camouflage pattern, a Coleman cook stove, a leash and AA batteries scattered on the ground.’
“Outside of the campsite there was an area that had obviously been designated as a trash heap and was just a graveyard of empty beer cans, soda cans, candy wrappers and propane tanks,” he said.
“There was actually somebody living here. This wasn’t just a camp. This was a home,” she said. “And then I felt like a real intruder in somebody’s house. Most of him is gone, but obviously not everything.”
The pair also found a West Lynn Creamery milk crate at the campsite, which further supports the idea that the two camps were used by the same man, Charlie Hartman said.
They used Google Earth to view aerial photos of their location taken during all four seasons over recent years, and the photos showed no trace of the camp, even in the snow.
“There was no way to see anything at all — nothing at all,” Charlie Hartman said.
While Alec Hartman was taking hundreds of photos, Charlie Hartman began to worry about the time. It was about 6:30 p.m., and it had taken them hours to find the campsite. She found a path she assumed to have been used by Knight and began to follow it, hoping it would lead out of the woods.
“I thought, the guy lived here for 27 years, there’s got to be a path to follow,” she said. “So I marched down the path and within 10 feet, it was gone and I was in the thick of the woods. There was no place to go. It was all brambles and trees with low limbs and big huge boulders. There is no way anyone could have stumbled onto the campsite. There’s no way a hunter would have gone anywhere near it because there’s no line of sight.”
Central Maine native Alec Hartman moved to Rome about five months ago, and has since explored the woods of the Belgrade Lakes and Kennebec Highlands regions.
“When I found out about the ‘North Pond Hermit’ my curiosity was piqued, especially since he was caught only a half mile down the road from where I live,” Alec Hartman said. “I figured with all the exploring I’ve done through the woods around my house and in the surrounding area that there must be a good chance I came in very close contact with the hermit at one point, and it turns out I was right.”
Hartman keeps a GPS on him at all times so he can geotag his photographs, and also so he doesn’t get lost while trekking through the wilderness alone, he said. According to his GPS logs, he snowshoed within one-sixth of a mile from the hermit’s main campsite on Jan. 14.
“I was actually planning on snowshoeing up the hill on the west side of Little Pond this winter to see if there might be any views from the top that I could get some good photos from but decided against it because the tree cover looked too thick to offer any views,” he said. “However, if I’d changed my mind and snowshoed up there anyway, I’d say there would have been a very good chance I would have run across his campsite.”
Alec Hartman spent more than an hour photographing details of the site before using a GPS to find the nearest road — just 0.14 miles from the site.
“All-in-all, it was a fascinating experience to see something like this firsthand, especially knowing it’s been so close this entire time,” he said. “It speaks to the nature of small Maine towns and the Maine wilderness how, if someone so desires, they can easily walk as little as a quarter mile into the woods and just totally disappear.”