This summer a gentleman of quiet demeanor walked into the office here in the Carriage House with an abiding interest in honoring John Cusack, known as the Hermit of Moose Island. He offered to match any donations that we might raise toward the purchase of a stone for his grave. We think it’s a great idea, and took him up on it. If you like the idea, too, please send a note “for Moose Island Hermit John Cusack” with a check made payable to: Moosehead Historical Society. Any amount, small or large, will help keep alive the memory of this curious man of Moosehead. In the spring, we will meet with the donor and write a check for however much we end up saving for him toward the marker. Following is Mr. Cusack’s story.
Mysterious people come and go on Moosehead Lake. Some stay. One such person was John Cusack. In 1864, the resident of Readfield began buying up land on Moose Island. In circa 1870, he rode into Greenville dressed in well-cut, expensive clothes. He spoke in a cultivated voice and knew both English and French. The son of a teacher, some anecdotes say he attended Bowdoin College but we have no account that he was there. What we do know is that he was extremely taciturn and wanted to be left alone. He came to Greenville, and left civilization as he knew it.
Some stories say he was unlucky in love, so left. But the Bangor Daily Commercial, the newspaper of record of the time, quoted him to say, “I could have had the prettiest girls in Readfield…I was a dandy in those days with my fine clothes and horses, but I did not want them…A man always wants to keep at least a foot away from the women, and then he is sure to be safe.”
Shortly after arrival, he built a raft and with some provisions, a horse and a cow, rowed out to his island. There, he built a rustic cabin. He left the island only if he had to. By 1885, Mr. Cusack was something of a celebrity; he had worked as a guide, farmer, and lumberman. He was described as a skilled river driver and had been invited to perform log rolling tricks in New York City, for which he replied, “I would rather stay here and eat a dozen fresh eggs a day and talk to the lambs and old Frank [his horse].”
He did have one mystery visitor, a woman from away of some apparent means, but who seemed ill. She came looking specifically for the hermit, moved out with him on the island, and never returned. About a year later, Cusack came to the mainland asking for a nurse. He never spoke about the woman. The nurse’s story is that she tended to the dying woman and helped the hermit bury her in a homemade coffin out on the island. The hermit paid the nurse, took her back to the mainland, and she never saw him again.
Late in life Mr. Cusack inscribed his name in a boulder on the island, where he intended to be buried. But that never came to be. He ended up buried in Greenville Cemetery, Lot 59.
He had a number of intentions that did not come to fruition. One surprise was made by Wayne E. Reilly, an historical columnist with the Bangor Daily News, who discovered in an 1885 Registry of Deeds at the Piscataquis County Courthouse that the old hermit had deeded a parcel of his land on Moose Island to create a 2.5 acre public park! Apparently, in some sort of complication it ended up sold with other land.
Mr. Cusack lived most of his adult life on Moosehead Lake. Despite his private ways, he was well thought of, a part of the town, and had a philanthropic side. He died on Dec. 5, 1904, when he punched through the ice in his snowshoes as he was crossing the narrows from Harford Point to his island. He could not release the bindings and died standing up in the shallow freezing water, his head above the ice. He was found the next morning with his dog waiting patiently next to him.