Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

DAVID DUNCAN, THE ALBION HERMIT, Part 1

Morning Star, March 3, 2019, pg. 4

David Duncan (1810-1868), the "Albion Hermit," was a recluse who lived on 80 acres of land-locked property he purchased in 1836 in the northeast corner of Section 9 of Albion Township located near the Kalamazoo River. Today this property is southwest of the Albion City limits southwest "corner," south of Irwin Avenue in Albion Township. "Dunk's Cove" is the nickname for the big curve in the Kalamazoo River just southwest of Albion, where it makes the turn from Homer. David came here in 1835 from New York as a peddler of goods which he had purchased at an auction of merchandise damaged by a fire in New York in December, 1834. He made his living on his land by raising cattle for market.

Duncan began to act strangely, and Albionites wondered about the background of this man. His obituary stated, "Every effort to trace his nativity and relatives proved unsuccessful. He had a good education and was considered shrewd, but within a few years he showed signs of derangement. So he has lived and died worse than a brute." Albion history writer Dr. Elmore Palmer (1839-1909), who as a youth had met Mr. Duncan, wrote in 1908 (excerpted): "He seemed to avoid all association with those about him. He was poorly clad and took pride in making his appearance as odd and ridiculous as possible. He had no bed; he oft times slept in an old box with straw on the bottom. Everything clearly indicated that he never washed himself or his rags. Filth in the greatest amount and odors, the rankest of the foul are still perceptible to the writer's olfactories."

A John C. S. wrote in the Jackson Daily Citizen on March 28, 1868 following David's death, "He now began to dress more shabbily and grow more miserly until he was really a sight to behold. For the past eight or ten years his dress has actually consisted of bags sewed about his body. In the cold season he wore an ox hide with a hole cut in the middle to insert his head for a supposed overcoat. A portion of a bag and a piece cut from the hide was sewed together for a cap, and boxes made of oak boards about 6 x 15 inches with half a bag nailed around the top served for boots."

From our Historical Notebook this week, courtesy of Maggie Coleman, we present the only known photograph of David Duncan, the Albion Hermit, taken around 1860. There is a story behind this photograph. Dr. Palmer wrote, "On one occasion he was induced to go into a photograph car. There by strategy, a negative was surreptitiously obtained…When Old Dunk found out what had been done, his wrath knew no bounds. He declared vengeance against all concerned." The name of the Albion photographer on the back of the photo was H. S. Spencer. Next week: The death of the hermit.


David Duncan ORIGINAL photograph

Next: DAVID DUNCAN, THE ALBION HERMIT, Part 2

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All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic

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