Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, October 10, 1993, pg. 4.
Continuing with our October series on Riverside Cemetery stories, this week we are featuring the Albion Hermit, David Duncan, who is buried in Riverside Cemetery. Duncan owned 80 acres of land in the E, N.E. portion of Section 9 of Albion Township, on the west side of the Kalamazoo river just past the "big curve" at the end of the millpond. Duncanís property did not touch the river itself, but was located in the area today known as "Honda Hills."
A man who knew Duncan was Dr. Elmore Palmer, the author of the 1908-09 Biographical Sketches about the early history and people of our community. These sketches were reprinted in the Journal of Albion in 1985, and copies are available for sale at the Albion Chamber of Commerce.
Form our Historical Notebook this week we present Dr. Palmerís account of the Albion Hermit, David Duncan, and the photograph of this man. After reading the description, can you think of anyone in the Albion area like this man today? I hope not.
In 1834 there appeared within the confines of the Forks a person who was a most eccentric and peculiar character. From what little conversation he feigned to have with those about him, he gave evidence of possessing a good English education, was a superior penman and a man of much natural ability.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.
David Duncan, the "Michigan Hermit," established his lonely home. Here without any human being near with whom to converse or ask assistance in case of need, he built a little tumble down shanty in a sheltered nook, which was his abiding place during the summer, and for better protection during the inclemency of the winter months, he excavated a sort of cave in the hillside.
Old Dunk" as he was familiarly known and called, lived in this wretched manner until about 1847, when he built a small frame house, siding it up but never finishing the interior. In this condition it was not a comfortable place in which to reside. As a very general rule he was a recluse, never seeing acquaintances, never disclosing anything. A rusty old stove with broken doors and cracked griddles, an iron pot and two or three old tin kitchen utensils completed the inventory. Nothing of earthen or glassware was in evidence. Filth in the greatest amount and odors the rankest of the foul, are still perceptible to the writerís olfactories. Everything clearly indicated that he never washed himself or his rags.
On one occasion he was induced to go into a photograph car. There by strategy, a negative was surreptitiously obtained, a copy of which is now in the writerís possession [and illustrated this week in our Historical Notebook]. When "Old Dunk" found out what had been done his wrath knew no bounds. He declared vengeance against all concerned.
On the 5th day of March 1868 "Old Dunk" was no more. He was found lying in front of the stove, covered with snow that had blown through the open door and roof of his hut, frozen solid. He had no bed, he oft times slept in an old box with straw on the bottom. His few, dirty patched and worthless rags were all the covering he possessed.
He was a misanthrope; a monomaniac. Earth had no charms for him and his life was a dreary waste. He was an alien to all the better impulses of mankind. He died as he had lived--alone."
Dr. Palmerís firsthand account of Duncan is quite graphic, isnít it? Had he lived just a few years longer, Duncanís isolation would have been shattered. The tracks of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad were laid diagonally across the entire length of his property in 1872.
Regarding his gravesite in Riverside Cemetery, a group of local citizens subsequently chipped in to have a tombstone erected there. It can be viewed in the cemetery today. The inscription states, "In Memory of the Hermit, David Duncan came to Albion in 1834, lived alone and unknown for more thatn 30 years, and was found dead March 6, 1868. Age about 58 years."
There is another article that Frank wrote about David Duncan, the Albion Hermit. Morning Star, March 08, 1999
Next: HENRY SLADE
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic