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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Dodgeville Hermit

A century ago, Archibald McArthur (1844-1925) was a celebrity of sorts. He arrived in Dodgeville just after the Civil War without a penny, but soon became a successful young attorney and amassed a fortune. He dressed in the latest fashions, owned the finest horse in town, started a newspaper, and became a mortgage lender to the citizens.

Then one day in middle-age he had a change of heart. He gave away his finery, sold off his newspaper, refused to practice law, grew a beard, became a vegetarian, and entered into a hermit's life in his home on Main St. He took a private vow of poverty, shunned alcohol and tobacco, and dressed in tattered overalls. He spent much of his time in the village cemetery, and claimed to be able to communicate with spirits. He kept to himself: everyone knew who he was, but no one really knew him.

In 1922, at age 78, he abruptly bought an automobile, loaded his few possessions in it, and drove himself to Florida to live out his remaining years. By then he was worth more than a quarter of a million dollars, or about $3,000,000 today. When he revised his will, he left each of his surviving relatives only $5 -- and gave nearly all the rest of his fortune to a stranger who befriended him on a park bench.

McArthur never married, left no children, appeared to have no close friends, and never explained his motives or his actions in writing. He simply lives on in Wisconsin history as the "Dodgeville Hermit."

:: Posted in on November 29, 2010

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