The Mississippi town’s latest renewal efforts have shone a light on the little-known tale of Jean Guilhot, who lived alone as a hermit on a nearby island.
For the seaside resort town of Biloxi, Mississippi, preserving the town’s historical treasures is a priority for the Chamber of Commerce in 2013 – and the unique story of their own “island hermit” is taking center stage. The town leaders want to enhance the gravesite of Biloxi’s Robinson Crusoe, who lived in a small shack on a wild island just across from the town in the Gulf of Mexico.
The story of the Deer Island Hermit began when French émigré Jean Guilhot set up a small oyster business on the island in the 1920’s, and built his family a house on the island’s shores. This move to the peaceful, ½ mile-long isle was to be his downfall, however – the unexpected death of his wife and a devastating hurricane that destroyed his home would forever alter his life.
Opting to live in a small shack rather than rebuild his ruined house, Guilhot, with his wild beard and grizzled appearance, became known as a local character – and even served as a frightening bogeyman for area youngsters. By all accounts, however, the hermit of Deer Island was a peaceful man who simply wanted to be left alone on his deserted paradise, making a small living by selling oysters and taking the occasional trip into town.
But despite his hermitic lifestyle, he had no shortage of friends – and business associates, too. One of his closest relationships was with local tour operator Captain Louis Gorenflo, who brought Guilhot groceries delivered mail to a wooden mailbox set out into the water. In exchange, the hermit was featured in the Captain’s adverts, and thrilled boatloads of tourists by paddling over in his skiff and giving a one-man concert of old French songs.
The subject of a number of articles, interviews and local documentaries while he was alive, it’s no wonder the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce are eager to make a more fitting final resting place for their famous island hermit, with a new headstone and a concrete marker covered with shells taken from his beloved island. After all, when Guilhot passed away in 1959, Deer Island – and the town of Biloxi itself – became just a little less colorful.
Read more about this story: Clarion Ledger