Hamptons prank king Dan Rattiner began writing his tall tales in Dan’s papers long before the likes of onion or other satirical publications misled readers around the world. Its long tradition of satirical stories, often touching on deeper truths, or just good for laughs, still continues today, though less frequently. Headlines that shocked and amazed, and bamboozled long before DansPapers.com could go viral, included stories such as local police asking residents for meat donations to feed a killer shark to keep it from feeding beach goers (which was picked up by Sports Illustrated and the the wall street journal, among other publications); Howard Hughes takes up residence in the Montauk office tower; a billionaire racking up over $2 million in local parking tickets; and a story about the Hamptons sinking into the sea due to increased tourism.
Over the years, Dan’s the writers have followed our founder’s lead, adding even more wild stories to the paper’s legacy of hoaxes and satire. To celebrate April Fool’s Day, we’re taking a look at some of the most raw and beloved stories (for the good sportsmen among us) on DansPapers.com – including one that actually came true!
In December 2013, when the community was in turmoil over a proposed deer cull, Dan told the story of South African billionaire Hans Van der Klerk, who released 26 lions into the Hamptons wilderness. in order to solve the problem of deer overpopulation. The story became a viral sensation and caused quite a bit of panic among people fearing they might stumble across one of these ferocious beasts. A series of related stories followed, including a map of lion release locations, video evidence and more.
2. Old Man McGumbus
The Dan’s Papers police blotter was home to all sorts of weird, satirical stories, and colorful characters over the years, but none were as beloved as recurring Shelter Island offender, Old Man McGumbus. The 100-year-old World War II veteran with a long list of jobs rose to internet fame in August 2012 when David Rattiner’s blotter entry about him became the top stories on Reddit, one of the most visited websites in the world. It started like this: “Old Man McGumbus, 106 and a former WWII hand-to-hand combat instructor, was in the middle of his morning Tai-Chi routine on the beach when he noticed a Bengal tiger living there. The old man approached the tiger and tried to tame it by speaking softly and quietly. “Easy girl, easy,” he repeated, holding a stick, “and got even dumber. In 2015, The New Republic wrote a detailed profile on McGumbus, “The mystery of the Hamptons libertarian’s disappearanceand the Dan’s Papers office received regular phone calls about him. A caller asked how to reach the old man to see if he would speak at a local Veterans Day event.
3. Hamptons Police Underwater Unit makes first arrest
It was surprising how many people believed the so-called Hamptons Police Department had deployed a decommissioned US Navy Virginia-class submarine to patrol local waters. Perhaps that June 2015 lie turned heads because it wasn’t so far from the truth in an era when police departments were becoming increasingly militarized, often equipped with vehicles and weapons. excess. It was actually the second story about the submarine, marking its first arrest, which likely grabbed people due to the well-executed image that came with it. A long series of related stories followed with mixed success.
4. Derwood Hodgegrass warms the ocean at his Southampton estate
This wasn’t the first silly story about eccentric Hamptons billionaire and bon vivant inventor Derwood Hodgegrass, and it wouldn’t be the last. But the idea of a wealthy resident heating the waves of his beachfront home from 47°F to 82°F just so he could enjoy a winter swim was very alarming to some readers. “With hard work from my guys and a few modifications, we are now able to heat about 100 square meters of ocean,” Hodgegrass said of his machine, Sea-Lysium VII, in the story, adding, “Imagine what the Hamptons would be like with hundreds of these settled along the coastline. This idea was so offensive that we even got a call from NY State DEC for more details on what they thought was an impending environmental disaster that needed to be stopped. To their relief and embarrassment, we explained that it was just a joke.
5. Hamptons Subway
In 2007, Dan wrote a prank that became so widespread and popular that he spun it into a weekly column for over a decade. The story explained that a massive underground subway system had been discovered and returned to service with stops around the Hamptons. For the next 10 years, Dan chronicled drama and weekly transit company updates in Dan’s papers as a service at Hamptons Subway. Some foreigners still believe it exists.
6. The great Ecuadorian eel
Another of Dan’s persistent hoaxes, his stories of the Ecuadorian great eel wreaking havoc in local waters. Originally published in December 1999, the article warned that the eel had dragged two people under the ice and killed them at Water Mill that winter. He noted that trained police snipers armed with harpoon guns would be posted at all East End skating ponds during feeding hours, from 5 p.m. to midnight. Before that, in 1966, Dan reported that a sea serpent had been seen in Bridgehampton, leading WCBS News to fly a helicopter to investigate the allegation.
7. Palin Coming: Ex-Governor Sarah Palin is moving to Hampton Bays
In 2009, shortly after John McCain and Sarah Palin lost the 2008 election to Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Dan alerted the East End that the failed vice-presidential candidate would be moving to Hampton Bays. He claimed that Palin and her husband Todd would love to fish, fish and ride motorbikes here, “even though it’s not Alaska.” He quoted an email from Palin saying, “I want to live near humble (sic) people. I don’t want a big mansion. There must be humble people in the Hamptons. I am humble.
8. Hamptons moms say kids can’t play poor in Les Miserables
A shocking number of readers wrote or commented to share their rage over our 2016 story about a group of Hamptons parents who railed about their children being forced to play poor in a year-end production of Alain Boublil’s musical, The setstartables. As the article pointed out, “Curiously, the group of affected mothers, and one father, take no umbrage with the play referencing prostitution, child abuse, single mothers or criminals – the problem has more to do with the financial situation of its characters.” One mum said Les Miz was a bridge too far after too many productions featuring destitute characters: “Our kids played beggars in Olivier !orphans of Anne, poor gangsters in West Side Story and Oakies in this ill-conceived Grapes of Wrath adaptation you’ve tried,” said Jeannie Knowles (of the band Hamptons Parents’ Voice, or “HPV”). Dan’s papers at the time, barely containing his fury. “When does it end?
9. Hamptons police are looking for a thief who stole $42 million from a parked car
Another real-life story, this 2019 Hamptons Police blotter told readers that cops were on the hunt for a thief who had stolen cash and items worth at least minus $42 million in a car parked in East Hampton. Items taken from ‘unpretentious vintage Mercedes-Benz’ included $8 million in cash and $2 million in Swiss bearer bonds, plus an antique Faberge egg worth at least $9.6 million and an original Stradivarius violin, estimated at around $16 million. More than a few people bought this bizarre story. We even got a note from a reporter asking for follow-up information, and if the suspect made it, just last fall.
10. Flight to Portugal A hoax come true
Of all the great classic tales he’s told for over 60 years, Dan says his favorite is the Flight to Portugal contest, an absurd story that became a very real – and very fun – event! The original story described an annual contest where local teenagers took their hot rods to the grounds of the Montauk Lighthouse, where they chased off the cliffs and into the sea below using a crude wooden launch pad. The teenager whose car took the furthest jump would receive a six-pack of beers and a laurel wreath. It was funny, but the real magic came after publication, when Dan received a letter from the Portuguese National Tourist Board in Manhattan, offering the winner a week’s all-expenses-paid vacation for two in Portugal, including the plane ticket (it’s 100% true). Not one to waste an opportunity, Dan quickly got to work making the event a reality, with a few obvious tweaks. Instead of cars, participants, including George Plimpton and Dick Cavett, launched small unmanned gliders off the cliffs, and a team with surveying equipment tracked the distances from a boat in the water below. A U.S. Coast Guard boat was also on hand to pick up the debris. In the end, a couple from Stony Brook won the prize and spent a week in Portugal!
Search DansPapers.com to find all sorts of other funny and surprising pranks, many of which have fooled our readers.