How Dan Rattiner Became Known as ‘Hoaxer of the Hamptons’

Dan Rattiner was dubbed by Time magazine the "Hoaxer of the Hamptons"
Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

When my time is up someday here on Earth, I suppose I will mostly be remembered for the hoaxes I’ve written over the years in Dan’s Papers. There were very many hoaxes. They were all in fun. The lesson from them was that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers. This advice is even more true today.

One year, I wrote how a big Boeing 747, chartered by the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce for a trip to Paris, had to make an emergency landing on the tiny 4,255-foot runway at the East Hampton Airport. Everyone was safe. Montaukers welcomed the passengers into their homes. But somehow this aircraft, soon fixed, would have to be flown out. Taking off needed an even longer runway. My story included an exclusive interview with the brave pilot who had volunteered to do this. The world watched on TV as this solo attempt, successful, took place.

In the 1970s, for the first time, it became necessary to buy a sticker to park at the beaches. I told of a billionaire who every day drove down to the beach for his early swim. He’d pay the fine rather than buy a sticker. Didn’t want it on his Bentley. Fines then doubled and redoubled day after day. He didn’t care. Soon the fines became quite substantial and at town hall people began to count on it. Huge new public works were begun. Now officials were squabbling about the money. But then, suddenly, the billionaire stopped coming. The townspeople, shocked, urged him on. But nope, that was that. So all these public works had to be ended, some of them incomplete. This story prompted Time magazine to do a story about me. They called it “Hoaxer of the Hamptons.”

Shortly after that, the movie Jaws premiered in town. Those who saw it came out too frightened to swim in the ocean any time soon. And the mayor, worried that the tourists would stop coming, gave me a letter he wanted me to publish so everybody could read it and be reassured. I ran it on the front page. In the letter, the mayor declared that it was now safe to swim in the ocean if you followed instructions carefully. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, cuts of raw meat, voluntarily donated by the community butchers, were being dropped from helicopters into the ocean, and then on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in the bay. With the sharks feasting in the bay, it would be safe to go in the ocean; when the sharks were feasting in the ocean, people could safely swim in the bay.

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to the brave police officers who hung from the helicopter ladders to drop the meat,” he said. Just on Sunday, don’t swim anywhere.

One winter, students were reported camping on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland, hoping to photograph the Loch Ness Monster should it appear. I wrote that we here in the Hamptons had a monster in a pond. It was in Long Pond, in the woods between Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor. And though nobody had made an actual sighting, there were lots of close calls. In Colonial times, a woman walking along the banks of the pond had run into town screaming that there was a monster in the pond. She was arrested, accused of witchcraft and stoned to death. In another era, men bent on filming the monster camped out there for the night but were never seen again. Their truck remained. Abandoned.

Another time, during World War II, a U.S. Marine battalion camped alongside the pond. In the middle of a very dark night the monster rose up out of the pond and was met by a hail of bullets and mortar shells. In the morning, no monster. Where’d it go? Then, around 1990, students from St. John’s University set up a tag team vigil manned 24/7 on the banks of the pond. From WCBS-TV, Nightly News Anchor Jim Jensen ordered a helicopter with reporters to fly out to interview them. (He really did that!) But the students had left by then.

Another year, declaring there were too many deer in the Hamptons, numerous different groups were formed, demanding solutions. One group wanted them darted and carried off asleep in trucks to the Adirondacks, another wanted deer shot on sight, another wanted food buckets set out to keep them healthy, another insisted on a bow and arrow solution and another wanted them trapped and then sterilized so they couldn’t reproduce. What I then wrote was the news that a rich South African was bringing lions to the 17-car garage on his Amagansett property, where they would remain unfed until January 23, a Monday, when they would be released for the day to eat up all the deer. Stay indoors.

Then there was the year I learned that the U.S. Coast Guard had ordered the Montauk Lighthouse decommissioned, torn down and then replaced with a steel tower with a light on the top. I published a photo on the front page of what had been the Ponquogue Lighthouse in Hampton Bays being dynamited into rubble for a similar reason. This had happened a generation earlier and there it was, a cloud of smoke blowing out the side, with the upper half crumpled over at a 45-degree angle. I headlined “Lighthouse Dynamited,” and everyone believed it had happened at Montauk. As a result of this, people read further. And learned the truth. Although I had printed misinformation, a demonstration I organized at the lighthouse took place on a Saturday night demanding that the Coast Guard reverse the order. And with 2,000 people out on the lighthouse lawn shining lanterns, searchlights, torches and flashlights, the Coast Guard caved.

More recently, for 10 years anyway, I wrote a weekly newsletter in Dan’s Papers about the goings-on in our underground subway system. One week, they took delivery of nine new subway cars. But when put into service and sent through the tunnels, the roofs, built an inch too high, sheared off all the interior lightbulbs in the subway ceilings.

Another week, workers drilling a new subway tunnel from Long Island to Connecticut struck oil on the sea bottom under Long Island Sound. Oil backed up throughout the whole system. What a mess. The subway newsletter reported disaster after disaster.

Interesting times we had with Dan’s Papers. And sometimes continue to do so.