In 1960, twenty-year-old Dan Rattiner started a small paper during his summer vacation in the Hamptons. He gave copies of it away for free, making money from the advertisements. It was the first free paper in the United States. Gradually Dan started more papers, each of them serving a different community in the Hamptons. He called all of them collectively Dan's Papers, and they soon became the most widely read papers in the Hamptons.
Dan wrote most of the content himself, but from the start he approached the task with a sense of humor. Many of the stories were humorous hoaxes, which earned him the nickname the "Hoaxer of the Hamptons."
Regular readers knew not to take his stories seriously, but frequently the mainstream media would get taken in by his tales and would circulate them as fact.
Listed below are a few of his most notorious tales:
- In 1966 he reported a sea serpent sighting in Bridgehampton. Local station WCBS fell for it and sent out a helicopter to investigate.
- In 1972, after Howard Hughes left his Las Vegas penthouse leading to speculation about the billionaire's whereabouts, Rattiner announced he had relocated to the top two floors of the tallest building in the Hamptons, which was seven-stories high. Many tourists were seen wandering around the building, trying to catch a glimpse of the billionaire.
- In 1973 he reported that local potato farmers had solved the problem of delivering their crops to market by blasting the potatoes in a "potato bazooka" across the Shinnecock Canal into waiting trucks.
- Also in 1973, he announced that, due to a new law, tourists would be required to show tourist cards upon request of the police.
- In 1974 he placed a small spoof ad in his papers, promoting the new "MacKensie Seagull Whistle." This whistle could supposedly attract seagulls and make them push vehicles stuck in beach sand. The whistles could play two notes: "NOTE ONE ('Seagulls Come Here') You can't hear it, but note one will attract every seagull within half a mile to your four-wheel drive vehicle stuck in the sand. NOTE TWO. ('Seagulls Push') On command, you have a veritable army of birds, each the equivalent of 1-100th horsepower pushing your car out of sand." People interested in purchasing a seagull whistle were asked to send in a coupon requesting more information. Within a week the paper had received over 1000 coupons.
- Also in 1974, he revealed that Soviet oil drillers were operating off Hither Hills State Park with an oil rig disguised as a fishing trawler.
- He published his most notorious hoax in 1975, around the time the movie Jaws debuted in theaters. He ran a letter from the police chief of Bridgehampton on the front page of his papers, asking that residents contribute raw meat to help feed a killer shark roaming the shore. The hope was that the well-fed shark would attack fewer swimmers. This story generated inquiries from numerous news outlets including Sports Illustrated, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Wall Street Journal.
- Also in 1975, he reported that a Greek apple juice billionaire had managed to rack up $2,293,760 of parking fines in East Hampton.
- In 1984 Rattiner reported that state seismologists had discovered that the Hamptons were sinking from the weight of all the tourists that visited the region each year. As a result, the county board of supervisors allegedly voted 5-to-4 to ban fat tourists from visiting. They also ordered signs to be placed along the highway announcing "Fat persons must go home."
- In 1990 he revealed that the Hamptons was organizing a Winter Holiday festival that would include a contest called the "Flight to Portugal." "A wooden ski jump is erected at the top of the cliff at the Montauk lighthouse, and hundreds of our local young men, in a display of courage and derring-do, drive old automobiles off it and into the sea a hundred feet below... The one who gets the farthest toward Portugal wins."
- In 1997 he revealed that the latest Die Hard movie was to be set in the Hamptons: "Die Hard IV Escape From the Hamptons."
- In 1999 he reported that a 30-foot, man-killing Ecuadoran eel had been spotted in Peconic Bay. The article included an 800 number for "The Eel Hotline." Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Rattiner, the number was actually that of a VW dealer in Riverhead, who was subsequently flooded with reports of eel sightings. By way of apology, Rattiner offered the dealer a free half-page ad.
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