Welcome to No One’s Watching Week, the time of the year when the readers are away, and your tireless editors have run amok. For this week only, Atlas Obscura, the New Republic, Popular Mechanics, Pacific Standard, the Paris Review, and Mental Floss will be swapping content that is too out there for any other week in 2015. This article originally appeared at Atlas Obscura.
When Old Man McGumbus first began appearing in the police blotter of Dan’s Papers, a news weekly covering the East End of the Hamptons, he was in trouble. Naked, intoxicated, and unconscious on the side of the road, McGumbus was not found alone. He had three bottles of bourbon, a sex doll, and a dozen roses by his side. This was 2011.
That was just the beginning of his adventures. Identified as “104 and a former World War II button-making commander,” McGumbus kept showing up in the paper’s police blotter. Week after week, he was arrested. Often, he was drunk. Always, he was eccentric.
And then, earlier this year, he disappeared.
Even before that, it was hard to pin down details on Old Man McGumbus. Despite many years of purported government service, the only source of information about him is the paper’s police blotter. From that, however, it’s possible to put together a sketchy portrait.
McGumbus is a staunch libertarian with a tendency toward violence and a series of unlicensed businesses to his name. He’s an excellent shuffleboard player and invented the world’s first banana-shaped hand-grenade. His first name has never been published, and Dan’s Papers has reported his age as anywhere between 101 and 108. He hates hippies and hipsters, and he’s very fond of Wild Turkey bourbon.
One of the main points of McGumbus’ biography is his status as a World War II combatant. Dan’s Papers has reported over the years that McGumbus had a number of positions, serving as: a B-18 bomber pilot, bomb engineer, pigeon communication expert, chief engineer of the Department of Insidious and Special Weapons (in which capacity he invented the exploding candy bar), tank operator, Bazooka Man, atomic bomb tester, aeronautical specialist, Central Intelligence Agency truth-serum research specialist, minesweeping expert, all-terrain transport engineer, supply chain specialist, demolitions expert, and veteran statistical analyst.
In McGumbus’ career, only one thing has remained constant. He has always lived on Shelter Island.
Shelter Island is a fairly small and very real island. It is located between the north and south forks of Long Island, and is accessible only by ferry. A couple thousand people live there, and it’s a small, tight-knit community. Much of the island is covered by wetlands and nature preserves.
This is the stage for McGumbus’ exploits. David Rattiner, who first wrote about McGumbus, has explained that he first met the vet there in the 1990s, when McGumbus was celebrating his 100th birthday.
Since then, McGumbus has used the island as his base for operating, at various times, a spa, a lotion-making factory, a hostel, a rehab clinic, a driving school, a casino, a pop-up store called Gumb, an after-hours hovercraft service, and a jerky-making operation–all unlicensed or illegal in some way. He has been the star of a reality television show, the on-air host for a local cable network, and the author of a coffee table book called The Horizontalists: A History. He has a regularly updated Twitter feed, which mostly covers gun news, and, in 2012, he made a splash on Reddit when he harnessed a pet Bengal tiger that had escaped from another Shelter Island house and taken over a beach.
As much as he’s prone to antisocial behavior, McGumbus also participates in some community activities: he is part of the Shelter Island Red Beard Society, Tomato Club, Association for Phones With Actual Buttons, Association of United Founders, and Board of Oil and Gas Exploration. On the other hand, he has also been arrested for forcibly twerking with local women and is friends with Kim Jong Un.
To be fair, McGumbus isn’t the only local character to have achieved some celebrity in the pages of Dan’s Papers. Local billionaire Derwood Hodgegrass regularly appears in the society column. He has heated the ocean outside his house to make winter-time swimming more pleasant, created a celebrity DNA archive, and installed caviar vending machines in his mansion.
After McGumbus disappeared, though, Hamptons residents did not seem too concerned for him. Perhaps they were happy to have some peace. Plus, he had been reported dead in the past, only to get up to his old mischief soon after.
And indeed, in November, Dan’s Papers wrote that authorities had found him holed up in an underground bunker on the Shelter Island beach, where he had been surviving on an incredibly large supply of his own goat jerky. He recently granted an interview to a reporter from Apocalypse Militia Gazette-Times.
Don’t waste time looking for his bunker, though. As with all things McGumbus, the story of a survivalist World War II vet buried in a beach bunker is too good to be true.