A reporter follows the twists and turns of an 81-year-old hermit determined to stay in his isolated squatter’s home. The impact of her AP story likely changed his view of life as a recluse.
A vividly detailed AP story about an 81-year-old man’s quest to remain in an isolated New Hampshire cabin hooked readers around the world, led to an outpouring of support for his predicament and eventually prompted the man to reconsider his hermit lifestyle.
The chain of events began when Concord, New Hampshire-based reporter Kathy McCormack began looking into the legal fight involving David Lidstone, a spritely, small-statured man with a long white beard known to local boaters and kayakers as “River Dave.” Lidstone had been living peacefully in an A-frame cabin along the Merrimack River for 27 years, growing his own food, cutting his own firewood and tending to his chickens. But in 2015, the property owner learned of Lidstone’s presence and moved to evict him. Lidstone refused to leave, and was jailed in July.
While he was in jail, a fire burned down the cabin.
McCormack turned the dramatic developments into a powerful story by fleshing out the details of Lidstone’s life and the local efforts to help him stay put. Through court records and interviews with family and friends, she learned he was a U.S. Air Force veteran, had four children and had been severely injured in a logging accident. And unlike another man living off the grid in Maine — the “North Pond Hermit” — McCormack reported that Lidstone had no police record. She ended by noting that it was unclear where Lidstone would go once released from jail.
The story was an immediate hit on social media and ultimately captured more than 535,000 pageviews on APNews, making it the site’s most popular story of the week.
In the following days, McCormack and colleagues continued to chronicle Lidstone’s saga, including the outpouring of support which he gratefully received and his release from jail after a judge determined he likely wouldn’t return to the woods since the cabin burned down. In an all-formats package just a week after the initial story, Lidstone noted the global reaction to his story and told McCormack he thinks it’s time to give up his reclusive lifestyle. Boston photographers Elise Amendola and Steven Senne made storytelling images after Lidstone’s release from jail and Boston’s Rodrique Ngowi delivered on the video. Significant assists came from fellow reporters Michael Casey, Patrick Whittle and Holly Ramer, with key edits to the evolving story by Donna Edwards and Ryan Kryska.
“I’ve hidden too many years,” said Lidstone, who has been staying with friends. “Maybe the things I’ve been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life.”
For bringing this engaging story to life and her persistence in following it through, McCormack wins AP’s Best of the Week award.