When authorities on Nantucket Island recently discovered that Thomas Johnson had spent the last decade secretly living in a 158-square-foot bunker beneath some of the priciest real estate on the eastern seaboard, they were astonished at his amenities: Belgian stone floors, cedar paneling, skylights, a queen-size bed. Intrigued, we caught up with the 38-year-old recluse, who’s staying with a friend while he appeals his eviction notices.
So . . . you’re a hermit?
I don’t fit the bill of an underground kook. And I’m not prejudiced against anybody. I hate everyone equally.
You were eight feet underground. Was it dirty down there?
When people think underground, they think dirt. My place is not dirty at all. I’m a cleanness freak. People are envious.
What about the winters?
It never got colder than 52 degrees. The stove would eventually heat up the stone floor. The stonework was beautiful. It looked like I had a team of Aztecs come in there and lay it.
Must have been pretty lonely.
Every day I got to talk to the animals. Red squirrels. Chipmunks. Owls. They liked to listen to me talk.
Any critters you’re not so fond of?
Rats. One time one dug in through the back vent into an empty space behind the wall. God almighty, did that infuriate me? I drilled holes and shot the space full of foam. I hope I nailed the son of a bitch with foam.
Did you ever think, Gee, it sure would be nice to order a pizza?
So, what happens next?
I’ve got a cliff dwelling in the Catskills and a bunker near a waterfall in Pennsylvania. I’m like a beaver. I can carve a place into the woods, and you’d never know it was there.
Reprinted from Outside (March 1999). Subscriptions: $18/yr. (12 issues) from Box 7785, Red Oak, IA 51591-0785.