Self-proclaimed hermit, 81-year-old ‘River Dave’, whose real name is David Lidstone, became unintentionally famous after losing his home to a fire. He’d been living off-the-grid in the same secluded New Hampshire location for almost three decades when his cabin burned down. His longtime friends Jodie Gedeon and Sharon Copello organized a GoFundMe that quickly reached its $15,000 goal. On August 11, New Hampshire resident and billionaire CEO of Palantir Technologies Alexander Karp reached out to Lidstone and wrote him a personal check to the tune of $180,000 for living and future expenses.
Lidstone didn’t own the property where he’d built his modest A-frame cabin on the banks of the Merrimack River, but says he had permission from the site’s previous owner to stay there. The current owner of the land took steps to have him removed. On the same day that Lidstone appeared in court charged with civil contempt for refusing to vacate, his cabin burnt to the ground. The fire left “River Dave”, known for occasionally befriending a passing kayaker or boater, homeless along with his cats and chickens.
Estranged from his wife and family, for most of his 27-year tenure on the 73-acre plot – those ties in the community proved strong enough to form an unexpected lifeline. As word of his plight spread- donations and offers of places to stay began to roll in. While the response was staggering and the initial $15,000 funding goal was quickly met, no one could have predicted such a large donation.
Lidstone told news outlets “How can I express myself and my gratitude towards something like that? I start to tear up whenever I think about it. For an old logger who always had to work, for anyone to give you that type of money, it’s incredibly difficult for me to get my head around. I feel about as good as I ever have in my life.” A grateful Lidstone said the recent outpouring of kindness and support has been something of a revelation to him. “Maybe the things I’ve been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life. I grew up never being hugged or kissed, or having any close contact.”
The money raised for River Dave is being put into a trust and he’ll be staying at an undisclosed location over the winter. Sometime next year, at a building site as yet to be named, construction for his new home will begin. As the GoFundMe setup wound down, Jodie Gedeon said “We feel we can help Dave build a good life now and will forever be thankful. We also know how many other charities and people are in need of help. At the end of August we’re asking that the spotlight be passed on to others to bring awareness and opportunities to spread the love and continue to be the change! The world is a better place with each of you in it and we simply can’t thank you enough.”