The Man Who Would Be King: The Story of Outer Baldonia — How Russell Arundel Founded a Nation and Brought the Soviet Union to Its Knees, and Other Tall Tales
Listen, let me tell you a fish story . . .
Once upon a time, there was a man named Russell M. Arundel. Born in Wisconsin in 1902, Arundel spent the 1920s and 1930s working as a journalist and Capitol Hill staffer, serving on the Mount Rushmore Memorial Commission, and worming his way into the fabric of official Washington life. A decade later he was playing poker at the White House, working as a lobbyist for the Pepsi-Cola Co., and making dubious loans to a soon-to-be-infamous senator named Joe McCarthy.
An interesting life. A colorful life. But would you believe me if I told you that Arundel later became absolute ruler of his own independent country and head of a mighty navy, and that in 1952 he declared war on the Soviet Union?
True, all true. But I also told you it was a fish story — and that’s sort of the point.
A Rock, a Refuge, a Mighty Nation
In or around 1949, Arundel — a fisherman of ferocious affection for the sport — was attending the International Tuna Cup Match in Nova Scotia when he happened upon an apparently unremarkable four-acre rock called Outer Bald Tusket Island: treeless, harsh, and unpopulated, but located smack in the midst of what were then some of the world’s best tuna fishing waters. Soon after, Arundel bought the island for $750 and built a 20- by 30-foot stone lodge at its crest, intending to use it as a fish camp and shelter — but then, one day, inspiration struck, and Arundel and his friends created their own country.
Legend says that rum may have been involved, but I prefer to credit sheer male idealism. Whatever the facts, the story remains both fuzzy and compelling: Gathered upon the island, woozy with camaraderie and drink, Arundel and his friends declared Outer Bald Tusket a separate and independent nation, a place where men could be men, fish could be fish, and society could finally assume its right and ideal form. Changing the island’s name to The Principality of Outer Baldonia, Arundel took for himself the title Prince of Princes and drafted a Declaration of Independence, which asserted in part:
That fishermen are a race alone. That fishermen are endowed with the following inalienable rights: The right to lie and be believed. The right of freedom from question, nagging, shaving, interruption, women, taxes, politics, war, monologues, care and inhibitions. The right to applause, vanity, flattery, praise and self-inflation. The right to swear, lie, drink, gamble and silence. The right to be noisy, boisterous, quiet, pensive, expensive and hilarious. The right to choose company and the right to be alone. The right to sleep all day and stay up all night.
The accompanying Charter of Outer Baldonia set forth the requirements and privileges of citizens (anyone who caught a bluefin tuna and forked over $50 was named a prince of the realm), established trade and industrial policy (the Principality’s primary export was listed as empty beer and rum bottles), created a hierarchy of the nation’s military leadership (69 admirals, and no one else), and established a national currency, the “tunar.” Women were banned from the island, but apparently none ever wanted to go anyway.
Introducing His Royal Highness, the Prince of Princes
Back home in Washington, Arundel set about the task of nation-building. He created a flag (a sea-green field with a tuna tail in a circle of white), talked Rand-McNally into putting Outer Baldonia on their maps, and listed the nation’s consulate in the Washington, D.C. phone book, its location matching that of his own offices.
And then a funny thing happened: People started to take Outer Baldonia seriously. Invitations to official Washington functions began to arrive, and Arundel found himself attended various soirees in his official diplomatic garb, which reportedly included medals fashioned from beer bottle caps.
This was the golden era of Outer Baldonia, the time later generations would look back on with pride and wonder. Men wrote from around the world, hoping for citizenship. U.S. Vice President Alben W. Barkley reportedly wanted to be Outer Baldonia’s Treasury Secretary, seeing perfection in the chance to manage a treasury with neither assets nor debts. Meanwhile, the Baldonians matched the ancient Spartans in dedication to their nation’s founding ideals, fishing, drinking, and boasting like Nietzschean supermen. The order of their days was rigorous and totemic: “By 5:30 in the morning you’re out fishing,” said Prince Arundel in a Time magazine profile. “You have breakfast on the way out, usually lobster stew, cooked on the boat, and masses of coffee. You sit in the rip tide, and some of you hope you get a tuna, and some hope you don’t.” Come night, “You find some convenient bar or table to collapse on.”
It was, for a while, Utopia. But then history came to crash the party.
An Enemy of the People
In 1952, deep in the heart of the Soviet Union, an apparatchik in the state-controlled media got hold of Outer Baldonia’s charter and saw in it proof positive of capitalist society’s decadence. Publishing in Moscow’s Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Gazette), the writer denounced Outer Baldonia and singled out Prince Arundel as an imperialist savage intent on decivilizing and dehumanizing his nation’s people.
History is replete with small offences that have sparked international incidents, and the Moskva Literaturnaya Gazeta affair proved no exception. When the magazine’s writer failed to heed an invitation to come (at her own expense) and observe the wholesome character of Baldonian life, Prince Arundel was left with little recourse. Grasping the reins of history, he stood tall — and declared war on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The tiny nation’s military and diplomatic corps sprang into action. The Baldonian Navy, with its 69 admirals and between 20 and 100 dories, smacks, and commercial fishing boats, was put on a war footing and sent to sea, where they immediately proved their superiority to the Soviet Navy in both offensive and defensive fishing. Halifax’s Armdale Yacht Club offered to commit its own fleet to the defense of the Principality, and the Nova Scotia legislature voted to officially recognize Outer Baldonia’s independence — as long as the Baldonians continued to pay their Nova Scotia real estate taxes.
In the face of this mighty, bellicose response, the Soviet Union chose not to commit its full military might to the Outer Baldonian War — a wise choice, as history would later prove. Forty years on, it was another confrontation with an apparently smaller and less organized military power, the Afghan Mujahedeen, that caused the Soviet Union to lose face and eventually collapse like a flan in a cupboard. Is it too much of a stretch to believe that, had the Soviets pursued war with Outer Baldonia, their end might have come much sooner?
I don’t think it is. But then, I like a good fish story.
The End of the Dream: Outer Baldonia Today
In the end, Outer Baldonia’s downfall came not due to war but due to overfishing in the vicinity of the Tusket Islands. As the tuna moved farther out to sea, Outer Baldonia’s princes and admirals followed and left their utopian nation behind. On December 28, 1973, Russell Arundel gave up both title and lands and sold Outer Baldonia for $1 to the Nova Society Bird Society, which now operates it as a breeding bird sanctuary. The island’s name has reverted to Outer Bald Tusket.
Arundel spent his last decades parlaying his Washington contacts and native smarts into a large fortune, owning a chain of Pepsi bottling plants and becoming a fixture on the Virginia fox-hunting scene.
Today, visitors to Outer Bald Tusket — of which there are a few, arriving by boat or occasionally sea kayak — can walk across a landscape of asters, grasses, and Queen Anne’s lace to see the simple lodge that once served as Outer Baldonia’s glorious capitol. Its roof and floors are long gone and its stone walls are crumbling, but if you look inside, you can still see, above the fireplace, a chiseled letter “A” for Russell Arundel, Prince of Princes, man among men, ruler of all he surveyed. It is up to us, now, to tell his tale. Go forth and spread the word, and feel free to exaggerate. The Prince wouldn’t have had it any other way.
(Originally published in onboard publications for Holland America and Carnival Cruise Lines, 2011)