A quarter of a million participants in a Chicago game-maker’s holiday fundraising campaign can now lay claim to small pieces of an island in Maine that the company bought this year and renamed “Hawaii 2,” according to Max Temkin, a co-creator of the popular party game Cards Against Humanity.
The company, which was formed by a group of Highland Park High School friends, got the 6-acre island in Lake St. George for about $200,000, Temkin said Sunday evening.
Cards Against Humanity raised the money by offering to send 250,000 people 10 mystery packages in exchange for $15 as part of a holiday-themed publicity stunt. The surprise parcels included a copy of a new board game called Slap.45, a packet of “Miracle Berries” tablets that are supposed to inhibit bitter and sour taste receptors, and legal paperwork for a license to 1 square foot of “Hawaii 2,” formerly called Birch Island.
“We wanted to do something big,” Temkin said. “We thought about trying to launch something into space, or doing something visible from space. Eventually that led us down the path of buying a private island, which is something we’ve joked about in the past.”
In a letter to participants, Cards Against Humanity described the island as wooded and uninhabited. The participants must follow local and state laws and cannot damage or cut down any trees.
“If you hurt a tree on the Private Island, we will curse your family for a thousand (1,000) generations,” according to the license agreement that Cards Against Humanity sent to the participants.
Otherwise, Temkin said, they can use their square foot of land as they see fit — “whatever they can do in a square foot.”
Gail Philippi, town clerk and tax collector for Liberty, mused Monday about what that might be.
“Lots of people standing on one foot,” she said. “That was my first thought.”
She said that the taxes on the island, which is located quite close to Lake St. George State Park — possibly in swimming distance — add up to $4,808.16 annually. Divided by 250,000 co-owners, that would mean that each person would pay a very reasonable two cents or so to the town of Liberty in property taxes.
However, through the license agreement, the participants will not have to maintain or pay taxes on their slivers of land, according to Temkin, who said that in practice they will be able to use the island as a shared space for “nondestructive, recreational purposes.”
According to Cards Against Humanity’s letter to participants, the company bought the island for the following reasons: “1) Because it was funny, and 2) so we could give you a small piece of it. Also, 3) we’re preserving a pristine bit of American wilderness.”
Philippi said she hopes the new owners believe in the curse and do not cut down the trees on the island that she said might be better known locallys as Hayes or Berry Island. If the new owners do want to build something there, they would need to get a permit from the Liberty Planning Board. She also said that the island cannot be divided among all the new owners.
“There are subdivision ordinances,” she said. “You can only do so many splits in so many years. You certainly couldn’t have 250,000 parcels. You could have 250,000 owners of one parcel.”
Former owners Kenneth Fox and Janelle Bedke of Atherton, California, sold the property to Chicago-based Birch Island, LLC, on Oct. 31 for $190,000, according to Fox. But he said Monday that he did not know until that day exactly who had purchased it, or why.
“I was always curious about who bought it,” he said, adding that during the nearly 20 years he owned the island, he never posted ‘keep out’ signs and welcomed local use. “Probably most of the people who were given a share of it won’t go out to it. It’ll probably go on being used the way it’s been used, and that’s great.”
Fox, originally from Eddington, said he bought the island for $40,000 in 1995 with the dream of building a camp there for him and his siblings. But that never happened, and while he used to go out there for occasional picnics and wave at it while driving by on Route 3, property taxes rose precipitously and he decided several years ago to put the island up for sale.
“The year after I bought it, property taxes were $400. When I sold it, they’d gone up by 1,000 percent,” he said. “That’s one greedy town.”
The island languished on the market for years, with the sale price dropping from $350,000 to $200,000. Fox said he was about ready to give up and look for a way to donate it somewhere when the buyer came along.
“This seems like a decent use of the island,” he said. “But they won’t have anywhere to park.”
That concern was echoed by Linda Breslin, president of the Liberty Lakes Association, who said that the news of the 250,000 new owners of the island was likely to be a hot topic around the community. The lake is known for the pristine quality of its water, and Liberty residents want to keep it that way.
“This is unbelievable — wait till the town hears about this,” she said. “The Liberty Lakes Association certainly welcomes new people to the area. However, this is a distinctly different kind of neighbor, and we’ll all be watchful, as I’m sure the town of Liberty will be, that all state and local ordinances are adhered to.”
Ross Theriault of Boston, a Cards Against Humanity fan, is one of the co-owners of the island. The Bangor native said Monday that finding out what the mystery package contained was a big surprise.
“It is oddly exhilarating. The gift would have been awesome anywhere in the United States, but having it be in Maine, an hour from where I grew up, makes it even better,” Theriault wrote to the BDN.
He said he and his wife come to Maine a couple times a year, and plan to visit the island when it gets warmer out.
“I know a few other people who participated. We may have to throw a small island-warming party this summer,” Theriault said, adding that the event would definitely incorporate a round of the game. “I may need to invest in a good waterproof bag.”
However, he did not think that most of the co-owners are likely to want to visit their new property.
“Maybe someone will organize a big party,” Theriault said. “But I imagine most will just enjoy bragging about owning an island in Maine.”
In addition to the game being fun to play, he said he appreciates the fact that the company does unusual things like this holiday fundraising campaign.
“The guys … are doing things differently and it is awesome,” Theriault wrote.
A $250,000 sum raised through the mystery package stunt has been contributed to the Washington, D.C.-based Sunlight Foundation, which promotes transparency in government.
“[Government transparency] is not a sexy political issue and it often gets overlooked,” Temkin said.
In Cards Against Humanity, a designated Card Czar has a stack of cards printed with an innocuous fill-in-the-blank sentence or a question. The players, armed with cards of their own that are printed with a random word or phrase, must then offer up their best answer — often the most ridiculous or disgusting combination.
This year’s holiday campaign revolved around Kwanzaa, while a similar publicity stunt last year was pegged to Christmas and included such surprise shipments as a lump of Pennsylvania anthracite coal and a customized Cards Against Humanity card with the recipient’s name printed on it.
“If we do it again, no promises,” Temkin said. “I think you could look forward to a Hanukkah theme.”
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The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.