February 08, 1988 12:00 PM

The 1,250 residents of Troy, Kans., tend to think of Ernest Dittemore as somewhat eccentric. Partly it’s because he’s toothless and sooty. Mostly it’s because he lives in a hole. This is not to speak disparagingly of the man’s abode. Dittemore, 72, resides in a hole dug five feet underground and partly covered by a cement slab. He enters through a gap in the bottom of a shack, and drops diagonally into his warren—a 10-foot-long, 4-foot-wide hole of packed earth walls, complete with a chimney, stove and coal-oil lantern. This is not the stuff of which Better Homes & Gardens is made, but Ernie likes it.

The last surviving member of his immediate family, Dittemore was born and raised on the farm he calls home. A bachelor, he was living alone in his six-room house when it was destroyed by fire in 1975. Friends pitched in and bought him a trailer, but by then Ernie was committed to living in his hole. “It’s cheaper and more efficient,” he says. “When I was living in the house, I only used one room anyway, and that was the kitchen.” So when he’s finished his day’s duties—tending to his horse, nine hogs and 35 head of cattle on his 80-acre spread, Dittemore retires to his hole. There he cooks dinner (food is kept in the trailer’s freezer), pops a few Snickers or Milky Way bars for dessert and turns in for the night.

A sweet-tempered man, Dittemore is a popular figure in Troy. He enjoys company (though it’s hard to fit more than two people in the hole) and always shares his candy bars with visitors. “A lot of people want to believe he’s kooky,” said neighbor Jim Gilmore, “but they don’t know him. Everyone who knows him loves him.”

“There are no ill feelings toward Ernie,” says Dittemore’s lawyer, Robert Reeder. “The reverse is true. He just chooses his way of life. Of course, he doesn’t like to spend money.” But Dittemore takes issue with the cheapskate label. “I would argue with that. I get along real good. Besides, some people who aren’t cheap don’t get along so good.” True, he admits, his home isn’t exactly a palace, “but then, I guess I’m not a king either.”

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