CLOSE

13 Bizarre Stipulations in Wills

News outlets reported this week that legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite never amended his will to include Joanna Simon, who had been his girlfriend for the last four years of his life. Cronkite's daughter said the newsman never planned to leave Simon, a former opera singer and older sister of Carly Simon, any sort of inheritance, but either way, wills are back in the news. What better time to look at some of the most bizarre codicils ever written?

1. Leona Helmsley
The notoriously egomaniacal hotelier famously left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble, while entirely cutting two of her grandchildren out of her will (for "reasons which are known to them"). Her other two grandchildren didn't get off the hook entirely; their inheritances were contingent upon their regularly making visits to their father's grave, where they would have to sign a registration book to prove they had shown up.

2. Carlotta Liebenstein
Don't think Trouble Helmsley is the richest pooch on the block. When Liebenstein, a German countess, died in 1991, she left her entire $80-million estate to her dog, Gunther.

wax-head3. Jeremy Bentham
The 18th-and-19th-century social philosopher left the world a rather odd bequest in his will: his preserved, clothed body. No one's quite sure what Bentham was getting at with this "gift," but since his 1832 death his clothed skeleton "“ topped with a wax model of Bentham's head "“ has been preserved in a wood-and-glass cabinet known as the Auto-Icon. It now resides at University College London and is occasionally moved so Bentham can "attend" meetings.

Bentham didn't want for the Auto-Icon to feature a wax head; he actually carried around the glass eyes he wanted used in his preserved face for years before his death. However, the preservation process distorted his face, so the wax replica had to stand in. For many years Bentham's real head sat between his feet in the Auto-Icon, but it was such a target for pranksters that it eventually had to be locked away.

4. Sandra West
West, a California socialite and oil heiress, died when she was just 37 years old and requested that she be buried "in my lace nightgown ... in my Ferrari, with the seat slanted comfortably." Her family buried West in her powder-blue 1964 Ferrari 330 America, then covered the car with cement to deter car thieves. Good call: nice examples of that year's 330 America can now sell for well over $300,000.

5. Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara

The Portuguese aristocrat was a childless bachelor, so he divvied up his estate by picking 70 names at random from the Lisbon phone book. When he died 13 years later, his attorneys notified the unsuspecting beneficiaries that they stood to inherit their benefactor's cash, his home, and his car.

6. Heinrich Heine
The German poet left his entire fortune to his wife, but with one catch: she had to remarry "because then there will be at least one man to regret my death."

7. S. Sanborn
Sanborn, a 19th-century New England hatter, left a rather macabre bequest to a friend—a pair of drums made from Sanborn's skin. The friend received further instructions to go to Bunker Hill each June 17th and play "Yankee Doodle Dandy" on the drums.

8. T.M. Zink
Zink, an Iowa lawyer who died in 1930, must have had some pretty bad experiences with women. When he died he left his daughter a measly five bucks, and his wife got nothing. He stipulated that the rest of his $100,000 estate be put in a trust for 75 years, then used to create the Zink Womanless Library. The library would have no feminine decorations, no books or magazine articles by female authors, and was required to have "No Women Admitted" carved into the stone over the entrance.

9. Charles Millar

The Canadian attorney died a childless bachelor, but he left $568,106 to the mother who gave birth to the most children in Toronto in the 10 years following his 1928 death. This bequest prompted what Canadians called "the Baby Derby" as mothers raced to win the fortune. Finally, in 1938 four winners split the prize after giving birth to nine babies apiece.

10. Robert Louis Stevenson
When the celebrated author died, he left his friend Annie H. Ide his birthday. Ide had previously complained to Stevenson about the inconvenience of being born on Christmas, so the writer left her November 13th as a new birthday provided she take care of it with "moderation and humanity... the said birthday not being so young as it once was."

poetry-mag
11. Ruth Lilly
This one's not like the others on this list, since Ruth Lilly is still alive. Lilly, a pharmaceutical heiress and aspiring poet, spent much of her life trying to convince editors to publish her verses. Although she didn't get any bylines, the editor of Poetry magazine once sent Lilly a handwritten rejection note, and that was enough for her. In 2002, Lilly pledged $100 million worth of stock to the foundation that publishes the journal.

12. Henry Budd
It's not clear how he originally made 200,000 pounds, but when Henry Budd died in 1862, he left his substantial fortune to his two sons on the condition that neither sullied his lip with a mustache.

13. Mark Gruenwald
When longtime comic book writer and editor Mark Gruenwald died in 1996, fans of the Marvel Comics icon probably thought they'd seen the last of the former Captain America writer. Gruenwald had other ideas, though. He requested that his ashes be mixed into the ink used to print the first trade paperback anthology of Squadron Supreme, another one of his landmark creations.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
arrow
History
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
iStock
iStock

The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios