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13 Bizarre Stipulations in Wills

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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.

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The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Tengi

Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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Fart Gallery: A Novel History of Spencer Gifts
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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When U.S. Army Corps bombardier Max Spencer Adler was shot down over Europe and imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, it’s not likely he dreamed of one day becoming the czar of penis-shaped lollipops and lava lamps. But when Adler became a free man, he decided to capitalize on a booming post-war economy by doing exactly that—pursuing a career as the head of a gag gift mail-order empire that would eventually stretch across 600 retail locations and become a rite of passage for mall-trekking teens in the 1980s and 1990s.

To sneak into a Spencer Gifts store against your parents' wishes and revel in its array of tacky novelties and adult toys felt a little like getting away with something. Glowing with lasers and stuffed with Halloween masks, the layout always had something interesting within arm’s reach. But stocking the stores with such provocations sometimes carried consequences.

A row of lava lamps on display at Spencer Gifts
Dean Hochman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Returning from the war, Adler sensed a wave of relief running through the general population. Goods no longer had to be rationed, and toy factories could return to making nonessential items. The guilt of spending time or money on frivolous items was disappearing.

With his brother Harry, Adler started Spencer Gifts as a mail-order business in 1947. Their catalog, which became an immediate success, was populated with items like do-it-yourself backyard skating rinks and cotton candy makers [PDF]—items no one really needed but were inexpensive enough to indulge in. In some ways, the Spencer catalogs resembled the mail-order comic ads promising X-ray glasses and undersea fish kingdoms. Instead of kids, Adler was targeting the deeper pockets of adults.

Bolstered by that early success, Adler moved into a curious category: live animals. He had small donkeys transported from Mexico and marketed them as the new trend in domestic pets. LIFE magazine took note of the fad in 1954, observing the $85 burros, being sold at a clip of 40 a day, “except for stubbornness, are very placid.”

Burro fever foreshadowed the direction of Spencer’s in the years to come. The Adlers opened their first physical location—minus livestock—in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1963, expanding on their notion to peddle unique gift items like the Reduce-Eze girdle, which promised to shave inches off the wearer’s stomach. That claim caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which chastised the company for advertising the device could reduce body weight without exercise [PDF]. The FTC also took them to task for implying their jewelry contained precious metals [PDF] when the items did not.

Offending the FTC aside, Spencer’s did a brisk enough business to garner the attention of California-based entertainment company Music Corporation of America, Inc. (MCA), which purchased the brand and proceeded to expand it in the rapidly growing number of malls across the country in the 1970s and 1980s. (The mail order business closed in 1990.)

Brick and mortar retail was ideal for their inventory, which encouraged perusal, store demonstrations, and roving bands of giggling teenagers. The company wanted its stores to capture foot traffic by stuffing its aisles with items that had a look-at-this factor—a novelty that invited someone to pick it up and show it to a friend. When executives saw specific categories taking off, they “Spencerized,” or amalgamated them. When there was a resurgence of interest in Rubik’s Cubes and merchandise from the 1983 Al Pacino film Scarface, visitors were soon greeted in stores by stacks of Scarface-themed Rubik’s Cubes.

Mike Mozart via Flickr

Apart from its busy aesthetic—“like the stage from an old Poison video,” as one journalist put it—Spencer's was also known for its inventory of risqué adult novelty items. Pole-dancing kits and sex-themed card games occupied a portion of the store’s layout. The toys captured a demographic that might have been too embarrassed to visit a dedicated adult store but felt that browsing in a mall was harmless.

Sometimes, the store’s blasé attitude toward stocking such items drew critical attention. In 2010, police in Rapid City, South Dakota seized hundreds of items because Spencer's had failed to register as an “adult-oriented business,” something the city ordinance required. As far back as the 1980s, parents in various locales had complained that suggestive material was viewable by minors. In 2008, ABC news affiliate WTVD in Durham, North Carolina dispatched two teenage girls with hidden cameras to see what they would be allowed to buy. While they were shooed away from a back-of-store display, they were able to purchase “two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan, and simulate sex” as well as a penis-shaped necklace.

As a possible consequence of the internet, there are fewer incidences of parental outrage directed at Spencer’s these days. And despite the general downturn of both malls and retail shopping, the company bolsters its bottom line with the seasonal arrival of Spirit Halloween, a pop-up store specializing in costumes. Despite only being open two months out of the year, their Spirit locations contribute to roughly half of Spencer's $250 million in annual revenue.

Today, the chain’s 650 stores remain a source for impulse shopping. They still occasionally court controversy over items that appear to stereotype the Irish as drunken oafs or other inflammatory merchandise. With traditional mall locations expected to shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next five years, it’s not quite clear whether their assortment of novelties will continue to have a large retail footprint. But so long as demand exists for fake poop, fart sprays, and penis ring toss kits, Spencer’s will probably have a home.

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