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.
3. 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.”
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, she 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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