Weird History 12 Historic People Who Had Crazy Last Wills  

Peter Dugre
9.8k views 12 items

Some last wills and testaments shatter family bonds, particularly when vast sums of wealth get left to the family dog and not to the humans on the family tree that are hoping to reap the low-hanging fruit of inheritance. Then there are those final wishes handed down by the eccentric that leave executors scratching their noggins and offspring carrying out the bizarre orders of dead relatives. 

The craziest wills in history - some from wills of historical figures, and some just plain weird wills of history from obscure but eccentric individuals who check "write a crazy will" off of their list before kicking the bucket - often leave a lasting legacy of lunacy. In death, some of these crazy will writers cemented their quirks for posterity by continuing their march to a beat of different drummer into the afterlife. 


Jeremy Bentham is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 12 Historic People Who Had Crazy Last Wills
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

Some leave fortunes to universities for the purpose of constructing new buildings, preserving a donor’s name for posterity while supporting a future generations of scholars. Jeremy Bentham left his embalmed corpse for University College in London, where it has remained in a corridor since the 1830s. What would come of his body upon death had become an obsession for the pioneering moral philosopher, so much so that he carried around the spectacles that were to be affixed to his dead head. He also specified that he be dressed in a black suit to keep with the appearance he presented in life. Bentham's body was placed beneath the tag "Auto-Icon" where it still creepily sits at the university.

In practice, preservation of the head didn’t work out as planned. The skin sagged under his spectacles. His once-full cheeks hollowed out, leaving a gaunt and ghastly image at the university. To improve the appearance, a wax head was screwed into Bentham’s skeleton, but the real severed head remained at his feet preserved in glass. The problem was, exuberant student pranksters regularly commandeered the real head. Since the 1970s, the real head has been removed and stored under lock and key to protect it from kidnapping.

Other than his body (his organs went to research), Bentham left behind visionary moral philosophies, some of which have only recently become mainstream.

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John Porter Bowman Built a Mansion Complete with Staff to Enjoy After His Resurrection


John Porter Bowman Built a Man... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 12 Historic People Who Had Crazy Last Wills
Photo:  graphicsdump/Pixabay/CC0 1.0

A tanner from Vermont, John Porter Bowman had an optimistic view of the afterlife, perhaps due to the melancholy and morbid perspective he gained during life. His wife and daughters had died before him, so he dedicated much time to an ostentatious mausoleum and 21-room mansion in their honor. When he died in 1891 and was to join them in their decked-out tomb, he also ordered that the mansion be staffed and kept up as if the family was returning home each evening. 

Bowman believed once he ceased to exist, they’d all return to the living. To staff the family home, Bowman set up a $50,000 trust and specified that meals be prepared daily in order to have food ready to serve the hungry reincarnated who had endured the passage back to the living world. Servants maintained the ghostly estate and their employment from Bowman’s death in 1891 to 1950. It's no surprise that the estate is rumored to be haunted.

Charles Vance Millar Filled His Will with Some Very Expensive Gags


Charles Vance Millar is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 12 Historic People Who Had Crazy Last Wills
Photo: tamakisono/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

Canadian millionaire Charles Vance Millar found a richness in humor almost as great as in the money he earned in life through sound investment and practicing law. He died on Halloween 1926, but it might have been more fitting for the date to have been April Fool's Day, for his last will and testament was loaded with gags, chief among them bequeathing his fortune to a Toronto family that could birth the most children over a 10-year period following his death.

The race for Millar’s fortune, widely covered in newspapers at the time, became known as the Stork Derby and eventually had six Toronto families earning the equivalent of at least $200,000 in today’s Canadian money for their efforts in having at least nine children. Four families received $2 million in today’s money, but two other families left out fought for their reward in court before getting the $200,000 share. In particular, a family that produced three stillborn babies, which would have upped its total to 11 babies, finally saw the fruits of the labor after a court ruled to count the deceased children.

Millar might have underestimated how motivated competitors would be when he penned the will. He hadn’t banked on the Great Depression making the opportunity he bestowed upon Toronto families all the more attractive. Dozens entered the running to reproduce like hares.  

He also had outlined several other ironic wishes in his will. He left a home (an island getaway in Jamaica) to three men who hated each other. To people known to oppose gambling, he left interests in a jockey club. To teetotalers, he left his shares in a brewery. That’s rich.

Solomon Sanborn Wanted His Skin to Be Made Into a Drum to Play "Yankee Doodle"


Solomon Sanborn Wanted His Ski... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 12 Historic People Who Had Crazy Last Wills
Photo: Archibald Willard/via Wikimedia

Some patriots have "America" tattooed on their skin. Massachusetts hat-maker Solomon Sanborn, who died in 1871, wished that his skin get fashioned into a drum to keep the beat to "Yankee Doodle." He was into the American Revolution and specified that after his organs were donated to science, the largest organ, his skin, be made into two drums which his drummer friend was to use to play the patriotic tune. Specifically, the drummer was to go to Bunker Hill every June 17 and beat out the song on his dried and stretched hide