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9 Strange Last Wills and Testaments
1: Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini, born in 1874, was considered the greatest magician and escape artist of his era, and possibly of all time. When he died in 1926 from a ruptured appendix, Houdini left his magician’s equipment to his brother Theodore, his former partner who performed under the name Hardeen.
His library of books on magic and the occult was offered to the American Society for Psychical Research on the condition that J. Malcolm Bird, research officer and editor of the ASPR Journal, resign. Bird refused, and the collection went instead to the Library of Congress.
The rabbits he pulled out of his hat went to the children of friends. Houdini left his wife a secret code ten words chosen at random that he would use to contact her from the afterlife. His wife held annual sances on Halloween for ten years after his death, but Houdini never appeared.
2: Marie Curie
Born in Russian occupied Poland in 1867, Marie Curie moved to Paris at age 24 to study science. As a physicist and chemist, Madame Curie was a pioneer in the early field of radioactivity, later becoming the first two time Nobel laureate and the only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different fields of science physics and chemistry.
When she died in 1934, a gram of pure radium, originally received as a gift from the women of America, was her only property of substantial worth. Her will stated: "The value of the element being too great to transfer to a personal heritage, I desire to will the gram of radium to the University of Paris on the condition that my daughter, Irene Curie, shall have entire liberty to use this gram . . . according to the conditions under which her scientific researches shall be pursued." Element 96, Curium (Cm), was named in honor of Marie and her husband, Pierre.
Our list of strange last wills and testaments continues on the next page.
3: William Randolph Hearst
Multimillionaire newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco in 1863. When he died in 1951, in accordance with his will, his $59.5 million estate was divided into three trusts one each for his widow, sons, and the Hearst Foundation for Charitable Purposes. Challenging those who claimed he had children out of wedlock, Hearst willed anyone who could prove "that he or she is a child of mine . . . the sum of one dollar. I hereby declare that any such asserted claim . . . would be utterly false." No one claimed it.
The book length will included the disposition of his $30 million castle near San Simeon, California. The University of California could have had it but decided it was too expensive to maintain, so the state government took it, and it is now a state and national historic landmark open for public tours.
5: S. Sanborn
When S. Sanborn, an American hatmaker, died in 1871, he left his body to science, bequeathing it to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., (then a professor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School) and one of Holmes’s colleagues. The will stipulated that two drums were to be made out of Sanborn’s skin and given to a friend on the condition that every June 17 at dawn he would pound out the tune "Yankee Doodle" at Bunker Hill to commemorate the anniversary of the famous Revolutionary War battle. The rest of his body was "to be composted for a fertilizer to contribute to the growth of an American elm, to be planted in some rural thoroughfare."
Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on January 19, 1943. In her brief career as a rock and blues singer, she recorded four albums containing a number of rock classics, including "Piece of My Heart," "To Love Somebody," and "Me and Bobby McGee." Known for her heavy drinking and drug use, she died of an overdose on October 4, 1970.