For those of us of a mischievous nature our will represents the last opportunity for a bit of sport. For those of you who like the thought of reaching out from beyond the grave but are struggling to think of something to insert into your will, this is the first of an occasional series of unusual and, I hope, amusing bequests from history.
Of course, the fact that our will is being read dashes any hopes we may have had of achieving immortality. However, we might be able to achieve a vicarious form of immortality through the arrangements we effect by way of our will. Take the case of the famous social philosopher, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) who is widely regarded as the founder of utilitarianism. He left his preserved, clothed body to posterity. No one is quite sure what he was trying to achieve with this gift but ever since his death in 1832 his clothed skeleton, topped off with a waxen model of his head, has been preserved in a wood and glass cabinet, known as the Auto-Icon.
It wasn’t Bentham’s intention to have a wax head atop of his skeleton and for years he carried around with him a pair of glass eyes that he wanted to be affixed to his preserved face. Unfortunately, the process of preserving his body distorted his face to such an extent that a wax replica had to be used. Apparently, his head was stored between his legs but, not surprisingly, presented such a source of temptation to would-be pranksters that it was locked away. The Auto-Icon is currently stored in the university he founded, University College, London, and is occasionally moved so that he can attend meetings.
An alternative way to achieve a sort of immortality is to follow the example of Juan Potomachi who popped his clogs in 1955. He left a grant of $50,000 in his will to the Teatro Dramatico on the condition that they used his skull in future productions of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Hamlet!
Our final attempt at immortality is that of an American hat maker, S Sanborn, who died in 1871, leaving his body to science and bequeathing it to Oliver Wendell Holmes, the then professor of anatomy at Harvard, and to one of his colleagues. In his will Sanborn stipulated that two drums were to be made out of his skin and given to a friend who on the 17th June of every year had to go to Bunker Hill and at dawn pound out the tune, Yankee Doodle Dandy, in commemoration of the American rebels’ victory in 1775. The rest of Sanborn’s body was to be composted as fertiliser and used to grow an American elm.
Food for thought! To be continued…