Hetty Green was an eccentric miser who became known as the “Witch of Wall Street”. With her business acumen she accumulated such wealth that she was the richest woman in the world. In order to save money, Hetty would work out of trunks at her local bank so she wouldn’t have to pay rent. When her son fell ill, she disguised herself and took him to a charity hospital; when they realized who she was, she fled claiming she would cure her son herself. Unfortunately he contracted gangrene and had to have his leg amputated. She always wore the same black dress and never changed her underwear unless it wore out. She moved back and forth between New York and New Jersey in order to avoid the taxman.
12. William Archibald Spooner
William Archibald Spooner is forever locked into history because the linguistic phenomenon known as a “spoonerism” is named after him. A spoonerism involves the accidental (or sometimes intentional) swapping of letters, words, or vowels in a sentence - for example: “Go and shake a tower” (meaning “go and take a shower”). Spooner was a professor at Oxford and he became so famous for his spoonerisms that people would attend his lectures just to hear him make a mistake. He was not pleased about the great publicity that surrounded him but as he neared death his attitude softened and he gave interviews to the press. Spooner not only got his words wrong: he once wrote to a fellow professor to ask him to come immediately to help solve a problem. At the end of the letter he added a post-script that the matter had been resolved and he needn’t come. Some spoonerisms attributed to Spooner are:
“Mardon me padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?” (Pardon me, madam, this pew is occupied. Can I show you to another seat?)
“Let us glaze our asses to the queer old Dean” (…raise our glasses to the dear old Queen)
“We’ll have the hags flung out” (…flags hung out)
John Christie and his wife are most well known for starting the Glyndeborne Opera Festival but John was also a famed British eccentric. One evening while sitting next to the Queen during the opera, he removed his glass eye, cleaned it, put it back in its socket and asked the queen whether it was in straight. If he got too hot, he would cut the arms off his formal jacket - which he would often wear with a pair of old tennis shoes. He owned 180 handkerchiefs, 110 shirts, and despite paying tens of thousands of pounds on an opera production, would travel third class and carry his own luggage to avoid tipping. For a while, Christie would wear nothing but lederhosen and in 1933, he expected all guests of the opera to do the same.
Oscar Wilde is undoubtedly the most famous member of this list - and for good reason. During a time of moral conservatism, Wilde managed to survive his youth decked out in flamboyant clothing exuding eccentricity, because of his stunning wit - the true cause of his celebrity. While studying at Oxford University, Oscar would walk through the streets with a lobster on a leash. His room was decorated with bright blue china, sunflowers, and peacock feathers. He was the direct opposite of what Victorian England expected a man to be and he flaunted it for all he was worth. Unfortunately an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas brought an end to a brilliant career when Wilde was jailed for sodomy.
Also known as Lord Berners, Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson got off to a strange start in life with a super-religious grandmother and a prejudiced mother. When he was nine he was sent to boarding school where he had a relationship with an older boy - the relationship ended when Lord Berners vomited on him. As an adult, Berners became a relatively good composer and writer - and an extremely eccentric man. He had the pigeons at his stately home dyed in a variety of colors (image above) and he kept a pet giraffe with which he would have afternoon tea regularly. His chauffeur had to fit his Rolls Royce out with a harpsichord so Berners could play music whilst being driven around the countryside. He left his estate to his much younger companion, the equally eccentric Robert Heber-Percy.
William Buckland is famous for two things: he was the first man to write a full account of a fossil, and he was incredibly eccentric when it came to animals and food. Buckland’s love of natural history resulted in his house being something akin to a zoo. He filled it with animals of every kind and he then proceeded to eat them all (and serve them to guests). He claimed to have eaten his way through every animal. The creatures that he said tasted worst were bluebottle flies, and mole. Various guests to dinner describe being served panther, crocodile, and mouse. A famous storyteller at the time (Augustus Hare) told this tale of Buckland: “Talk of strange relics led to mention of the heart of a French King [Louis XIV] preserved at Nuneham in a silver casket. Dr. Buckland, whilst looking at it, exclaimed, ‘I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before,’ and, before anyone could hinder him, he had gobbled it up, and the precious relic was lost for ever.”
Francis Egerton (8th Earl of Bridgewater) inherited his title along with a very large fortune in 1823. He became famous for his unusual dinner parties which he threw for dogs. All of the invited dogs would be dressed in the finest fashions of the day - including shoes. Another eccentricity was his manner of measuring time; Egerton would wear a pair of shoes only once - when he was done with them, he would line them up in rows in order to count the passing days. He also kept pigeons and partridges which had their wings clipped so he could shoot them for sport even with failing eyesight. When he died he left a large number of important documents on the subject of French and Italian literature to the British Museum, as well as a large financial donation to the Royal Society.
If you thought the previous entries were eccentric, you are in for a surprise. Jemmy (James) Hirst was so famous an eccentric in his own time, that King George III summoned him to tea. When he received the invitation, Hirst declined - stating that he was training an otter to fish. Eventually he did visit the King where he threw a goblet of water over a courtier who was laughing; Hirst believed the man was having a fit of hysteria. The King gave him a number of bottles of wine from the royal cellar. Jemmy loved animals and he trained his bull to behave like a horse. The bull (named Jupiter) would draw his carriage about the village and Hirst even rode him in fox hunts. Instead of dogs, he used pigs that he had trained as hunt dogs. He regularly blew a horn to invite the poor to his home for free food - which was served out of a coffin. When he died, he requested 12 old maids to follow his coffin to the grave, as well as a bagpiper and a fiddler to play happy music.
5. Alfred Mehran - The Terminal Man
We’ve all heard of people living in some strange places, but this guy just might take the cake. Alfred is an Italian refugee who presently resides in the Charles De Gaulle Airport Terminal, and has done so since 1988. The story goes that he was expelled from his home country of Italy and decided to move to the United Kingdom. There was just one problem. Alfred lacked identification. Doing what he could, he claimed that his bag was stolen and that he’d lost all of his forms of ID and important documents. Surprisingly, he managed to fly out but failed to seal the deal all the way through. When he arrived, officials sent him right back to Charles De Gaulle. Since Alfred didn’t have any papers when he arrived BACK in town, he couldn’t prove who he was. Alfred has since lived in the Airport Terminal at Charles De Gaulle.
4. Lina Medina - The World’s Youngest Mother
This Peruvian was, and is to this day, the world’s youngest mother - at the age of five. Doctor’s were stunned when they examined Medina’s growing belly, only to discover that she was pregnant. Up to this day, Median refuses interviews and very scarcely talks about the unique experience or it’s origin. Doctor’s found no evidence that the pregnancy did not occur in the normal manner but some say there must have been another cause.
3. Noel Godin - Modern Robin Hood
Noel Godin is the epitome of a cartoon clown, with a vengeance. Godin makes his living and his rounds flinging cream pies at people. Traditional targets for this fluffy assault haven been those “lacking in a sense of humor” or people that Godin believes to be “Self Important”. Perhaps the most famous victim on guerrilla pie warfare has been Bill Gates. In 1992, Godin and his team attained the cooperation of nearly 30 people in order to take Bill unexpectedly and pelt him with cream pies. The event went off without a hitch and Noel Godin has been the world’s most famous practical joker ever since.
2. Simeon Ellerton - The Natural Carpenter
1702 - 1799
Simeon Ellerton lived in a small village during the 18th century. He loved to exercise, so much in fact that he would often deliver messages and packages from here to there just to get around. As time went on, Ellerton thought that he would eventually build himself a house but didn’t know how he was going to do it. One day while delivering, Ellerton picked up a stone and subconsciously carried it along with him to his destination. This triggered an epiphany. From then on, every time Ellerton would deliver anything, he’d pick up a stone and carry it with him. After many years, Ellerton produced a massive collection of stones and eventually built himself a modest house using them. It is often rumored that even after Ellerton’s house was built, he felt uncomfortable without his stones, so he’d continue to pick them up while walking until the day he died.
1. Sir George Sitwell - Eccentric Extraordinaire
1702 - 1799
Sir George Sitwell didn’t have just one odd quality, but a host of them. This is a man who got so annoyed with insects and wasps living in his household that he invented a firearm for hunting them. Sitwell had upwards of seven libraries, attempted to pay his son’s tuition with produce, having the animals on his farm stenciled in blue and white to make them more pleasing to the eye, and a host of other things. George Sitwell is most famous for his audacious way of talking with people. A quote, widely cited from George’s house in England reads: “I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.”