“The Witch of Wall Street”

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If Ebenezer Scrooge were a woman, he’d look like this. Hetty Green (1834-1916) amassed more than $100 million as a shrewd businesswoman, but today she’s remembered mostly for her breathtaking stinginess.

Born into a Massachusetts whaling family, Hetty was reading financial papers to her father at age 6 and keeping the family books at 13. She inherited $7.5 million on her father’s death, and reportedly married only to keep her relatives at bay (she made her fiance sign a prenup). When her husband divorced her and then died, she moved to Hoboken and basically went nuts.

Legends say she never heated her house or used hot water; that she wore one old black dress; that she rode in an old carriage. Rather than pay rent, she sat on the floor of New York’s Seaboard National Bank and ate only oatmeal heated on the office radiator, and she would travel thousands of miles to collect a debt of a few hundred dollars.

Almost no expense was worthwhile. Her son’s leg had to be amputated when she tried to treat him at home. She herself refused treatment for a hernia because it cost $150.

When she died, at age 80, she may have been the richest woman in the world. Unfortunately, you can’t take it with you.

Veteran Longevity

The last surviving American veteran of the …

  • … American Revolutionary War, Daniel F. Bakeman, died in 1869 at age 109.
  • … War of 1812, Hiram Cronk, died in 1905 at age 105.
  • … Mexican-American War, Owen Thomas Edgar, died in 1929 at age 98.
  • … Spanish-American War, Jones Morgan, died in 1993 at age 111.

The last surviving Union veteran of the American Civil War was Albert Woolson, who died in 1956 at age 109. Amazingly, the last surviving Confederate, John B. Salling, survived until 1959, when he died at age 113.

Four Months Adrift

In 1942, Chinese sailor Poon Lim survived 130 days drifting alone in the South Atlantic. A German U-boat torpedoed his ship and he climbed into a life raft. Lim stayed alive by catching rainwater in a canvas tarp and fishing with a bent nail. At first he counted the days by tying knots in a rope, but then simply began counting full moons. He reached Brazil in April 1943, 20 pounds lighter but able to walk unaided. “I hope no one will ever have to break that record,” he said.

Belated Surrenders

For most Japanese, World War II ended in 1945. But not for some:

  • Shoichi Yokoi, a soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army, was discovered in a remote section of Guam in 1972. He had been hiding in an underground jungle cave for 28 years, refusing to believe leaflets that said the war had ended.
  • 2nd. Lt. Hiroo Onoda hid in the Philippines jungle for 29 years. He finally gave up in 1974, when his old commanding officer convinced him the war was over. He surrendered in his dress uniform and sword, with his Arisaka rifle still in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition, and several hand grenades.
  • The last holdout, Capt. Fumio Nakahira of the Japanese Imperial Army, was discovered on Mindoro Island in the Philippines in April 1980 — 35 years after V-J Day.

“It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive,” Yokoi said on returning to Japan. He got $300 in back pay.

Human Life Expectancy

Average human lifespan, by era:

  • Neanderthal: 20 years
  • Neolithic: 20 years
  • Classical Greece: 28 years
  • Classical Rome: 28 years
  • Medieval England: 33 years
  • End of 18th century: 37 years
  • Early 20th century: 50 years
  • Circa 1940: 65 years
  • Current (in the West): 77-81 years

Today the average Zambian dies at age 37, the average Japanese at age 81.

Death Tolls

  • 300 million – smallpox, worldwide, 20th century
  • 200 million – bubonic plague, worldwide, 1300s
  • 62 million – World War II
  • 60 million – Mongol conquests, 13th century
  • 19 million – AIDS, worldwide to date
  • 1 million – Irish potato famine, 1846-1849
  • 830,000 – Shaanxi earthquake, China, 1556
  • 650,000 – Deaths in the Roman Colosseum for public entertainment, 80-404
  • 36,000 – Krakatoa eruption, Indonesia, 1883
  • 15,000 – Holy Inquisition, 1184-1800
  • 1,517 – RMS Titanic, 1912
  • 300 – Great Chicago Fire, 1871
  • 270 – Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie, Scotland, 1988
  • 36 – Hindenburg disaster, Lakehurst, N.J., 1937
  • 7 – Space shuttle Challenger, Florida, 1986
  • 4 – Kent State shootings

Stature

Tallest U.S. presidents:

  • Abraham Lincoln 6’3.75″
  • Lyndon B. Johnson 6’3.5″
  • Thomas Jefferson 6’2.5″
  • Chester A. Arthur 6’2″
  • George H.W. Bush 6’2″
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt 6’2″

And shortest:

  • John Adams 5’7″
  • John Quincy Adams 5’7″
  • William McKinley 5’7″
  • Benjamin Harrison 5’6″
  • Martin Van Buren 5’6″
  • James Madison 5’4″

Great Stork Derby

When financier Charles Vance Millar died in Toronto in 1926, he willed his fortune to the woman who had the most children in the next 10 years.

And people took him up on it — in the end, four women tied at nine births apiece. Each got $125,000.

The period is known as “The Great Stork Derby.”

Gentle Giant

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Size was no impediment to Martin Van Buren Bates, a quiet schoolteacher who found that his enormous size (7’9″) served him better on the battlefields of the Civil War. The “Kentucky Giant” rose quickly from private to captain in the Fifth Kentucky Infantry; Union soldiers told of a “Confederate giant who’s as big as five men and fights like 50.”

After the war, Bates was touring Canada with a circus when he met Anna Haining Swan, another enormously tall person (7’5″), and they married in London, where Queen Victoria gave them two extra-large diamond-studded gold watches as wedding presents.

Their 18-pound child was stillborn, and they ordered an oversize house custom-built in Ohio, with 14-foot ceilings and giant furniture. “To see our guests make use of it,” wrote Bates, “recalls most forcibly the good Dean Swift’s traveler in the land of Brobdingnag.”

The pair toured again, and lost another son, this one 28 inches tall and weighing 22 pounds. “He looked at birth like an ordinary child of six months,” Bates wrote. But “with this exception our lot has been one of almost uninterrupted joy.”

When Anna died in 1886, Martin sold the house and married a woman of normal stature, with whom he lived peacefully until he died of nephritis in Seville in 1919.