Divine Wills

When Scunthorpe solicitor R.A.C. Symes died in 1930, his will specified that “in the event of the Second Coming of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ my Will shall (so far as may be legally permissible) come into operation and take effect as though I were dead.”

When retired London schoolmaster Ernest Digweed died in 1976, he left his whole estate, more than £26,000, in trust for Jesus Christ at the Second Coming. The estate was to be invested for 80 years, and “if during those 80 years the Lord Jesus Christ shall come to a reign on Earth, then the Public Trustee, upon obtaining proof which shall satisfy them of his identity, shall pay to the Lord Jesus Christ all the property which they hold on his behalf.” If Jesus does not appear, then the estate goes to the crown.

See Heaven on Earth.

A Close Friend


In June 1857, Hans Christian Andersen arrived at Charles Dickens’ new country home, Gads Hill Place. Andersen was an enormous admirer of Dickens — he had just dedicated a novel to him and was eager to enjoy a fortnight with his “friend and brother.”

Enjoy it he did. He gathered nosegays in the woods, cut figures from paper, invited Dickens’ son Charley to shave him, and explored London in cabs while hiding his valuables in his boots. He found that Dickens had an excellent supply of dinner whiskey and could offer a large tumbler of gin and sherry afterward. He watched Dickens perform in The Frozen Deep, burst into tears at the death scene, drank champagne with the cast, and returned to see it again a week later.

So delighted was he that in the end he stayed five weeks instead of the planned two. “None of your friends can be more closely attached to you than I,” he wrote on the way back to Denmark. “The visit to England, the stay with you, is a bright point in my life. … I understood every minute that you cared for me, that you were glad to see me, and were my friend.”

When Dickens returned to the house, he stole into Anderson’s bedroom and affixed a card to the dressing-table mirror. “Hans Christian Andersen slept in this room for five weeks,” it said, “which seemed to the family AGES.”

Sibling Rivalry

“Supposing some unfortunate lady was confined with twins and one child was born 10 minutes before 1 o’clock; if the clock was put back, the registration of the time of birth of the two children would be reversed. … Such an alteration might conceivably affect the property and titles in that house.” — Lord Balfour of Burleigh, opposing daylight saving time, House of Lords, May 1916



In 1982, San Francisco police lieutenant George LaBrash suffered a stroke while guarding the 3,300-year-old mask of King Tutankhamun. He filed an $18,400 lawsuit against the city, alleging that the pharaoh’s curse had struck him for disturbing the dead — and hence that the injury was job-related.

“I firmly believe that King Tut’s curse is as good an explanation for what happened to me as any,” he told Superior Court Judge Richard P. Figone.

Figone didn’t buy it. “The spectators who attended the exhibit may just as well have ‘disturbed’ the remains of the deceased,” he wrote. “Officer LaBrash, if anything, prevented desecration of those remains.”


The author William James told the story of Mrs. Amos Pinchot, who in a dream thought she had discovered the meaning of life. Sleepily she wrote down what she believed to be a profound poetic statement. Fully awake, she saw she had merely written:

Hogamus, higamus
Man is polygamous
Higamus, hogamus
Woman monogamous.

— Malcolm Potts and Roger Valentine Short, Ever Since Adam and Eve, 1999

“Curious Question of Survivorship”

A curious case has recently been decided in England. A Mr. and Mrs. Hambling were both killed by a falling building. The husband was taken from the ruins quite dead, while the body of his wife was warm. The question was raised whether it could be safely presumed that the wife survived her husband, as this would cause a variation in the distribution of the property. The court decided against the supposition.

Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine, June 1859

Three Unfortunate Names

John Train’s Most Remarkable Names reports that Chazy Lake, N.Y., has a resident named Constant Agony.

In Stories on Stone, Charles L. Wallis notes that a tombstone in Hood River, Ore., reads:

hood river tombstone

In The American Language, H.L. Mencken mentions an Indian chief in the northwestern U.S. named Unable-to-Fornicate. “And I once knew a Siletz who insisted with firm complacency that his name, no matter what anybody thought it, was Holy Catfish.”

Legal Standing

The Supreme Court of Justice of Belgium has just been called upon to decide a novel and extraordinary question. One of the leading surgeons of Brussels had occasion, about a year ago, to amputate the right leg of a young married lady belonging to the highest circles of the aristocracy. The operator was so pleased with his job that he preserved the leg in a jar of spirits of wine and placed it on exhibition in his consulting room, a card being affixed to the jar giving the patient’s name and the details concerning the circumstance which had rendered the operation necessary. On hearing this, the husband of the lady demanded the immediate discontinuance of the exhibition and the return of the severed member, as being his property. To this the surgeon demurred. He admitted that the plaintiff had property rights in the leg while it formed part his wife, but argued that the leg in its present condition was the result of his (defendant’s) skill and the work of his own hands, and that he was clearly entitled to keep it. The Court seemed rather staggered by this line of argument, and after taking a fortnight to consider the question, has finally decided against the doctor and in favor of the husband’s claim to the possession of the amputated leg of his better half.

Lancaster Law Review, March 18, 1895

Out of Order

John and Margaret Vivian declared bankruptcy in 1992, so they weren’t pleased when NationsBank sent them a dunning notice on a debt that had been discharged. The bank apologized, saying that a computer had generated the notice, but the Vivians received a second notice, then a third.

So Florida bankruptcy judge A. Jay Cristol held the computer in contempt of court:

ORDERED that the NationsBank computer, having been determined in civil contempt, is fined 50 megabytes of hard drive memory and 10 megabytes random access memory. The computer may purge itself of this contempt by ceasing the production and mailing of documents to Mr. and Mrs. Vivian.

The computer had no comment.

The Hard Stuff


For the really determined alcoholic, in 1885 Herbert Jenner patented a liquor flask hidden in a book:

The ornamental covering [has] been made so as to entirely cover and conceal the flask from observation, and at the same time admit of ready access to its contents. … That portion of the covering representing the edges of the leaves of the book is covered with marbled paper or otherwise treated, so as to give a natural appearance.

Charmingly, the book is titled Legal Decisions.