"That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time" --John Stuart Mill
"The English like eccentrics. They just don't like them living next door" --Julian Clay
I admit, I have a great soft spot for eccentrics. Those who are strange, odd, unconventional, erratic. Who have their own vision, march to the beat of a different drummer, however you want to put it. They make the vanilla world a more fun and colorful place to live. In my own family, there are members who could be considered mildly eccentric, but really no more so than millions of other people's relatives out there. My aunt who lives in a house with 50 cats and hundreds of plastic grocery sacks, and who wears her old fur coat even when it's 70 degrees outside. My uncle, who has spent almost his whole adult life trying to come up with "get rich quick" schemes only to see them sadly foiled in the end. My cousin, who thinks he's on "Jerry Springer" or something, complete with restraining orders. And my grandparents, who, convinced the Second Great Depression was nigh, stockpiled canned green beans, bottles of Hershey's Syrup, and socks in plastic bags. I myself have habits that I'm sure others would find--unusual. But these are nothing compared to my favorite kooks in history. For example:
You have your usual suspects. People like Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allen Poe, Sarah Winchester (of the famous Winchester Mystery House), Thoreau, Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Dali, Bjork (I say hurray for swan dresses! Most of the red carpet habitues look lovely, but styled to within an inch of their lives. Booooring). And then a few who took things a step further.
Nicola Tesla, brilliant scientist but also class A weirdo who obsessively calculated the volume of the food he ate and was deeply nauseated by human hair.
Ferdinand Cheval, a French postman who spent 33 years building a huge palace from random stones he found during his work (Palais Ideal)
Erik Satie, composer of the gorgeous "Gymnopedies," he also had a vast collection of umbrellas and liked to hide musical compositions all over the house.
Alexander Scriabin, another composer, a hypochondriac, devotee of Theosophy. He planned a multi-media extravaganza ("Mysterium"), to be performed in the Himalayas. It was meant to bring about Armageddon. Didn't come off, though. Too bad.
"Emperor" Norton of San Francisco, who proclaimed himself to be "Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico" in 1859.
Rudolf II, one of the gloriously inbred Holy Roman Emperors, he was devoted to alchemy, collected dwarfs, and was interested in the Golem legend.
John Mytton, an 18th century English squire, he once rode a bear to a dinner party, and tried to cure his hiccups by setting his shirt on fire.
Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York socialite and perfectly dreadful singer. Subject of the recent "Souvenir" on Broadway.
And, one of my favorites, the absolute and complete kookball William John Cavendish Bentinck-Scott, the 4th Duke of Portland, who lived from 1800-1879. He built a vast network of tunnels beneath his house (Welbeck Abbey) totalling almost 15 miles and painted pink. He filled them with hundreds of brown wigs each packed in individual boxes. He refused to see or talk to anyone, and if a servant happened to encounter him, they had to face the wall and pretend he was not there. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Who are some of your favorite famous/not-famous eccentrics? And happy Friday! :)