Friday, June 30, 2006


"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! :)


Cara King said...

> tried to cure his hiccups by setting his shirt on fire.

Did it work? That's what I want to know!


Amanda McCabe said...

I'm not sure if he cured his hiccups, but some of his friends DID save him from burning to death. :) (Is this the very definition of TSTL?)

Cicero_speaks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cicero_speaks said...

Speaking of setting your shirt on fire as a "The Flamboyant Chef":

I wonder if he'll ever get a show on The Food Network?

Cicero_speaks said...

Btw, an impressive list of eccentrics! You know how I love the "Weird U.S." series that details odd and unusual historical characters. Regarding family, I think most families have colorful characters (the ones who usually show up for holidays or when you've won the lottery). And there are always interesting In-Laws...

I'd have to vote for Sarah Winchester (of the small arms/rifle company fortune) for one of the more interesting eccentrics. She had carpenters adding nonstop to her mansion for roughly 17 years...all sorts of unusual rooms built to confuse the "ghosts" of victims of Winchester rifles. The house really has to be seen to understand the scope of her creativity and drive.

Betty S said...

I love eccentric people. They are so much more interesting than the rubber stamped mash potatoes variety.

Rinda Elliott said...

Fun list! Fun Facts! Eccentrics are always more fun.

Richard Quick, Millionaire said...

It's a shame your uncle never met me. He could have had 101 ways to Get Rich Quick... guaranteed... on my site at

Thanks for including Tesla in your list. I am actually a prominent inventor of a Tesla coil. I was drawn to him by his eccentricities, and made a million or three off his ideas.

Nurture your inner eccentric. It's worked for me!

Richard Quick, Esq.
National association for the Advancement of Wealthy People

X. Dell said...

Interesting posts. In fact, you mentioned one of myall-time favorite eccentrics, Florence Foster Jenkins.

You couldn't simply walk up to a booth and buy a ticket if (for some reason) you wanted to hear her perform. Instead, you had to arrange to meet with her at her home (or hotel, if she were on the road), whereupon she would interview you and decide whether or not she would allow you to attend.

The woman knew something about marketing.

Unfortunately, the world of music is teeming with eccentrics.