The Dead Man Who Tested What Humanity Would Do For Money
Charles Millar of Toronto, Canada, was a bit of a joker. He was also unmarried and had no children or close relatives. A successful lawyer and financier, Charles was no stranger to the darker side of humanity. He couldn't help smiling to himself as he drew up his last will and testament.
When Charles died of a stroke in 1926, his fortune consisted of shares in a racetrack and a brewery and a large sum of money. He loved a good practical joke, especially ones that preyed on human greed.
His favorite prank was to leave money on the sidewalk and watch passers-by pocket the cash. It’s hard to see the funny side of that joke but Millar believed that every man had his price. “It was an education in human nature by itself,” Millar told friends.
He was also very good at his job. A man who loathed writing contracts, he would often give his word as an endorsement rather than write anything down.
He was an expert at spotting loopholes in contracts or agreements. One of Toronto’s most prominent lawyers later admitted: “Most of my success is due to a few words of advice Millar once gave me: “Always let the other fellow write the contract. Then you can see where he leaves you an opening, and when you act he hasn’t a leg to stand on because he wrote it.”
Charles Kemp, chief counsel for the estate didn’t believe anybody, especially Charles Millar, could leave such a preposterous will. “I found some writing in a form that resembles a will,” he put it. “But it is not a will. It is a joke. We are searching for the actual will now and undoubtedly it will turn up.”
The reading of the will began with the testament:
“This will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependents or near relatives and no duty rests on me to leave any property at my death, and what I do leave is proof of my folly in gathering and retaining more than I required during my lifetime.”
It was his love of dark humor that led to Charles bequeathing his shares in a racetrack to a preacher and a judge. Both men despised gambling and were morally torn as to whether they should accept the offer or not.
Was greed really at play when both men said yes? Both had to be shareholders for three years. Both men happily relinquished their shares to charity after the three years had ended.
Testing the moral stature even further, Charles left shares in his brewery to a group of churchmen who strongly opposed alcohol. What kind of cognitive dissonance would you tell yourself to accept the shares? All bar one joyfully took on the inheritance which they agreed to participate in its management and draw on its dividends.
And there was more.
Three men who despised each other were granted lifetime tenancy in his holiday home in Jamaica. Imagine the awkward conversations they had when trying to timeshare.
The joke was on them. Despite accepting the inheritance, the final payout turned out to be near worthless and left a mark on each man’s character. The racetrack was to close within the decade and the ministers who were granted a share saw their value at less than a cent. The holiday home was sold before any awkward conversations were argued over.
As for the 99 ministers and 103 Orange Lodges who accepted the bequest of O’Keefe Brewery, upon the sale in 1928 for $1.35 million, the legatees each received $56.38. If it was true that every man had his price, that price was unlikely to be $56.38.
The Final Clause
There was one last test of moral fortitude that made national headlines. It became known as the Great Stork Derby as women raced to compete with each other for the spoils of half a million dollars.
Col. Bruce, a Millar confidant who helped draw up the will, maintained that the stork derby clause was meant to be “a great lesson against the ‘holier than thou’ attitude,” a protest against the teaching that certain things are unqualifiedly bad and other things flatly good.
“Millar believed that a lot of human misery and poverty resulted from uncontrolled childbearing, which in turn he blamed on the ban against birth-control information than in force in Ontario. Charlie hoped that, by turning the spotlight on unbridled breeding and making us a laughing stock before the world, he could shame the government into legalizing birth control.”
The will required that the balance of Millar’s estate was to be converted to cash ten years after his death and given to the Toronto woman who gave birth to the most children in that time. In the event of a tie, the bequest would be divided equally.
The will survived ten years of litigation, including attempts by Millar’s distant relatives to have it declared invalid but the Derby continued uninterrupted. The favorite basis for taking the will to court was that the Stork Derby clause encouraged immorality and was against public policy.
Mr. Justice Middleton finally settled that point nearly eleven years after Millar’s death with this simple memorable ruling: “I cannot find that reproduction of the human race is contrary to morals.”
By the tenth year, it was tied between four women, each having given birth to nine children.
Two women were disqualified. Pauline Clark had five of her ten children born out of wedlock. A moral standard that even the late Charles agreed upon. The other woman, Lillian Kenney, had several children die at birth and couldn’t prove they were not stillborn. Both were given a consolation prize of $12,500.
Newspapermen who worked on the story seldom discuss it nowadays. One explained: “Looking back, the things I remember most are the smell of many children in bad houses; the unnatural talk about big money by tired women living on relief; the resigned resentment of husbands whose procreative powers had suddenly become world news.” Source — archive.macleans.ca
To the victors went the spoils. Four women took home a share of the grand prize. Anne Smith, Kathleen Nagle, Lucy Timleck, and Isabel MacLean. Again, the money came with a catch. Three of the four women had to pay the City of Toronto relief money they had collected over the years.
And did the winnings test the moral fortitude of the women? The Timleck’s bought a big old comfortable house and invested their money in bonds. The Nagle’s paid back eighteen hundred dollars they had received in city relief, bought a house and a car. The MacLean’s moved to a Niagara fruit farm.
In the end, Charles Millar’s experiment into the morals of human nature proved his theories wrong. Every man didn’t have a price and the last laugh may well have been on Charlie.