Louis Mantin, was a French aesthete, which is a person who has a special appreciation of art and beauty. He was also, “obsessed with death and the passage of time.” He wrote in his will that he wanted to turn his home into a museum after his death. He wanted to share his love of art, and his vast collection with others. However, his Will was very explicit in the details of how this would be carried out, and some might even say it was eccentric. In his will, he made a very specific and seemingly odd request, the museum would open 100 years after his passing.
Mantin died in 1905, and though he made it very clear in his will what he wanted the house to be in 100 years, he didn’t make any provisions for the upkeep of the house in the meantime. Because nothing was specifically laid out, the house eventually fell into disrepair, because it was locked up and ignored. Eventually, worms and mold settled in among his statues and in the elaborate wallpaper. After a distant relative discovered Mantin’s will and initiated an extensive renovation project, the house was finally re-opened as a museum in 2010. It was five years late, but the will was finally carried out. I suppose that it took a little time to get the house back into a condition that would allow the house to become a museum.
Townspeople and tourists can now marvel at this once hidden world, that went completely untouched for a century, admiring Mantin’s eclectic collections, as well as his flushing toilet and heated floors, true luxuries for any home back in 1905. Mantin inherited a large fortune from his father, and since he was a bachelor, with no children, he used the money to start collecting the things that he loved. He was almost obsessive about it. Egyptian relics, medieval locks and keys, monkey skulls, and stuffed blowfish. Mantin had strange taste, and since he inherited the money later in life, he knew that his time with his newly acquired collection would be short. He decided that the logical solution was to turn his home into a museum. He thought people might like to know how an artistic gentleman had lived at the turn of the century. The museum might be filled with odd relics, but when you consider how rare they are, their value in the world of art would probably make them priceless.
On this day, January 24, 1965, my 15th cousin once removed, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill passed away. As an eight year old girl, his passing had little impact on my life…then. I wasn’t even aware that he was my cousin, that he had passed away, or of the impact his life had on the people of the world. I especially had no knowledge that as his cousin, I might have been in line for part of his estate, but I was in line for part of it, nevertheless.
Of course, in the end, that portion of his estate went to England. From what I am able to gather, Winston Churchill expressed a desire to divide his estate among all of his living relatives…all of them, and believe me, there were a lot of them. The catch was that all of them had to be found or the money went to the state. With family members all over the world, that was a very tall order, and one that would prove fruitless…or at least too big for the task to be completed.
They found our family and the rest of my dad’s side of the family, but somewhere along the way, the search for Winston Churchill’s many family members dwindled to a dead end, and the portion of the estate that was to go to us, was lost to us forever. It’s strange that even then, I knew nothing of the man, the money, or the world-wide search that had taken place. Many have said that perhaps they didn’t search as hard as they should have, and others have said that the search was handled be a disinterested agency. Whatever the case may be, the search failed to find everyone it needed to locate, and that was the end of the story.
I seriously doubt if the money, no matter how substantial, carried a huge impact of the wealth of England or the English Crown. I don’t know how much would have gone to each of the many relatives who were living at that time. It may have been such an insignificant amount that it would have gone almost unnoticed…or maybe it would have been enough change the life of every one of them forever. We will never know, because we don’t know the amount, for sure, or how many would have benefitted from it.
In later years, after I learned of the strangeness of Winston Spencer Churchill’s will, and of his relationship to me, and my part in his will, I wondered why he would have written such a will. He must have known how hard it would be to carry out his last request. He must have assumed that the share each person would receive would be small, at best. So, why would he write such a will? I’m sure he had his reasons, and I am just as sure that we will never know them, but I have never stopped wondering. I’m sure people would think that I wonder about it, because I’m sorry I didn’t get a share of the money, but in reality, it is my opinion that money is a tool to get the things you need, and to bless those around you. All too often, when handed a large amount of money with no understanding that happiness does not come as a side effect of having it, money ends up ruining the life of the person who received it. So does that mean that I’m against wealth…certainly not. I just think that money has a place, and it makes a great tool, but a terrible master.
I have great respect for Winston Spencer Churchill. His abilities, especially in winning wars are well known. I don’t believe he was crazy when he wrote out his will either, but was maybe a man who felt that he could do some measure of good for those who were his family, and by requiring that all be found, he eliminated the ability to leave his inheritance to a chosen few…just in case they were tempted not to look further.
I have been thinking about a situation that happened to me a few years ago, and while I have moved on, the shock of what happened still comes to mind sometimes. A good friend of mine passed away, and left some things to me and several other people in her will. Now, I know that many people would think that the only thing I care about is the things, but that is the least of it. In fact the things mean very little in the scheme of things. What brought this to mind again is the trip we made to visit her grave, which we do as often as we go to Reno.
What has bothered me over the years is that her children, chose to keep everything, and not honor her will at all. It was such a selfish act, and not because of the things, but because her final wishes were not honored. Oh, I’m sure they thought that they just couldn’t part with their mother’s things, but they didn’t belong to them. They stole from their mother!! Stole her right to have one final say in her own life. Stole her right to leave a bit of herself to her special, beloved friends. And, they stole their own peace of mind, because I know that every time I see one of them, she quickly looks away, because she feels guilt.
My friend had given me other things through the years, you see, she was an artist, but she told me that I was to have my choice of her paintings when she passed away. I knew it was in the will several years before she died. And it was brought up by her daughter right after she passed, but then it was dropped. There were some paintings that so reminded me of her sweet spirit, but I would never have deprived her daughters of all the paintings. We could have easily come to a workable agreement, but I was never given the chance to be generous toward her children. I received occasional correspondence from the attorney, who told me that there was nothing he could do about their refusal to honor the will, but nothing more. I don’t think of myself as a greedy person, but I do feel awful because my friend was robbed of her final say. She had been so happy when she told me she had put in her will to give me the paintings.
I just can’t believe people could be so cold, as to steal from the dead! It doesn’t matter, I suppose. At least not to them. But think of how they would feel if their children did that to them. It puts it in a very different light, doesn’t it. Please, when your loved one makes a will, do the honorable thing…honor their wishes.