Laughter is the Best Medicine

Millionaire Charles Vance Millar and His Practical Jokes from Beyond the Grave

For many people, being dead is a fairly limiting
handicap that prevents them from doing most of the things the living take for granted. In the 1930s, a man called Charles Vance Millar
challenged that unfair stereotype via various stipulations of his will that allowed him
to continue playing jokes on people despite being dead. A lawyer by trade, Millar possessed a daunting
intellect and an incredibly sharp legal mind. Born in Canada in 1853, he excelled at nearly
everything he tried his hand at, reportedly scoring near-perfect marks at university,
before settling on studying law. Along with ultimately becoming a highly-respected
lawyer, Vance had a keen eye for investments, making him a millionaire in his lifetime-
money Vance used to fund his true passion of playing practical jokes. Millar’s sense of humour was legendary and
in particular he liked to test his theory that “every man has his price”, doing
things like dropping dollars bills (which were roughly the equivalent of $20 today)
on the sidewalk and watching as people tried to covertly pocket the cash. When Millar collapsed of a heart attack on
Halloween of 1926 at the age of 73, his final and perhaps greatest practical joke was revealed-
his will. A lifelong bachelor, Millar had many friends,
but no relatives save for distant cousins and the like- none of which he was well acquainted
with. Thus, he decided to bequeath much of the fortune
he’d accumulated throughout his life to various humorously chosen people. To wit, Millar bequeathed (for their lifetimes)
his Jamaican summer house to three lawyers, T.F. Galt, J.D. Montgomery, and James Newerson,
he knew hated each other, but would now be forced to share a common vacation home. He noted that “upon the death of the last
survivor of them I direct my Executors… to sell the same and give the proceeds to
the council of the city of Kingston, Jamaica, for distribution among the poor of that city…” He further bequeathed shares in the catholic
owned O’Keefe Brewery to various temperance supporting protestant ministers, so long as
they took part in its management. Millar similarly left shares of Kenilworth
Jockey Club to three men, including Reverend Samuel D. Chown and Judge W.E. Raney, who were against horse racing. Millar’s will stipulated that all three
men had to become members of the club to be eligible to claim the shares. Again, greed won out and all three men dutifully
joined the club they had previously stated to despise, though the aforementioned pair
supposedly sold their $1500 worth of shares (about $27,000 today) and then promptly canceled
their memberships directly after. stork-derbyOther, less amusing stipulations
in Millar’s will included orders for money to be bequeathed to his housekeeper, some
personal effects to be given to close friends, and for a small part of his estate to be liquidated
to settle some debts. As for the remainder, and most significant,
of Millar’s impressive estate, we’ll quote the 9th clause of his will: All the rest and residue of my property wheresoever
situate, I give, devise and bequeath unto my Executors and Trustees named below in Trust
to convert into money as they deem advisable and invest all the money until the expiration
of nine years from my death and then call in and convert it all into money and at the
expiration of ten years from my death to give it and its accumulations to the mother who
has since my death given birth in Toronto to the greatest number of children as shown
by the registrations under the Vital Statistics Act. If one or more mothers have equal highest
number of registrations under the said Act to divide the said moneys and accumulations
equally between them. Now initially when the will was found by Millar’s
law partner shortly after his death, it was dismissed as just another of Millar’s many
jokes, with his partner allegedly quipping: “I’ve found some writing in the form of
a will, but it’s not a will – it’s a joke. We’re searching for the actual will now.” The will wasn’t a joke, however, and it
soon became clear to Millar’s partner, who was on the hook to oversee the lengthy process
of awarding the various bequeathments to the right people (another joke on Millar’s behalf)
that the document was genuine. Millar, knowing that people might think the
will wasn’t serious, opened it with the following line: This Will is necessarily uncommon and capricious
because I have no dependents or near relations and no duty rests upon 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 in my lifetime. Almost immediately, distant relatives of Millar’s
crawled out of the woodwork to challenge the will, claiming in court that it was so absurd
that it couldn’t be taken seriously. The judge presiding over the case, one Justice
Middleton disagreed and ruled that the will and its various stipulations were legally
sound- an unsurprising twist considering it was personally authored by Millar himself
and, being a lawyer, he knew how to craft a will such that it would be iron-clad. The will and its contents were, thus, deemed
valid from a legal standpoint with no less of an authority than the Canadian Supreme
Court weighing in on the issue. This left the courts with the tricky matter
of deciding how exactly to define the various terms of Millar’s most unusual request. It was eventually decided by Justice Middleton,
in proceedings that are still studied by law students today, that the courts would only
consider a claim on the estate to be legitimate if the children birthed by a Toronto woman
making a claim were similarly legitimate (not born out of wedlock). It was further agreed that only live children
would be counted, discounting stillbirths or miscarriages. In regards to this matter, Justice Middleton
had the following to say: I think that a child is live born when it
proceeds entirely from the mother and becomes a separate living person. This generally is evidenced by the child establishing
an independent blood circulation and its ability to breathe. A child born dead is not in truth a child. It was that which might have been a child. One cannot but recall the utterances of the
witches in Macbeth who assured Macbeth that he need fear none of woman born, and Macbeth’s
disappointment when he found that they lied to the sense while ‘keeping” promise to
the ear’, and he faced Macduff who was ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.’ In the final years of the stipulated decade,
particularly after the Canadian government tried to nullify the will in 1932 and give
the money to the University of Toronto, which helped to shed more light on the whole affair,
newspapers reported on the various women attempting to claim this prize like a sporting event,
dubbing the subsequent spree of pregnancies ‘The Great Stork Race”. (And if you’re curious, see Why Storks are
Associated with Delivering Babies.) It wasn’t all fun and games though, as Millar’s
death happened to mostly coincide with the Great Depression, turning what Millar had
originally intended as a playful joke into a matter of life and death for some of the
women hoping to claim Millar’s fortune simply to be able to have money to feed said children
at all. Yet despite the Great Depression, the value
of the remaining assets in Millar’s estate had not only been maintained, but increased
upon, with the increase thanks mostly to a seemingly insignificant purchase of land below
the Detroit river. Initially bought by Millar for $2 (about $30
today) shortly before his death, the land was eventually used for the Detroit-Windsor
tunnel, which today is the second most trafficked crossing between Canada and the U.S. By 1936 this $2 investment was worth $100,000!
(about $1.8 million today). This saw the remaining value of his estate
rise to about $750,000 (about $13.2 million today) when it was due to be liquidated in
1936. When the time came to find out who’d actually
won the remains of Millar’s estate, at least two dozen women in Toronto claimed to have
given birth to eight or more babies in the city in the previous decade. Of these women, eight were initially deemed
eligible. Of these eight, only four were ultimately
agreed to have fully fulfilled the stipulations of the will based on Judge Middleton’s interpretation
of what constituted a “child” and imposing his personal morals on the issue of illegitimate
children. These women were identified as, “Annie Smith,
Kathleen Nagle, Lucy Timleck and Isabel Maclean”- all of whom had given birth to nine children
in that ten years. For this, all four were awarded $125,000 (about
$2.2 million today) each. However, two of the other women identified
as Pauline Clarke and Lillian Kenny were initially deemed eligible, but were eventually dismissed
when it emerged that Clarke had given birth to five of her ten children out of wedlock
(five with her husband and five with a man she lived with after separating, though not
managing to get a divorce from, her husband, meaning she would have been the winner outright
had this stipulation not been put in place by the courts). As for Kenny, of her eleven children, three
were stillborn, meaning she missed the mark by one live child. (Interestingly enough, Kenny named her youngest
child Charles Vance Millar Kenny after the man she thought would be her benefactor before
the courts ruled stillborn children didn’t count.) As executing Millar’s will had already been
a hugely expensive and time consuming affair, in order to avoid an even more drawn out and
costly appeal process (after-all, Millar himself had said nothing about a child needing to
be “legitimate” or not stillborn), each woman was given a settlement of $12,500 (about
$220,000 today) to not pursue the matter further. As for why Millar is thought to have put this
provision in his will at all, it is known that he thought the then taboo of not just
birth control, but even the mere discussion of it, was absurd. Thus, it is speculated that he wanted to highlight
what can happen in exceptional cases when one lacks any form of birth control (or knowledge
of it). And, funny enough, one of the winning ladies,
Lucy Timleck, did take a moment to tell the press, “I think birth control is a wonderful
thing” and further noted “I am sorry, in one way, that birth control information
wasn’t available years ago. I know mothers who would have welcomed such

100 thoughts on “Millionaire Charles Vance Millar and His Practical Jokes from Beyond the Grave

  1. Pour one out on this man's grave, then hope the flowers haven't been rigged to spray you because this guy had some foresight

  2. Truly the boss of bosses when it comes to practical jokes, “Not even death will stop my humor”, that should have been on his tombstone,lol.

  3. This video proves that Charles Vance Millar was absolutely correct, that is, "every man has his price".

  4. My Great Grandfather was Ontario Supreme Court judge William Edgar Raney. I knew he was responsible for temperance and the prohibition of alcohol in Ontario, but didn't know he inherited shares of Kenilworth Jockey Club from Charles Vance Millar. Given his hatred of all vices, including gambling, I'm surprised he accepted this gift.

  5. I wish i could do that too bady fams fucked and change wills as soon as loved ones die fucking scum

  6. I wouldn't have given those insane women anything honestly. Birthing as many children as possible in an attempt to win a prize is sub-human behavior. They are negatively impacting the lives of all of their children by doing so, especially if they didn't end up winning.

    That kind of selfishness doesn't deserve a reward. I think I would've thought of something else.

  7. Now that you know about Charles Vance Millar's spooky sense of humor check out this video and find out the answer to the question- What is the First Known Joke?:

  8. Poor children who only exist because of their greedy mothers. Imagine existing just because of some millionaire's prank.

  9. So what I’m getting is he also pranked the Canadian country by causing Canada to spend its time and service to interpret and persue his will

  10. I've already planned a bit of an elaborate will myself. Only sad thing is that I won't be able to see the reaction.. :/

  11. Jeez! I remember the Great Stork Race in my Elementary School history class and I didn't hear anything about Millar's thoughts on Birth Control, I just thought it was some sort of dick playing a nasty joke. Context is Key.

  12. One question asked of me in my years as a child was "Who would you want to meet if you could travel back in time?", and the answer is and always has been Nikola Tesla, Plato, Socrates, and a couple other mental giants. Gotta revise this list, as Plato just got edged out of second place by Charles Vance Millar, who sounds like someone who thinks a lot like I do, LOL.

  13. An interesting and entertaining story, but the presentation would have been much better if you had stood still and dispensed with the pointless fidgety arm gestures. You're like a nervous child who's dying to go to the lavatory. Learn to pronounce "executor"; it will lend an air of credibility—perhaps even authority—to your delivery on this subject.

  14. Absolutely love your videos! although I'm visually impaired and when videos display white text without contrast I can't make out what is displayed! I don't expect preferential treatment but I do think there's a case to be made for accommodation to increase viewership. You do one of the best jobs formatting your videos the way you do and I hope for more. I could be so much in the minority that my point is moot but thought I'd try. Regardless, CHEERS!

  15. If I only had "birth control information" years ago.. I would have not shat out 11 children by variois men…


  16. You imply that the state adjudicated on this prior to the end of the term. I understand that these so called disqualifications were introduced afterwards.

  17. My grandparents were among the runners. The Darrigos had 12 children. My dad was one of the kids.

  18. Couldn't he have just given the vacation house to the poor people right away instead of letting three asshole lawyers have it for a while??

  19. Well that's a stupid bet it takes about $250000 raise a kid today and if you got 2.2million in today's money the cost of the 9 kids would be greater than the money you would get

  20. My wife is #12 of 13 kids. I have several friends who are part of large families (over 7) or have large families. They're doing the part that the rest of the so-called civilized world refuses to do.

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