Strange Last Wishes: Funerals with Bizarre Twists

Civil War Cannon Firing


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Civil War Cannon Firing

Off-the-Wall Deathbed Requests

The majority of people stipulate how to distribute their assets to their loved ones in their will and wind up with a mundane, run-of-the-mill funeral when they die. But there are plenty of people who are just not okay with keeping things so traditional. From a man who wanted to be standing at his own funeral to a famous journalist whose ashes were shot out of a cannon, here are some of the most bizarre last wishes and funerals.

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Harry Houdini before he jumped off the Harvard Bridge in Boston
Wikimedia Commons

Annual Seance For Harry Houdini

October 1926

As the most famous illusionist of all time, it’s no surprise that Harry Houdini didn’t want a traditional funeral. The magician’s last request was for his wife — he wanted her to hold a seance for him every year on the anniversary of his death (which is eerily on Halloween) so he could communicate with her from beyond the grave. He left her a code to repeat: “Rosabelle, answer, tell, pray, answer, look, tell, answer, answer, tell,” but alas, after 10 years of trying with no luck, she gave up the tradition, but that didn’t stop others from taking it up and continuing to do it to this day.

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Hunter S. Thompson’
Getty Images / Neale Haynes / Contributor / Hulton Archive

Hunter S. Thompson’s Ashes Are Shot Out of a Cannon

February 2005

“Going out with a bang” took on a whole new meaning at Hunter S. Thompson’s funeral. According to the journalist’s widow, Johnny Depp funded the elaborate ceremony with about $3 million. Thompson’s ashes were blasted out of a cannon. The blast was accompanied by fireworks while Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" played. 

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Casket in a Hearse

A Man Wanted to Stand at His Own Funeral

August 2008

When 24-year-old Angel Pantoja of Puerto Rico died, his mother decided to fulfill his unusual — and downright creepy — funeral request. Pantoja didn’t want to be lying down in a casket during his funeral; he wanted to be standing. So, for a three-day wake in his mother’s living room, his body stood upright, wearing a New York Yankees cap and sunglasses.

Related: The New Rules for Funerals During the Pandemic

happy Maltese Dog is Running on the Autumn Leaves Ground.
Mindaugas Dulinskas/istockphoto

Hotel Mogul Leaves Millions To Her Dog

August 2007

If you thought you were a good dog parent because you let your dog sleep in your bed with you and you buy the expensive dog treats, you might want to up the ante if you’re trying to get to deceased hotel mogul Leona Helmsley’s level. When she passed away, she left her Maltese pooch Trouble $12 million — while two of her grandchildren inherited a whopping $0. The grandkids ended up contesting the will in court and earned $6 million while simultaneously reducing Trouble's inheritance to $2 million — enough for the pampered pup to live large for the remaining four years of her life and score an obituary in the New York Times.

funny monkey eating potato chips from Pringles pot at Batu Caves hindu temple
Juan Alberto Casado/istockphoto

Pringles Inventor’s Ashes Buried in a Pringles Can

May 2008

Fred Baur designed the innovative Pringles can and he was seemingly extremely proud of his greatest accomplishment. He requested to have some of his ashes buried inside one of the cans and his children obliged his sentimental last wish.

Related: What to Do When a Loved One Dies

Portrait of Napoleon I after his farewell to Fontainebleau

Napoleon Bonaparte Leaves His Friends His Hair

May 1821

When French leader Napoleon Bonaparte died, his friends weren’t all that surprised that he had an unusual last request. The ruler asked for his head to be shaved upon his death — but what did he want done with the hair? He wanted it evenly distributed among his closest friends, of course. As it turned out, some of them did keep the hair and when tests were performed on it, high traces of arsenic were revealed, fueling the theory that Bonaparte was assassinated with arsenic poisoning. 

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just married

Heinrich Heine Insists On His Widow Remarrying

February 1856

In Shakespeare-like fashion — the famous writer left his wife his “second-best bed” in his will — German poet Heinrich Heine stipulated that before she could receive his estate, his wife would need to remarry. His reasoning was, “There will be at least one man to regret my death.”

Halloween Skeleton Family Celebrating a Holiday Dinner
Malisa Nicolau/istockphoto

Dining With the Deceased

September 1891

Over the course of a year, wealthy Vermont businessman John Bowman’s wife and daughter both passed away, leaving him grief-stricken. As Bowman’s health deteriorated and he inched closer to his own death, he started to obsess over the idea that his family would be reincarnated together, so he set up a $50,000 trust to pay his servants and staff to maintain his 21-room mansion, set the table, and prepare dinner every night in case he came back to life. The trust ultimately ran out of money in 1950.

Man uses the yellow pages to find a telephone number

Phonebook Roulette Decides Inheritors


If only Luis Carlos de Noronha Cabral da Camara’s list of friends was as long as his name. Alas, when the wealthy Portuguese aristocrat created his will, he didn’t have anyone to leave his fortune to, so he randomly selected 70 names out of the phone book and the strangers received an inheritance when he passed  — estimated to be worth several hundred Euros each. 

Pretty Kitty With Red Rose

A Red Rose a Day

December 1948

Jack Benny brought a whole new meaning to the idea that romance is never dead. When he passed away, he arranged for his widow to have one red rose delivered to her each day after his death. The last wish was carried on for nine years until she passed away herself.

Businessman with head stuck in sand at the beach

Fortune Left Behind for the Creation of a Womanless Library


T.M. Zink was an Iowa-based attorney who had such a hatred for women that he devoted his life’s — and death’s — work to creating a womanless library. His will stipulated that $35,000 be put into a trust for 75 years, at which point it was to be used to construct the Zink Womanless Library. Channeling true 8-year-old boy treefort energy, every entrance was supposed to have a sign that read, “No Women Allowed.” His disdain for women reached as far as his own daughter, who he left a mere $5 to. After he died, she challenged the will and won, thus the library was never built. 

Skeleton model

Philosopher’s Preserved Head and Skeleton on Display

June 1832

Even though English philosopher Jeremy Bentham has been dead for almost two centuries, he still hangs out in the halls of University College London. That’s because in his will, he left instructions for his doctor friend to preserve his head and skeleton and dress his body in a suit, put him in a chair holding his cane, and keep him on display in a cabinet or case at the university. He was to be labeled “Auto-Icon” on a placard. His wish was carried out and he has been on display since 1850, although his head had to be replaced with a wax replica because students kept stealing the original.

Rocket Launch

Star Trek Creator Requested to Be Cremated and Sent Into Space

October 1991

Spock really spoke to Gene Rodenberry when he said, “Live long and prosper.” When the creator of Star Trek died, he requested to be cremated and sent into space — so he could live on forever in the stars. His wishes were carried out when his remains left Earth on a Spanish satellite in 1997 and his ashes were released into the atmosphere as the satellite orbited the planet. The same was done with his wife ten years later.

1964 powder blue Ferrari

Oil Heiress Buried In The Front Seat Of Her Ferrari

March 1977

“If I die young, bury me in satin ...” — scratch that. How about a 1964 powder blue Ferrari? When oil heiress Sandra West died at just 37 years old, she asked to be buried in the front seat of her car “with the seat slanted comfortably.” You can visit her resting place, but you won’t see the car since it was put in a box and covered with cement to keep looters away.

puppy teddy riding in car with head out window
Gang Zhou/istockphoto

Woman Donated Her Pacemaker to a Dog

February 2002

Dorothea Edwards was privy to the fact that person-to-person pacemaker donations are prohibited in the U.S., but there is no law against donating them to animals who share a human’s cardiovascular arrangement. So when she died, Edwards made arrangements to donate her pacemaker to the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. A 9-year-old dog named Sunshine was the lucky recipient who had come from rough beginnings. Apparently, the dog’s original owner was No. 2 on the FBI’s most-wanted list and was arrested for running a drug and prostitution ring. Sunshine was adopted by the neighbor and suffered many physical and mental ailments until receiving her pacemaker.

The Pegasus Parade
Roberto Galan/istockphoto

Hatmaker Moved to the Beat of a Different Drummer


Boston hatmaker Solomon Sanborn certainly wasn’t the first or last person to donate his body to science after his death. But his will elaborated on that common request, stipulating that his skin be made into two drums. One drum was inscribed with the Declaration of Independence while the other with Alexander Pope’s “Universal Prayer.” But his instructions didn’t stop there. The drums, of course, were supposed to be put to use. He requested that his friend take them to Bunker Hill each year on June 17 and drum the tune of “Yankee Doodle” on them. We dare you to name a more patriotic last request.

Baby girls

Millionaire Launched a Baby Contest After His Death

October 1926

We can’t discuss off-the-wall last wishes without mentioning the “Great Stork Derby.” Canadian millionaire Charles Millar’s will promised his fortune to whichever woman gave birth to the most babies in the 10 years following his death. When the decade ended, the money was split between four women who each had nine babies.

Mustache selfie

Mustache-Free Zone


Whether a fu manchu or handlebar, Henry Budd would turn over in his grave if his sons grew a mustache. His will stipulated that they could only have access to his fortune if they vowed to never grow a mustache.

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