Boredom is worse than death. Put me in an elevator with someone who wants to talk about the weather and I break out in hives. From the time I was tiny, I’ve been drawn to stories of true originals. I grew up reading about notorious eccentrics. I’d study their bizarre quirks, achievements, and mental illnesses the way my friends memorized baseball card stats:
Emperor Nero: banged his mom, had her executed, bejeweled his pet crocodiles, and had a 120-foot tall statue of himself.
JD Salinger: wrote the defining book of his generation, disappeared into the woods of New Hampshire forever.
Howard Hughes: aviation mogul, broke land-speed records in planes of his own design, revolutionized Hollywood, collected his urine in bottles, acute OCD, dictated lengthy memos to his staff regarding the number of tissues to use when turning doorknobs.
Bobby Fischer: prodigy, world-class chess champion, erratic brat, quit matches midway through for insane reasons, (was eventually exiled to Iceland for referring to the 9/11 attacks as “good news”.)
The candle that burns twice as bright burns twice as crazy.
All of the above have since been immortalized in film, but there are many other more obscure gems still waiting for the groupies they deserve.
5. Troy Hurtubise (b. 1963): Inventor, conservationist
All Canadians are a little fucked, but Troy is a level beyond. He’s notable for his bizarre protective suits (inspired by a childhood bear attack and the movie Robocop), which he tests himself in various ludicrous, potentially lethal experiments.
His latest project, allegedly funded on the DL by MIT, involves various ray generators (known as Angel Light and God Light) that he claims can enable him to see through objects and into flesh, detect stealth aircraft, and disable electronic devices.
Hurtubise says that the design for the Angel Light came to him in a series of three dreams, and that he was able to build a working device from memory, without the aid of schematics. Oh, Canada.
4. Lyman Wiswell Gilmore Jr. (1874-1951): Aviation pioneer, hobo
According to his claims, on May 15, 1902 (a year and a half ahead of the Wright brothers, 94 years before R. Kelly released “I Believe I Can Fly”), in Grass Valley, California, Lyman Wiswell Gilmore Jr. flew a steam-powered airplane of his own design. Proof of his claim was lost in a 1935 hangar fire.
People say he “stank to high heaven,” vowed to never cut his hair or beard and wore a trench coat in the middle of summer. The coat contained all of his papers and two pistols. Any remaining proof of his first flight was lost when the coat was forcibly taken from him and burned during a delousing. Note to self.
3. Griselda Blanco (b. 1943): Billionaire drug overlord
Not just another pretty face, Griselda, known eventually as La Madrina (“the Godmother”), was raised in poverty in Columbia. Surrounded by violence, she eventually escaped to Miami in the ’70s, where she single-handedly dominated the cocaine trafficking industry, earning at her peak an estimated $10 million weekly.
She also was a closet lesbian who, in a bloodthirsty reign of terror, was responsible for over 200 murders, including those of three of her husbands (earning another nickname, “The Black Widow”).
Griselda Blanco was “reclusive” in that she evaded the FBI for a decade, “eccentric” for her sociopathic behavior and collection of fine art, jewels and haute couture.
2. Nicola Tesla (1856 –1943): Inventor, unsung hero
Rare brilliance almost always comes with a side order of madness, and Tesla had it all: extreme OCD, a fear of pearl earrings, a love affair with a pigeon, and a residence at the Waldorf Astoria for which he never paid. He was one of the most important contributors to commercial electricity, and is best known for his revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism.
Unfortunately, history is written by the winners. Due to bad PR and a lack of business acumen, many people (and textbooks) today don’t recognize the extent of his achievements. He invented the radio, alternating current, remote control, and radar. His work directly led to breakthroughs in robotics, computer science, ballistics, and nuclear physics. He even designed blueprints for a “Death Ray” for the military, which could shoot bolts of lightning to bring down enemy planes.
In the 1890’s he had rock-star-status, but ultimately was ostracized for his subversive ideas and odd behavior. Many regarded him as merely a “mad scientist,” and after being swindled by assholes like J.P. Morgan, he died impoverished at the age of 86.
The silver lining is that 60 years later, David Bowie would play him in the amazing film, The Prestige.
1. Edward Leedskalnin (1887-1951): Sculptor, engineer, The Heartbreak Kid
￼ Leedskalnin is my favorite eccentric recluse because he’s not only brilliant and insane, but also romantic.
What did you do the last time someone pulverized your heart?
When Agnes Scuffs, his 16-year-old fiancé, broke up with him the day before their wedding, a devastated Edward traveled from Latvia to Florida and spent the next 28 YEARS creating a monument to her: Coral Castle.
He referred to her as his “Sweet Sixteen,” and hoped until the day he died that she would come and live with him again.
The Castle is a marvel, complete with an accurate sundial, a Polaris telescope, an obelisk, a barbecue, a water well, a fountain, celestial sculptures, a giant heart-shaped table, 25 rocking chairs, crescent moons, a bathtub, beds, a royal throne and an eight ton revolving gate that was balanced so precisely that a young girl could open it with the touch of her finger.
Modern engineers remain mystified — as was Einstein himself — when they visit. How could a man only five feet tall, working only at night, in secrecy, by a single lantern, have possibly carved and moved pieces of coral rock weighing between 14 to 30 tons each?
While various wild explanations are offered — many even speculate alien intervention — Edward himself quietly insisted that he “re-discovered the secrets of the Egyptian pyramid builders.” (His underground theories on magnetism and antigravity are still revered to this day.)
Sadly, Agnes never did come back to him.
…And you thought The Notebook was sad.