19 December 2016

Bah Humbug!

Meet The Real World Scrooges

Some people are notoriously tight when it comes to money. I'm not talking about those relatives who always give you terrible Christmas presents, or even about those famously frugal billionaires who still drive hatchbacks. In this article we're going to deep even deeper and look at stingiest wretches in human history, including one man so tight he inspired Charles Dickens to write one of the greatest novels of all time. 

Meet The Real World Scrooges

Turn on the TV and flick through the channels between now and the end of Christmas and you're sure to find yourself a Scrooge. It might Albert Finney, or Bill Murray, or perhaps a more duck-billed Scrooge. Or it might be Michael Caine with Muppets, Michael Gambon in Doctor Who, Patrick Stewart, or Commander Data, Edmund Blackadder, Mister Magoo, Yosemite Sam…

Ok, ok, ok I'll stop now – you get the idea, right?

If I had a one euro for every single time I've seen an adaptation, reinterpretation, or spoof of "A Christmas Carol" I'd be way richer than Ebenezer Scrooge myself.

But did you know that he was based on an actual person?

It's true. Once upon a time there lived a real-life Ebenezer Scrooge, a man so skinflint and stingy he inspired Dickens to pen what is, without a shadow of a doubt, his greatest and most enduring tale of all.

And he's just the tip of this most bitterly cold iceberg, there's worse to come – so time to throw an extra lump of coal on the fire, as we count down history's biggest misers!

Humbug!

The phrase stranger than fiction even applies to the works of its greatest ever authors. 

As with many of the great characters from classic novels, the inspiration for Scrooge came from various sources, a name on a gravestone, an overheard anecdote, but the primary inspiration was a man called John Elwes. And by all accounts, Elwes was, in fact, ten times the cheapskate Scrooge was.

Like Scrooge, Elwes was a miser and a money lender. Moreover, he was also a member of parliament. So a miser AND a politician – never a nice combination is it?

Elwes came from a well-off family, but both his mother and his maternal uncle were obsessive misers. And despite not showing much evidence in his early years, eventually nature and nurture, combined with a hefty inheritance, transformed Elwes into one of the world's most infamous misers of them all.

This was a man who, in today's money, would be as rich as a EuroMillions winner, but dressed in rags.

An elected MP who was frequently mistaken for a street beggar, and who would sooner walk for miles in the pouring rain than ride a coach. Then, rather than waste money lighting a fire at home, he would sit in the dark and wait for his clothes to dry naturally.  

Home, incidentally, was any building not currently inhabited by a tenant. Bedtime was sundown (candles, what an extravagance!) and then there was mealtime…

…Which is were Elwes' behavior extends beyond the boundaries of mere eccentricity, hinting, instead, at undiagnosed mental illness.

Elwes famously ate a bird pulled out of a river by a rat. He would rather eat food that had spoiled and gone rancid, than throw it out and be "wasteful" and even carried around bits of food in his raggedy jacket for months at a time.

His saving grace, however, and something which sets him far apart from Scrooge, is that this behavior only applied to himself. When it came to his friends Elwes was actually quite generous. Though I doubt you'd want to be invited to any of his dinner parties.  

Scrooge Hall

So, Elwes was tighter than Scrooge though hardly an evil, black-hearted wretch. Eccentric? Yes. Possible signs of mental illness? I'm no psychiatrist but probably yes. Also noticeably absent from his story is any sense of deliverance or redemption.

For that we need to look at one of the richest men in history, perhaps more Scrooge McDuck than Ebenezer. It's the story of Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish skinflint who would go on to become one of the richest and most powerful men in history.

Born in Dunfermline in 1835, young Carnegie grew up on stories of Scottish patriots like William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. When his family fell on hard times they moved to Pennsylvania. At just 13, Carnegie got his first job in a cotton mill, before working on the telegraph. There, young Carnegie worked his way up the ranks and quickly gained the respect and admiration of both his peers and seniors, eventually landing him a job at the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. He was now firmly positioned in the right place at the right time.  

Through connections, smart investments and a strong work ethic Carnegie slowly amassed himself a fortune, reinvesting it in rail and steel concerns. Carnegie also helped run the railways which, in turn, helped the Union win the American Civil War.

Next, more investments in rail, oil and steel. It's the latter which made Carnegie the richest, and it's also the industry with which the tycoon is most associated.

Carnegie was, by all accounts, very much the ruthless rail and steel baron we most associate with that era, but there was another side to the man. In later life Carnegie done a Scrooge-like U-turn, eventually donating around 90% of his fortune.  

“The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced", wrote Carnegie in his 1889 publication, "The Gospel of Wealth."

Carnegie was true to his word, giving a millions (or billions in today's money), most notably building schools, libraries and museums in the US, his native Scotland and elsewhere.

His generosity has not been relegated to history, however, as modern billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have also followed his example. 

The Witch of Wall Street

You've heard of he Wolf of Wall Street – now meet the Witch of Wall Street, Hetty Green.

As with many of the world's great misers, she was born into a well-off, but notoriously frugal, family who worshipped money but abhorred spending.

As a child young Hetty was read stock market reports instead of bedtime stories and by 13 she was already managing the family books.  

As an adult Hetty inherited a large fortune. This included millions from an aunt who had initially willed a considerable chunk to charity, until Hetty contested the will in court, and won.

Hetty also married into money, yet was shrewd enough to make her husband sign a pre-nuptial agreement. The pair had two children before eventually falling out, over money, of course, causing them to become estranged. Perhaps Hetty's only saving grace is that she did help nurse her husband when he took ill, and remained by his side until his death.  

But then there's the story of her son who was involved in a road accident. Hetty took him to a charity hospital known to give free treatment to the poor. Of course the "Witch" was immediately recognized. Hetty then flat out refused to pay for treatment and, as a result, her son's leg got so bad it had to be amputated.

Hetty's transition from wealthy heiress to financial powerhouse came from her ability to bet against the market, and win. She plowed her inheritance into US Bonds, when the Civil War was barely over. Whenever there were unpaid debts, foreclosed properties or just plain misery in general to be had, Hetty Green was sure to turn a profit, but it was never enough. Instead she bought up more property and invested heavily in railroads.  

As Hetty's wealth grew to staggering proportions so did her miserly reputation. Her nickname coming from the fact that she only ever wore one black dress, which she never fully washed.

She died 1916, at the ripe old age of 81, and was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the "World's Greatest Miser".

The Black-hearted Oil Baron

Hetty's tough to top, but we've got just the man to do it. A ruthless oil tycoon who managed to knock none other than Howard Hughes off America's rich list.

Jean Paul Getty was part JR Ewing, part CM Burns and an all-round miser to boot.

This is the man who famously installed payphones in his own home because he didn't want guests or staff making free calls.

The difference here, however, was that the house in question was a Tudor mansion, just one of numerous mansions Getty owned throughout the world. See, just like his rival, Howard Hughes, Getty was content to spend big. He also loved to rub shoulders with royalty, but cost him a penny and feel his wrath.

Getty had five marriages, all ending in divorce since his familial instincts left a lot to be desired. When his grandson was kidnapped in the 70s, Getty refused to pay the ransom, thinking it a ploy. When his grandson's ear was later sent in the post, Getty's response was not to pay the ransom, but instead to haggle it down to a minimum of $2.3 million, so he could write it off as a tax-deductible expense. The kidnappers finally relented and returned his grandson, now clearly traumatized by the events. Apparently Getty even forced his grandson to pay the ransom back, with interest – a class act all the way!

Don't Be A Scrooge This Christmas!

Hey, we all like to save a few bob here and there (like when you get 50c off EuroMillions here at Lottoland) but as we all know Christmas is a time for generosity

And this Thursday we've got the most generous lottery of all! No doubt you've read about it in the papers, the lottery that makes entire towns and villages millionaires overnight – Spain's world-famous El Gordo Christmas lottery!

With over €2.3 billion in prize money to be given away it's the biggest lottery in the world and also boasts some of the best odds found anywhere.

So spread some serious Christmas cheer this Thursday with the El Gordo Christmas lottery - the only lottery specfically designed to be shared with friends!