My first exposure to the weirdness of rich people happened when I was kid, leafing through the Guinness Book of World Records paperback I’d requested for Christmas. I came upon an entry for “The World’s Greatest Miser,” Hetty Green. The photo showed an elderly woman dressed all in black, with a big black hat and a cape, striding grim-faced along a New York City street in the 1890s.
And then I learned a few wackadoodle details about the woman nicknamed “The Witch of Wall Street.” Though she’d inherited five million dollars when her whaling empire dad died, she was so cheap she hardly ever washed her hands to save money on soap, bought broken cookies at bargain prices, and cooked her oatmeal over a hot radiator during winter when making breakfast at the bank where she spent her days investing.
She nearly lost her mind once when she thought she’d lost a two-cent stamp.
Hetty Green marked the beginning of my education into monied eccentricity. Crazy rich people grow on trees. There was the Eighth Earl of Bridgewater, Francis Egerton, also in the nineteenth century, a dude who only wore a pair of shoes once, and threw dinner parties for himself and dogs dressed up in fashionable human-style clothes.
There was Sarah Winchester, who married into the Winchester gun company fortune and built an insane, seven-story, 161-room California mansion with doors and stairs that went nowhere and other oddities meant to fool the ghosts of people killed by Winchester firearms she believed haunted her.
Howard Hughes comes to mind. The aviation tycoon had severe OCD, and once spent four months holed up in a Hollywood studio screening room watching movies, often naked, not cutting his hair, surrounded by Kleenex boxes, and consuming only chicken, chocolate, and milk. Even the IKEA founder, Ingvar Kamprad, seemed a bit nuts—or at least cheap enough to give Hetty a run for her money. A Swede who drove a 1993 Volvo as recently as 2013, when he was one of the world’s richest men, Kamprad pocketed restaurant salt and pepper packets and reused tea bags. He furnished his house with IKEA furniture he assembled himself.
“The rich are different from you and me,” F. Scott Fitzgerald was reputed to have said to his drinking buddy Ernest Hemingway, who replied, “Yes, they have more money.”
Given the fact that wealthy people own professional sports teams, basic probability would tell you that a number of team owners are or have been…a little different from you and me. And not only because they have access to boatloads of cash.
Different in the head.