With so many lotteries all over the world offering huge jackpot prizes in excess of many millions to their players, we decided to showcase a few of the extreme big spenders of the past. They seem to live in a twilight world of their own with little concept of their outrageous spending habits that seem normal to them.
A couple of them even used other people’s money or embezzled millions for their irresistible purchases. Their shopping sprees are legendary and make some of today’s shopaholics seem rather tame in comparison.
Imelda Marcos: Philippines First Lady
Philippines president and Dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s wife Imelda fled the country when her husband was deposed in 1986 leaving behind her extravagant collection of around three thousand shoes.
In twenty years, the Marcos’s had supposedly embezzled around $10 billion US dollars from their country’s coffers much of which were from international loans for infrastructure improvement and modernisation of their country.
Imelda Marcos’s most outrageous and famous eccentric shopping spree occurred during a trip to New York City, Copenhagen and Rome in 1983. She blew $7 million in ninety days. In just one day in New York, she managed to spend $3 million which included $2 million in expensive jewellery and around $35,000 hiring limousines.
When she was in Rome, she bought a Michelangelo painting for $3.5 million. When she travelled, she was really extravagant including one time at San Francisco International Airport where she spent $2000 on chewing gum.
After taking off in a plane from Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Rome, she got it to do a U-turn mid-air and return to the airport because she noticed she’d forgotten to buy any cheese.
There were times she shopped by catalogue including Sotheby’s who quickly cancelled a five million dollar art auction as Imelda wanted to purchase every single item before the auction had even begun.
At times, she would get bored by objects and instead would buy whole buildings in her favourite shopping capital cities. In New York, she bought a few Manhattan skyscrapers which included the Woolworth Building. It was rumoured that she refused to buy the Empire State Building as it was ‘too ostentatious’.
For one of her daughter’s wedding, she spent over $10 million to refurbish a whole town in the Philippines. In Sarrat, the town where her Dictator husband Ferdinand was born, she built a luxury hotel and airport and had local houses refaced to look like Spanish houses from the 17th century.
In 1991 after being in exile for five years, Imelda decided to return to the Philippines. They are still contesting her assets and it was reported recently that she is worth $22 million.
Mary Todd Lincoln: President Abraham Lincoln’s Wife
Abe Lincoln’s wife Mary was heavily criticised for being too extravagant. When she arrived at the White House, she blew her four year budget for house renovations in less than a year with half of it spent on expensive china and French wallpaper.
She was told by the commissioner of public buildings that “There is no money for this papering. The $6000 in annual repairs for the president’s house is nearly exhausted by unusual painters and other bills.”
Mary launched a desperate attempt to offset the debt by selling off furniture from the White House and she told the groundsman to sell manure from the president’s stables. A biographer wrote, “This inflated price led to more jokes than sales.”
It didn’t stop her shopping and she amassed an expensive wardrobe which included 300 pairs of kid gloves and a $2000 dress. Biographer Jean H. Baker wrote: “The more Mary Lincoln owed, the more she had to buy in order (or so she believed) to prevent her informal loans from being called.”
She took bribes from lobbyists and padded her expense accounts. Mary supposedly told a friend before the president’s 1864 reflection: “I have contracted large debts, of which he knows nothing, and which he will be unable to pay if defeated.” She said that honest Abe and she had “opposite natures.”
After Abe was assassinated, Mary begged the government to give her a widow’s pension similar to those given to the wives of fallen soldiers. It was five long years before Congress finally granted her unprecedented request.
William Randolph Hearst: Hoarder Of Art
When William Randolph Hearst’s mother died during the 1919 flu epidemic, she left him $11 million in her will so he went on a couple of buying sprees. He bought eighteen magazines and twenty-eight major newspapers. He built the biggest media network in the world which magnified his wealth tenfold.
He embarked on a lifelong quest to build a castle of his dreams on his sprawling family ranch in California spending millions on it with antique furniture and gothic limestone architecture from 1919 to 1947.
The whole estate was 127 acres with a castle/mansion consisting of fifty-six bedrooms, sixty-one bathrooms and nineteen sitting rooms. It was filled with 155 Greek vases, bronze and marble statues, paintings by great masters, a movie theatre plus a private zoo.
He bought many other homes which included a castle in Wales in the UK but Hearst Castle is where he lavished his money endlessly on the best that could be bought. Hearst said in 1927: “I see no reason why the ranch should not be a museum of the best things that I can secure.” Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane was inspired by Hearst’s castle and extravagant lifestyle.
Evalyn Walsh McLean: Diamond Curse
At the beginning of the twentieth century in the USA, a mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean wasn’t exactly discreet. She wrote a memoir called ‘Father Struck It Rich’. She lived with her husband, Edward ‘Ned’ McLean who was the owner of the Washington Post, in a sixty room Washington DC mansion which eventually, became the Indonesian Embassy.
They eloped in 1908 and went on a honeymoon in Europe where Evalyn blew more than $200,000, which was a small fortune at that time, and she bought the 94-carat Star of the East diamond.
The honeymoon launched her into a lifelong obsession with jewels and shopping which included at one time her shopping from the back of her chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce where shop keepers had to carry her goods to the car. In her book ‘Father Struck It Rich’, she mentions buying a St Bernard puppy, in the same way, stating: “There seemed to be not a single poodle for sale.”
The most famous purchase she made was probably her undoing, the ‘Hope Diamond’. She was the last living owner of the diamond and suffered from the ‘Hope Diamond Curse’. Her famous marriage to ‘Ned McLean’, as he was known, ended with a very ugly divorce after he ran off with the sister of a well-known actress.
He was later disgraced by his involvement in the Teapot Dome scandal (The Teapot Dome scandal was a bribery scandal involving the administration of United States President Warren G. Harding from 1921 to 1923). Edward McLean spent his final years in a mental hospital.
During their divorce, Evalyn was conned out of $100,000 by a crook who told her that she could help save the kidnapped Lindbergh baby. The press asked: “Has the woman who defies superstition to wear this sinister gem been mocked again by the spell that has taken a toll of death and heartaches from every owner through three centuries?” Evalyn lived her final years as a morphine addict.
Gerd Heidemann: Fraudster
Gerd Heidemann, who was a German journalist, was also a Nazi memorabilia shopaholic. Back in the 1970s, he remortgaged his house so he could buy the Luftwaffe Commandant Hermann Goering’s yacht.
The idea was to renovate it and resell for a profit. The repairs were very expensive and he got into a debt that he couldn’t get out of until 1983 when he supposedly ‘found’ a sixty-two volume set of Adolf Hitler’s personal diaries.
Although the diaries were a forgery, Heidemann convinced the German ‘Stern’ magazine to cough up a rumoured $5 million dollars to buy them. Experts on Hitler supplied by ‘The Sunday Times’ and ‘Newsweek’ magazine authenticated the diaries and eventually the ‘Times’ bought the English serialisation rights.
The ‘Times’ owner Rupert Murdoch confirmed that the Hitler diaries fiasco “Was a major mistake I made, and I will live with for the rest of my life.” In the course of a few days, the diaries were proved to be complete forgeries. There were so many factual errors plus they were made with modern paper, glue and ink.
Heidemann managed to blow nearly $1 million dollars on “Two villas in Spain, two luxury sports cars, expensive jewellery, rare WWII memorabilia for his collection, and extravagant vacations” before he could be prosecuted for fraud.
Heidemann said that the actual forger, Konrad Kujau, kept the profits from the sale of the diaries but Kujau told them they split it. About $1.8 million from Stern’s original payment has still not been accounted for.
When Heidemann’s debt to society had been repaid in the form of four years in prison, the magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ found out that Heidemann had also been an East German spy for their secret police.
When shown his ‘Stasi’ files, a now-elderly Heidemann told them he was actually a double agent working for the west. He claims he is innocent with everything he is accused of including the espionage, the fraud and the spending.
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