Sir John Stuart Knill
(1886- 1973) achieved a minor degree of fame because he was poor — and because he also happened to be a Baronet and so was part of the UK's hereditary aristocracy. As the British media often described him, he was "England's only Baronet in public housing." As Sir Knill struggled to scrape by, moving from one low-paying job to another (street sweeper, postman, cat breeder), the media gleefully reported each time his circumstances sank slightly lower.
Knill was born into wealth. It was his grandfather, Stuart Knill
, who was made the first Knill Baronet
in 1893 (official title: Baronet Knill, of The Grove, Blackheath and Fresh Wharf, London
). The 1st and 2nd Knill Baronets both served for a time as Lord Mayors of London.
Sir John Stuart Knill became the 3rd Baronet after the death of his father in 1934. However, he never actually registered the title, which meant that his Baronetcy was officially considered to be dormant, but that was a minor detail overlooked by the press.
Knill's fortunes began to go south after World War I. He lost his family's ancestral estate, Knill Court in Herefordshire, and fell back on his knowledge of antiques to make a living, opening an antique shop in Brighton. However, the shop failed to make a profit, so by the mid-1930s he had closed it and began operating a "bric-a-brac stall
" in London's Caledonian market. On the weekends he swept streets.
The Burnie Advocate - Apr 12, 1937
A job as a postman followed during the 1940s. His wife, Lady Ruth Evelyn Knill, supplemented the family income by working as a mill girl. Interviewed in 1950, she said, "We've lived hard and now we are down to rock bottom. I'm living up to my name. Of money, we have: Knill."
The Knills earned extra cash by breeding animals in their rented apartment, but due to failure to pay the rent they were evicted in 1951 and moved into public housing.
Sydney Morning Herald - Mar 1, 1951
The next time Knill made headlines was in 1962 when it was widely reported that he was "trying to recoup his lost fortune by hypnotizing his wife so she can win the weekly soccer pool." As reported by UPI:
Each Sunday, Knill, 75, puts on his best tartan kilt, sets his wife in a chair facing a blank television set in their tiny living room and hypnotizes her. She stares at the blank screen and tries to "see" the winning combination.
So far the pursuit of riches in England's national pastime has failed to yield the results they hope for but this has not dampened their enthusiasm...
Both feel that their lack of success may be due to poor reception by Lady Knill.
"It seems to depend on the weather for accuracy," she said. "On a dull day I have a job to 'read' the results. Normally, when he hypnotizes me the TV set appears to be switched on. Sometimes it seems so bright that I have to ask him to tone it down."
The Indianapolis Star - Mar 10, 1962
Knill died in 1973 at the age of 87. His son John (the 4th Baronet) was also quite a character. He was a long-time campaigner for the preservation of canals and was known around the city of Bath as a local eccentric, "propelling himself in a wheelchair operated by an astonishing system of levers, pulley and - it has to be said - cranks." More info about him here.
Algie R. Crook (or "Alja" Crook, as his name was sometimes spelled) was a professor of mineralogy at Chicago's Northwestern University. His great claim to fame, however, had nothing to do with science. Instead, it was that in April, 1901 he allegedly told his undergraduate class that he had never kissed a woman. More specifically, he reportedly said, "I have never uttered a profane word, never have smoked or chewed tobacco, drank intoxicants, nor hugged or kissed a woman."
Given that he was thirty-seven years old at the time, this was considered a remarkable admission. So remarkable that when word of it leaked to the press it became international news.
Great Falls Tribune - May 15, 1901
The media started referring to him as "Crook, The Unkissed." Acquaintances of Crook (or people who claimed to be his acquaintances) readily confirmed the tale, attributing his lack of kisses to his embrace of "austere science." One said, "the scientific atmosphere is inimical to the love germ."
Offers of marriage flooded in, from women hoping to be the one to thaw the professor's icy reserve.
Philadelphia Times - Apr 28, 1901
The French were particularly taken with the story. As reported in the Leavenworth Times
(May 8, 1901):
Leading [French] novelists and scientists have been interviewed. Some pronounce the Chicago instructor an "idiot" and a "monster," but a powerful clan uphold his theory that love for woman, even love of the ideal type, seriously impedes a man who would be great and learned.
Supposedly the news even reached as far as China where the dowager empress expressed a desire to see him.
Philadelphia Inquirer - Apr 27, 1901
Crook, for his part, was said to be "abashed and humiliated over the gossip the affair has provoked," and also furious at the "tattling undergraduates."
He issued a denial of the allegation, stating, "I have never told any one that I have refrained from hugging or kissing women, for the reason that I consider it nobody's business but my own."
He recalled having advised a student to do as he did — never to kiss, hug, swear, and so forth. And he figured that's how the story must have started. But he insisted that he hadn't said that he had never done these things at all.
However, it was too late. The story was out there and couldn't be taken back. His denial got buried in the back pages of newspapers, if it was printed at all.
In other interviews, Crook asserted that he had kissed female family members, which didn't help his case much since it implied that he had indeed never romantically kissed a woman. Also, a former student recalled that Crook had made similar claims before, noting, "He is a consistent Methodist, and his convictions sometimes cause him some trouble." So I kind of suspect that Crook really did make the no-kissing claim to his class, but denied it later out of embarrassment.
Whatever the case may have been, the tale continued to haunt him. The following year (1902) a group of students at Northwestern formed an "Anti-osculation Society," claiming that they were "following the teachings of Professor Algie R. Crook, the man who never was kissed." They elected him an honorary member.
In 1904 Crook got married, and inevitably this triggered a renewal of the no-kissing story. "Unkissed Man To Wed," reported the papers.
The Hutchinson News - Dec 28, 1904
Crook and his wife eventually had five children together. He died in 1930, at the age of sixty-six, and the kissing story resurfaced in his Chicago Tribune
obituary (June 1, 1930). It was, after all, the achievement he was most famous for:
In 1901 he won fame by being credited with having declared he was never kissed. He denied he had made the assertion after it roused world wide comment.
However, the memorial of him in the Journal of the Mineralogical Society of America
omitted the kissing story. Nor is it mentioned on the wikipedia page about him