Was Florence Weaver’s Will a Crystal Ball?

Can you imagine what Cincinnati will be like 500 years from now? She tried to shape the future in 1930.

One wonders what Florence E. Weaver thought of the future when she wrote her last will and testament in 1930, because she framed her final bequests with one of the strangest requirements in Cincinnati history. While leaving the entirety of her estate to her hometown, she insisted that not a cent should be expended until 500 years had passed.

One wonders how Florence Weaver envisioned Cincinnati playgrounds in 2430, but the Cincinnati Enquirer predicted at the very least wings and rocket engines as toys.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer (1901), image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

Weaver, although born in Kentucky, lived most of her life in Cincinnati. For much of that time, she was a schoolteacher. She never married and lived with her parents on Delta Avenue in the East End. Florence’s father was a horse trader. Also living at home was a brother a few years older than Florence, James, who worked a variety of factory jobs.

James Weaver saved his pennies and eventually headed west to seek his fortune. Unlike the majority of folks who followed the call of far-flung riches, he struck it rich in Oklahoma City. During the Oklahoma land rush of 1889, James grabbed a plot of land that, although located on Main Street, was considered too far from the city center to be worth anything. By 1900, though, his land holdings were earning $12,000 a year and Cincinnati newspapers carried regular reports of the local boy made good during his annual Christmas visits home to see his elderly mother.

On one of these Yuletide sojourns in 1919, James was fatally injured in a train wreck in St. Louis. Unmarried, his mother having died earlier that year, James left his entire real estate portfolio and a bundle of securities to his only surviving relative, Florence. She sold off the family house in Cincinnati and moved to Oklahoma to oversee her brother’s holdings, especially the Weaver Building erected on James’ original plot, which at that point was generating $8,000 in rent every month.

Ten years later, on New Year’s Eve 1929, Florence died in Oklahoma City, and that’s when the fun—and the litigation—began. According to The Cincinnati Post [January 8, 1930]:

“Under her will filed in Oklahoma City and disposing of her estate valued at $609,000, the estate is to be used to erect hospitals for crippled children and for parks and playgrounds. If Cincinnati rejects the terms the money is to be spent for the same purposes in Oklahoma City. The estate must be kept intact for 500 years, but may be converted into securities after 200 years at the discretion of the trustees.”

The magic of compounding interest drove journalists—and the mathematicians they consulted—into paroxysms of miscalculation. Some newspapers reported that 500 years of interest would result in a $32 billion nest egg. Some added another three zeros. A few added several more. Some asserted that, after 500 years, the Weaver estate would be worth more than all the money in the entire world. Most agreed that Florence Weaver was out of her ever-loving mind. The Enquirer [February 3, 1930] editorialized:

“Freak bequests are not infrequent. This one suggests possible explanation by the neurologist, psychiatrist or psychologist; but to the common thought it is but one more evidence of distorted mentality. What impresses the mind here is why a benevolent impulse should have to be projected so far into the future, with pathetic legions of crippled little ones at all times about us on every hand.”

In addition to the possibility that Weaver may have been of less than sound mind, she was most definitely racist. According to The Enquirer [December 28, 1933]:

“The will provided that the City of Cincinnati should use the money to provide parks and playgrounds for the exclusive use of the white race. Under the will Negroes and Jews would have been barred from the use of the parks and playgrounds. City officials agreed at once that neither of these provisions could be carried out. Ohio laws provide that any citizen can have the use of public property.”

The Weaver will kept attorneys and judges busy for several years. While it was easily determined that a 500-year horizon was indigestible for the probate courts, it took some time to determine exactly what that decision meant. Whether Cincinnati had to share its largesse with Oklahoma City or any of the half-dozen distant relatives who emerged to claim a share also took a few additional rounds to resolve.

Eventually, Oklahoma City lost out, receiving nothing except its share of inheritance taxes. The City of Cincinnati and the Weaver heirs agreed to split the estate, with the city taking half and the heirs splitting the remainder. When all was tallied, with legal fees and taxes deducted, Cincinnati ended up with around $200,000.

Sinton Park in the West End was buried during the construction of I-75. The small park created from Florence Weaver’s bequest hangs on at the end of Derrick Turnbow Avenue.

That started another round of arguments. City Council offered a multitude of plans for spending the windfall, the equivalent of about $3 million in today’s money. Some argued for improvements at the Cincinnati Zoo. The Park Board and the Recreation Commission at first offered competing schemes, with Recreation pushing an East End location near the Lincoln School where Weaver taught. Eventually, the two departments compromised on a plan involving riverfront land between Lunken Airport and the California Waterworks.

By 1940, with no decision reached, discussions shifted to the need for recreational facilities in the West End. Today, apparently lacking any form of signage or recognition, the Weaver Memorial Playground, the Weaver Baseball Field, the Weaver Softball Field, the Weaver Football Field, and the Weaver Memorial Basketball Court occupy (simultaneously and congruently) a 2.5-acre plot—whittled down from its original five acres—opposite the YMCA at the western terminus of Derrick Turnbow Avenue.

Only time can tell what will occupy that land in the year 2430.

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