“Each family gets 30 minutes to preserve a legacy,” Strange Inheritance host Jamie Colby explained to Hamptons.com about the Fox Business show. On Monday, December 7th, that family will be the Munns, who live in Southampton, and upon the death of Orson Munn at age 86, inherited over 10,000 toy soldiers. During the episode, Orson’s widow, Pat, and her grown children, Linda and Orson III, try to figure out what to do with the enormous collection.
What attracted you to the show?
JC: As soon as I heard the name, Strange Inheritance, we didn’t really know exactly what the show would look like at that point. I said, ‘I’m all in,” because as an attorney for a decade before I was in television, I had worked really hard with clients to preserve and grow their wealth. But I had never really seen the other side of the equation and I was really interested in that. It’s an ever-changing field. What I didn’t know I would stumble on is all the emotion that is involved with people making decisions about their parents or a relative, or even in one episode, a hermit left money to two actors he’d never met, like a $1,000,000. He was a huge fan of them, they had had shows that were only on one season, they weren’t really all that well known, but he had a thing for them and in his will, he said I’m leaving my farm and money to my friends, and he specifically named them. So, there have been so many surprises and twists and turns. And when you add the adrenaline of going to auctions with heirlooms that end up being so historically significant, like a bloody sleeve from the Civil War that was General Pickett’s, I’m just learning so much. I knew it would be interesting, but I had no idea it would be fascinating.
What’s the strangest inheritance so far?
JC: They’re all strange at this point because viewers have started to write in and it’s almost like they’re competing to have the strangest one. The interesting thing about the military soldier collection was the magnitude of it. I can see a grownup having a passion for military history and maybe during travel, you go to Normandy and get a couple of replicas of soldiers from that period of time. When this episode airs on Pearl Harbor Day, you might find something relative to that battle, but he [Orson Munn] was into every single one. He replicated them to perfection. He hand-painted them, often times himself. Some of them were done by Faberge artists, who did the Faberge eggs. It’s just the intensity and magnitude that surprises me. I’m a collector of contemporary art, but in that field, maybe you can buy a piece a year. These people are fanatics about having the perfect pieces and they do it over a long period of time. In this particular case, their kids loved the soldiers and want to see it go to a great home and keep it in Southampton, which was his wish. But in other ones, they’re like ‘What do I do with 150 tractors? I don’t farm.’ Someone inherited 100,000 insects that turned out to be worth $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. That’d probably be up there in the strange category. But also on Monday, we’re airing an episode where someone inherited Winston Churchill’s dentures. I’d say that’s in the very, very strange category. But for 30 minutes, I get to tell an incredible story about why Churchill had specially made dentures to maintain a lisp. Every day’s an adventure.
How do you find the featured families?
JC: Often times, they’re now reaching out to us, because we’re in season 2 and they know what the show is. In season 1, we had our story development team, and everyone on the team, including myself and my shooters, scouring the world to find stories. A lot of it is public record. Maybe I had a little edge up as an attorney, knowing I could probate stuff, how to find it. We checked a lot of newspaper articles and magazines that talked about different scenarios about inheritances and we came upon the greatest car collection in Tacoma, Washington, the LeMay car collection, 3,330 antique cars restored to perfection. The family didn’t even know how many cars the dad had collected or restored until they found 50 different locations of warehouses, after he passed. So they have a museum now. In this season, we’ve had what’s believed to be the oldest baseball card in existence. The only known signed photo of Shoeless Joe Jackson, who I found out was illiterate and couldn’t sign his name, but he did once, that we know of. Learning the history of these things, especially being a girl and not knowing about sports or coins, or whatever the inheritance is, was really an adventure to research and meet the family. Each family gets 30 minutes to preserve a legacy.
Let’s talk about the episode filmed in Southampton. Can you give me a little background on the family?
JC: The way I found that story is kind of funny. I was having dinner with my mom, I’m pretty sure it was Mother’s Day, down in Fort Lauderdale. The folks next to us were people that she knew, and they loved the show. They were telling me that they rent a house in Southampton from this family, the Munns, and that they have this incredible toy soldier collection. My eyes lit up and that night, Ms. Munn wrote me an email, and a month later we were in her living room. So it was really fun and I have to thank my mom because they’re really a wonderful family. I’m so impressed with their closeness and desire to take what started as a childhood hobby for their father, who was ill as a child, and had to spend a lot of time in bed and would play with these soldiers. To him serving in the war, and continuing this passion throughout his entire life. To trying to leave it in Southampton, so that people can see it, and learn from it, and enjoy it. And they’re struggling. It’s not working out the way they had hoped.
Was the family aware of how large the collection had gotten before Orson’s passing?
JC: Yes, and a lot of people in this situation are overwhelmed by the sheer number of items they are inheriting. I think that was the case here. But fortunately, Orson had devoted one room in the house to a gallery of sorts, where all 10,000 soldiers are meticulously arranged and labeled. If that particular battle was in the desert, there’s sand. There are these dioramas you just have to see to believe. So they knew what they had, and they did donate some to a museum in Louisville, The Frazier, it’s a military arms and toy museum. But who could accommodate all of them? They’re left with over 8,000 that they are hoping to set up someplace in Southampton. They were told that they personally need to raise $10,000,000 to make it happen.
So the Munn family was very supportive of trying to get a museum started?
JC: Very much. They love Southampton. I believe Orson was a town council member for years, a town trustee it was called in those days. They’re very committed to the community. He spearheaded a bunch of projects in Southampton, like a public park system. Actually, in Shinnecock Bay, there’s a point named after him. So they love the area, but so far, they’ve gotten a no at every turn, and they haven’t been able to raise close to that amount. Ms. Munn is getting on in years, and in her lifetime, she just wants to see this happen. And we’re trying to help.
Where does the family stand with the collection?
JC: They’re still doing everything they can to find a home for these soldiers. They’re still in the house. What happens when Ms. Munn dies? Chances are the kids, who have their own homes in Southampton, will sell the house. It’s a magnificent property right on the beach. I mean what isn’t beautiful in Southampton? Any of the Hamptons for that matter. So they’ll have to move the collection, the question is where. They could sell it. An appraiser came in and gave them a lovely figure of what it’s worth. It’s probably worth more if they break it up because some collectors might want part of a collection, but not thee whole thing. But they don’t want to do that. Its enormity and significance is in its present state, not broken up. His collection, they believe, rivals Malcom Forbes. I think they’ve really got something special.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
JC: Yes, if I can get back out to the other Hamptons, if anybody else has an inheritance, email me at [email protected]. We would love to continue to focus on some of the extraordinary families that are out there. There have to be other families that want to share their story. There’s nothing better than being told, this week your assignment is in nowhere, wherever, but instead that you’re going out to the Hamptons.
“Strange Inheritance” will air on FOX Business Network on Monday at 9 p.m.
For more information, visit www.strangeinheritance.com.