What the Descendants of 8 Controversial Historical Figures Are Doing Today

Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini.
Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini.
Marco Di Lauro / Stringer, Getty Images

The joy of genealogy is in finding unexpected twists and turns in your family’s past. For some, it’s a reason to celebrate—the direct descendants of the frontiersman Davy Crockett and author Leo Tolstoy, for example, assemble every few years for a jolly reunion. For others, well, having a link to a certain lineage might be something they'd want to hide. And being a descendant (a term we use loosely here to also include non-direct descendants) of any notable figure from history can bring plenty of baggage along with it. Here’s what the descendants of eight controversial historical figures are doing right now.

1. Aaron Burr’s descendant is boating buddies with Alexander Hamilton's great-great-great-great-granddaughter.

For the 200th anniversary of the Burr-Hamilton duel, Antonio Burr and Douglas Hamilton, a fifth-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, reenacted the scene in Weehawken, New Jersey.Mario Tama/Getty Images

In 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were embroiled in a venomous feud and decided to “take it outside,” engaging in a duel that, ultimately, led to Hamilton’s death. More than 200 years later, there’s no bad blood between the two families anymore: In fact, members from both sides go kayaking together. Antonio Burr—a descendant of one of Aaron Burr's cousins who portrayed the third vice president in a reenactment of the duel for its 200th anniversary in 2004—once served as Commodore of the Inwood Canoe Club in New York. Fittingly, Alexandra Hamilton Woods, the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury, served as the club’s treasurer for a time and worked alongside Burr. The two originally met at a party and only put together their familial connection (and their passion for canoeing) after some small talk.

“I used to tease him about our respective history,” Hamilton Woods told the New York Post in 2015. “We’ve had a number of interesting conversations. But I have great fondness and respect for Antonio.” Though each defends their respective family member's actions surrounding the duel, when they had to deal with club matters, Hamilton Woods said, "[Antonio] and I find ourselves usually on the same side.”

2. Adolf Hitler’s great-nephews are proud Americans in Long Island.

William Patrick Hitler and his mother outside the Astor Hotel in New York City in June 1941.Keystone/Getty Images

Descendants from Adolf Hitler's paternal side of the family currently reside in Long Island, New York, and, if you ever visit, you’re likely to find them proudly flying the American flag. Their father, William Patrick Hitler, was the son of the dictator’s half-brother Alois, who had the same father as Adolf. William moved to the United States in 1939 shortly after having a falling-out with his uncle, and would famously write an article for the July 4, 1939 edition of Look magazine called “Why I Hate My Uncle." As you'd expect, the Führer was no fan of Willy, either, calling him “my loathsome nephew.”

During World War II, William would join the United States Navy and earned a Purple Heart while serving his new country. After the war, he changed his name and had four sons, three of whom continue to live quietly in Long Island and rarely speak to reporters. The scattered anecdotes that do exist from neighbors describe a perfectly normal childhood in the town of Patchogue, and their adulthood has been similarly unassuming: One brother became a social worker, while the other two run a landscaping company together. None are married; none have children.

3. Benito Mussolini has a Political Playboy Model granddaughter.

Italian Senator Alessandra Mussolini holds a political rally in 2014.Laura Lezza/Getty Images

On April 1, 2019, the following words actually appeared in the Washington Post: "Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, is engaged in a bitter feud with Jim Carrey, the actor best known for the likes of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber. No, this is not an April Fools’ Day joke, and yes, the Internet is to blame."

Unlike Hitler’s descendants, Alessandra Mussolini has no problem calling attention to herself, nor is she ashamed of defending her ancestor’s past. So when Carrey insulted her grandfather on Twitter, Mussolini started tossing verbal tomatoes at the funnyman and his defenders. It’s no surprise: According to the New York Times, Mussolini ran for office as a member of the "neo-fascist" Italian Social Movement in 1992, before more recently serving in the European Parliament as a member of the Forza Italia party. In addition to embracing her grandfather’s legacy and far-right politics over the years, Mussolini has posed as a Playboy cover model, acted in a dozen Italian films, and even released an album of pop music (in Japan, no less).

4. Christopher Columbus’s Spanish Naval Admiral great-great [...] grandson.

It’s not uncommon for a child to follow in his or her parent’s footsteps. Sometimes, a grandchild might even join the business. But it’s not often you hear about a descendant 500 years removed taking on the family job and the titles that go along with them. That is reportedly the case with Cristóbal Colón de Carvajal y Gorosábel, a direct descendant 18 generations removed from Christopher Columbus. Not only did Cristóbal join the Spanish Navy, sail around the world, and command his own ship in his younger days, but he also holds onto many of the ceremonial titles that have been in his family for generations: He's technically still Admiral and Adelantado Mayor of the Indies, the 18th Duke of Veragua, and the 16th Marquis of Jamaica, but he told the BBC these titles are merely "honorific" now.

Though the 70-year-old Colón doesn't have much business in the United States, he famously made headlines after he was named grand marshal of the 1992 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, which gained the ire of many Native American groups; it was later announced he would be the co-marshal with U.S. Representative Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Native American politician from Colorado. Today, he'll occasionally pop up in the news to defend the most controversial member of his family tree.

5. Josef Stalin’s granddaughter is a Buddhism-Practicing Punkster.

Josef Stalin with his son Vasily and daughter Svetlana.Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In 1967, Stalin’s only daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, embarrassed the Soviet Union by defecting to the United States. Her daughter Olga Peters—a.k.a. Chrese Evans— is now decidedly American. According to the most recent reports, Evans lives in Oregon, practices Buddhism, and works as an antiques dealer. Sporting some wicked tattoos and punk-rock hair, she’s been photographed carrying a toy Kalashnikov rifle, prompting the New York Post to claim: “Stalin’s granddaughter is an all-American badass.”

6. Napoleon Bonaparte’s descendant married Napoleon's second wife's great-great-great-niece.

Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon and his wife, Olympia Von Arco-Zinneberg, on their wedding day, with a statue of Napoleon fittingly watching over them.Luc Castel/Getty Images

Napoleon Bonaparte wrote some seriously mushy love letters to his first wife, Josephine, during the late 18th century. (Take this doozy: “I hope before long to crush you in my arms and cover you with a million kisses burning as though beneath the equator.”) Apparently, the talent for saccharine prose was passed down to his descendants.

In 2019, Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon—an investment banker and great-great-great-great-nephew to Napoleon—married Austria’s Countess Olympia von und zu Arco-Zinneberg, the great-great-great-niece of Napoleon’s second wife, Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria. Remarking on the connection, he said: “When I met Olympia, I plunged into her eyes and not into her family tree.” Proof, if anything, that he inherited his great-great-great-great-uncle’s silver tongue.

7 and 8. Hideki Tojo’s great-grandson and Harry S. Truman's grandson are looking to atone.

Hideki Tojo was Japan’s Prime Minister during much of World War II, before being executed as a Class-A war criminal in 1948. Today, his great-grandson, Hidetoshi Tojo, an entrepreneur, is interested in making amends. According to The Associated Press, “[he’s] reached out to Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of wartime U.S. President Harry S. Truman” and has discussed working together on different projects to bring people together.

“Reaching full reconciliation all at once would be difficult,” Tojo said in 2015, according to the Miami Herald. “But I’m sure we can build understanding, if we can respect each other, and that would be a first step.”

For his part, Clifton Truman Daniel, the descendant of a controversial figure in his own right, currently advocates for the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and is a vocal supporter of nuclear disarmament.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14


Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140


Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48


Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30


The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19


Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25


This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70


Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120


What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24


Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14


Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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12 Oversized Facts About JNCO Jeans

In 1998, Fortune magazine declared, "If you can't pronounce 'JNCO,' you're hopelessly out of touch." JNCOs—which at one point stood for "Judge None, Choose One," "Journey of the Chosen Ones," or maybe even the slightly less rebellious “Jeans Co.”—were quintessentially '90s jeans, worn largely (at least at first) by skaters and nonconformists and known for mega-wide leg openings. Though the clothing line enjoyed only fleeting relevance, the clownish silhouettes have been immortalized through regular nostalgia-fueled posts and Onion punchlines. Here are a few things you might not have known about JNCOs.

1. JNCO was an American-inspired brand founded by two French men.

JNCO was founded in 1985 by Haim and Yaakov Revah, two media-shy brothers from France who go by "Milo" and "Jacques," respectively. Together, the two operated Revatex, the Los Angeles parent company which began producing mostly private-label apparel for retail chains before eventually introducing JNCOs to the public in 1993. Los Angeles served as an appropriate location for its launch: According to The Los Angeles Times, JNCO was born out of Milo's love for the city's culture—particularly, that of its wide-pant-wearing Latino population he encountered in east Los Angeles neighborhoods. Though the Revahs were born in Morocco and raised in France, they always expressed an interest in American culture. Milo told The Times that among his favorite pastimes was watching reruns of Starsky and Hutch and Charlie's Angels.

2. JNCO actively rejected “conventionalism” throughout the ‘90s.

From the start, JNCO's mission, according to its website, was to “Challenge conventionalism. Explore the unfamiliar. Honor individuality.” One could argue that JNCO was unwavering on the first part of its mission throughout the '90s, defining itself in opposition to mainstream brands like Levi's. JNCO's target demographic was made abundantly clear through its sponsorships of extreme-sports events, aiming for surfers and skateboarders between 12 and 20 years old. In a 1998 Fortune article, writer Nina Munk speculated that ads taken out in magazines like Electric Ink and Thrasher were there to bait "cool young (mainly white) men." The article also mentioned that Revatex would often hand out free clothes to '90s tastemakers, including extreme athletes Todd "Wild Man" Lyons and Sean Mallard, as well as members of Limp Bizkit and prominent DJs in the rave scene.

3. JNCO embraced a “suburban” brand following the bankruptcy of its main retailer.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In 1994, JNCO's main retailer, the Joppa, Maryland-based jeans chain Merry-Go-Round, filed for bankruptcy; two years later, it liquidated all of its stores. The Revahs withdrew all JNCOs merchandise from Merry-Go-Round before the stores liquidated and recruited Steven Sternberg to help rebrand the jeans.

Sternberg, a New York retail guru who had made waves working with B.U.M. Equipment—another Los Angeles-based clothing line popular among mall dwellers—told them that "this is not an urban line." He suggested the company should, instead, align itself with surf and skate brands like Billabong and Quiksilver. "We would not sell to stores that carried FUBU or Cross Colours," Sternberg told Racked. "We retooled JNCO from being an urban line to being strictly a suburban line."

4. JNCO Jeans accounted for 10 percent of PacSun’s business in 1997.

Thomas Hawk, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Its suburban branding in place, JNCO found a fruitful partner in Anaheim's on-the-rise retailer Pacific Sunwear (PacSun). "This [PacSun] management team has great ability to anticipate what's hot," a Baltimore stock analyst told The Wall Street Journal in 1996. The analyst was, of course, speaking of the retailer's recent partnership with JNCO jeans—a move which a later financial report would show was just as lucrative for JNCO as it was for the Anaheim retailer. ''People can go anywhere to buy Levi's,'' Carl Womack, Pacific Sunwear's chief financial officer, told The New York Times in 1997. ''Fashion-oriented kids don't come to us for that. The only way we can distinguish ourselves is with smaller brands. JNCO has gone from almost none of our business to about 10 percent over a period of a year.''

5. The secret to JNCO’s (short-lived) success was its hands-on promotion.

Asked what the secret to their success was in 1997, Tam Miller, vice president of sales and marketing, told The New York Times that it was all about close contact with the customer base. "We pay very close attention to everything they say. In my neighborhood, there is a skating ramp and I go there and bring samples all the time. When I go home, all the kids run around and ask, 'What's new?'" Other accounts confirm this statement to be true: 30-year-old Joseph Janus, who had joined JNCO as director of advertising and marketing, was spotted at a New York rock club, evangelizing to teens with his seemingly relatable jeans and baseball cap. He'd even asked kids to take off their pants and trade them in for JNCOs, according to Ad Age.

6. There was a time when JNCO’s future looked far brighter than Levi’s.

In a 1997 New York Times article, 18-year-old college student Sam Norris named Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, and JNCOs as his favorite jeans—and declared Levi's officially uncool. "Levi's are sort of, I don't know, outdated or something," he told the paper. Levi Strauss had announced mass layoffs (around 1000 employees, in the Times' estimation) due to slowly growing sales and rising costs. All the while, JNCO's sales were at an all-time high: In 1997, the privately held company's sales were estimated by Ad Age to be between $40 million and $100 million; by 1998—at its peak—JNCO recorded sales of $186.9 million.

7. JNCOs were banned from California’s Orange County schools.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 1998 that Orange County schools were banning wide-leg jeans, putting JNCO and Kikwear on the list of verboten legwear. Administrators told the newspaper that they were fearful of students tripping over the baggy pants, as well as using the extra "yardage" to hide weapons. Some students at the time of the article being published believed the administrative move had subtext—that the pants signified gang affiliation. "They think it's gangster," one student said. "It doesn't matter what you wear. If you look at someone wrong or they don't like you, they're still going to go after you."

8. Counterfeit JNCO jeans were a huge problem in Chicago.

Revatex and PacSun weren't the only ones profiting off of the rise of wide-legged jeans in the '90s. By the mid-'90s, Chicago counterfeiters were taking advantage of the fad, according to The Chicago Tribune. Revatex executives who had flown to Chicago to expand their JNCO market discovered that many stores were already selling pants claiming to be JNCOs. The company was left with no choice but to hire a private-investigation firm to help them take the fakes off the market. "There are literally times when you can't market your products in some cities because counterfeiters have already marketed it," Karl Manders, a chief executive officer who worked with Revatex in their counterfeit battle, told The Tribune.

9. The sales of JNCO jeans “sagged badly” in 1999.

While JNCO had earned its denim crown from 1995 and 1998—with sales climbing from $36 million to $186.9 million—its numbers suffered in the following year. Racked reports that in 1999, sales dipped to $100 million. Consequently, parent company Revatex shut down its Los Angeles facility, leaving 250 workers jobless.

That same year, The New York Times published the deep-dive "Levi's Blues," an investigation into the many lives of the classic denim company. It featured a 16-year-old from Las Vegas, New Mexico who explained that "JNCO [was] more last year": "Now it's more Polo and Tommy Hilfiger and Boss," he said. The writer Hal Espen went on to note that the sales of JNCO jeans had been "sagging badly":

"As my informants at Villa Linda Mall [in Santa Fe, New Mexico] told me, really baggy, the thuggish thing, is fading out, and boys and girls are embracing more of a preppy look. 'Not really a slim, tapered leg,' one boy told me, 'but not going for humongous, either.' Perhaps it's another paradigm shift. That would be cool, wouldn't it?"

10. JNCOs were deemed “uncool” by Hot Topic.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Cindy Levitt, merchandise manager for Hot Topic, told The Los Angeles Times in 2000 that JNCOs were a little too mainstream for her store's clientele. "You still see JNCO at raves," she said. "But it's a little uncool for our customer. It's at too many doors in the mall." Levitt was speaking to JNCOs growing presence among "pedestrian" shops like J.C. Penney—where, in 1998, JNCO was the top-selling brand among young men—as well as PacSun, Ron Jon Surf Shop and The Buckle.

11. JNCOs made a comeback in 2015—although they weren't how most remembered them.

Thanks to the Chinese trading company Guotai Litian—which bought JNCO for seven figures—as well as the cyclical nature of fashion, JNCOs relaunched as an all-purpose denim company in 2015, with a line that looked a little less unconventional. While signature wide-legged jeans were still available through the "Heritage collection" in 20 to 23 inches, the company cashed in on athleisure. And as Joseph Cohen, director of strategic planning at Guotai USA told TODAY, the new line has a different target demographic in mind: “between 20 and 40 years old."

12. JNCOs relaunched under new ownership in 2019.

In 2018, Milo Rivah bought back the JNCO license and reimagined the jeans (which had apparently suffered from quality issues in recent years) with his daughter, Camilla. In June 2019, they relaunched the brand with a return to its wide-legged form: There were eight styles—including a 50-inch-wide pair reminiscent of the popular "Crime Scenes" jean—with price tags ranging from $130 to $250. If you'd like to relive your '90s glory days, you can buy a pair of jeans on JNCO's website.