Do you copy? Farmers give twins fest $5 million

John Reiff, Bill Reiff
Twins John Reiff, left, and Bill Reiff are shown in this May 6, 1999, file photo on their farm in Phoenixville, Pa. Rusty Kennedy / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A donation that the Twins Days festival is getting from the estate of two frugal bachelor farmers is enough to make some people do a double-take: as much as $5 million.

John and William Reiff, once recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s most-identical twins, left most of their estate to the festival in Twinsburg, about 15 miles southeast of Cleveland. John Reiff died in 2005 and William five years earlier, but only recently have plans to develop part of the twins’ suburban Philadelphia farm been worked out.

With the land deal expected to be completed this year, about $4 million to $5 million will go to the festival, Forrest Norman, a lawyer for the Twins Days Festival Committee, told The Plain Dealer in a story published Sunday. The festival committee intends to invest the money to help pay for operating costs.

The Reiffs, who attended their first Twins Days festival in the late 1970s, always dressed alike, talked alike and enjoyed dating other twins, said neighbor John Bechtel, who is also executor of their estate. The wiry, bespectacled pair won many “most identical” competitions over the years.

Norman said, “They were just a couple of old farmers from Pennsylvania who you would not think had two cents to rub together.”

The annual Twins Days festival, a three-day event that begins Aug. 3 this year, attracts about 3,000 sets of twins, triplets and quadruplets and features contests such as those for the most alike and least alike twins. Over the years, it also has attracted scientists interested in genetic research.

Between trips to Twinsburg and to other twin events, the Reiffs lived frugally on a 154-acre farm that had been in the family for three generations. It was no model of agriculture, Bechtel said. A wood stove heated the house, and a 20-cow herd barely supported the dairy.

Before his death in 2005, John Reiff cut a deal with a development group that planned to use the farm, a rare piece of undeveloped land near Philadelphia, for residential housing.

Neighbors sued, but local officials, the developer and residents have finally agreed on a plan to build six houses and a park on the site, and 40 houses elsewhere. The historic farmhouse and tenant house, which fell into disrepair while the twins ran it, will be restored.

The Reiff brothers, who never married, gave most of their fortune to the Twins Days festival but also left $250,000 to four churches. None of their four living sisters was named in their will.

“They only had time for other twins,” Bechtel told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “They were definitely different.”