#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
Janet Maslin, The New York Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
When Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?
Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.
Huguette was the daughter of self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, nearly as rich as Rockefeller in his day, a controversial senator, railroad builder, and founder of Las Vegas. She grew up in the largest house in New York City, a remarkable dwelling with 121 rooms for a family of four. She owned paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls. But wanting more than treasures, she devoted her wealth to buying gifts for friends and strangers alike, to quietly pursuing her own work as an artist, and to guarding the privacy she valued above all else.
The Clark family story spans nearly all of American history in three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from backdoor politics in Washington to a distress call from an elegant Fifth Avenue apartment. The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the Titanic.
Empty Mansions reveals a complex portrait of the mysterious Huguette and her intimate circle. We meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives fighting to inherit Huguette’s copper fortune. Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.
Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., a cousin of the book's subject, reconstruct the life of reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark (1906-2011) in this riveting biography. The authors bring Huguette's odd past into clear perspective, including the hilariously corrupt political schemes of her father, W.A. Clark, who was a Montana senator. Though less celebrated than his compatriots Rockefeller and Carnegie, W.A. Clark was at a time wealthier than they, and by extension, so was his daughter. She was a regular in the society pages during her youth and even married for a short time, Clark later slipped into her own world and stayed there, quietly buying multi-million dollar homes for her dolls. Kind and unspeakably generous to those who worked for her and usually suspicious of family, she wrote a few big checks to people she hardly knew. Other family acquisitions, valuable musical instruments and jewelry among them, she simply gave away. The authors provide a thrilling study of the responsibilities and privileges that come with great wealth and draw the reader into the deliciously scandalous story of Clark's choices in later life, the question of Clark's presence of mind always at issue. Hewn from Huguette's stories, purchases, phone calls, gifts, and letters, the tale of where and how Huguette Clark found happiness will entrance anyone.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Peak into an Odd World
An unusual but not sick world of an eccentric and very wealthy woman. The authors, like many of the people touched by Huguette, are respectful of her. The book does a good job with the life of a wealthy Guilded Age family through Huguette's long life until her death in 2011 at nearly age 105.
This book is definitely thorough!! So thorough that at times it was a bit much to take in, but one can appreciate the research that went into compliling an immaculate look at a very perplexing figure's life! The numbers presented alone are staggering and incomprehensible! However, I found one small statement in the book to be a medically unsound assumption. I would like to point out from a clinical standpoint that the condition of aphasia (which a surviving relative reportedly suffered from) indeed is not at all "akin" to dementia. It is true that some patients who have aphasia also happen to have dementia, but aphasia does not cause dementia and must be viewed as a completely seperate illness. For the hundreds of aphasic patients I have treated as a speech pathologist, a vast majority are mentally intact and painfully trapped within their own sharp minds due to their communication impairment. To assume that because one cannot verbally (or nonverbally) communicate is indicative of a diminished cognitive status is just as poor an assumption as Madame Clark's eccentricities being a result of mental handicap/illness. I can see how that tiny tidbit slipped through the cracks given the volumes of facts that had to be researched, but I simply could not let the misinformation go unattended. Ignorance only empowers the ignorant and individuals with communication impairments richly deserve our advocacy and understanding! Misinformation aside, my kudos and thanks to the authors for bringing to life a compelling and hidden piece of history!
What a beautifully grand lady.
Thank you for this enthralling read. I simply couldn't put it down.