Archive for March, 2014

Empty Mansions

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

By Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

The Short Take:

A mesmerizing look at the making — and spending — of an American fortune. The Clarks were as rich as the Vanderbilt’s and Rockerfeller’s, but left virtually no lasting legacy. This is the story of the heiress Huguette Clark, who owned huge homes but elected to live in a plain hospital room even though healthy. Fascinating… and a bit weird.

Why?

Truth is so often stranger than fiction. That’s certainly the case with the life of Huguette Clark. The daughter of W. H. Clark, who became unbelievably wealthy through hard work, mining, and smart business decisions, she ultimately chose a life of exceptional seclusion. It all makes for a very interesting read, with no pat answers as to the “why” she was the way she was.

Newell is a cousin with an interest in his family history  who actually participated in telephone conversations with Huguette in her later years. Dedman is the man who ultimately violated her privacy by investigating the sale of her Connecticut mansion, which she bought but never moved into, though she owned it some 60 years.

It’s an incredible story of unbelievable wealth, eccentric behavior, and great personal generosity. It’s all simply amazing, yet ultimately — thankfully — Huguette retains a lot of her mystery.

A Little Plot:

The book traces the life of W. H. Clark, his climb to tremendous wealth, his brief and controversial political career, and his relationships in two families (Huguette was a daughter from his second marriage). It also encompasses the 105-years of Huguette’s secretive, artistic, and generous life. And, the battle for her millions after hear death.

Art, music, dolls and doll houses, support for artists and those who cared for her — it’s all here and all worth reading. Hers was a genuinely unique American life.

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