When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed a property listing for a grand estate that had been unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled into one of the most surprising American stories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Empty Mansions is a rich tale of wealth and loss, complete with copper barons, Gilded Age opulence, and backdoor politics. At its heart is a reclusive 104-year-old heiress named Huguette Clark.
Dedman has collaborated with Huguette’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have had frequent conversations with her, to tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter who is born into an almost royal family of amazing wealth and privilege, yet who secrets herself away from the outside world.
Empty Mansions reveals a complete picture of the enigmatic Huguette Clark, heiress to one of the greatest fortunes in American history, a woman who had not been photographed in public since the 1920s. Though she owned three palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, they sat vacant while she lived out her final two decades in a New York City hospital room, despite being in excellent health.
Her father was self-made copper industrialist W. A. Clark, who at the dawn of the twentieth century was one of the richest men in America. Huguette’s inheritance afforded her untold luxury: gorgeous paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renowned Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls, lavish gifts for her friends, the freedom to pursue her own work as an artist, and, most important, the privacy she valued above all else.
The Clark family story takes the reader nearly the entire span of American history in just three generations. The same Huguette who held a ticket for the return trip of the Titanic was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11.
In this scrupulously detailed account, we meet Huguette’s extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her noble French boyfriend, the nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives seeking to inherit Huguette’s $300 million fortune. Richly illustrated with more than seventy photographs, some never before seen, Empty Mansions is a touching story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.
From the Hardcover edition.