Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman with Paul Clark Newell Jr. (3 out of 5)
Huguette Clark was America’s most reclusive heiress; at least that’s the impression put forth in this book. She was beyond mysterious, spending a ridiculous amount of money on extravagant, older mansions that she either never set foot in, or went once or twice, never to be seen again. The one pictured on the book cover was the childhood home; I think this is the one she spent the most time in, and likely because her entire family was there. As members of her family passed, she began buying other properties and furnishing them with uber-expensive decorations, paintings, and dead-on replications of the furniture that was in her original family home. Some history? Sure thing, chicken wing.
Huguette Clark was born into wealth. Her father was the mastermind behind the copper mine craze in Montana and the West. W.A. Clark’s story from poverty into the insurmountable rungs of wealth, was fascinating. Truly a story of the Old West, the copper mining industry, railroads, and wealth beyond anyone’s means. This guy sounds like he was vying with Rockefeller for the title of “Wealthiest Businessman”. Huguette’s father didn’t blink an eyelash at any trappings for his family, likely that’s why she had the attitude toward her wealth that she did. To someone like me, to read about and see these photographs, well, it brought up memories of old wealth that I read about growing up rich, and then made my stomach churn at the ostentatious displays of wealth. Perhaps if someone were enjoying the trappings of their wealth? But Huguette never really did. She hid wherever she wanted, and never came out. Her employees barely saw her, some never even met her! How do you write checks for an amount that would stagger most of us, when you have never met the person you are writing that check to? Huguette never had a problem. This reader couldn’t get over that.
Hugette’s last twenty years are spent inside Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. In her period of solitude, she spent time locked away from public view, suffering from skin cancer. It gets to a crisis point where she finally consents to get checked out, then never leaves, until her death at 104. This is a truly fascinating story of that provoked many “What the hell?” comments from me. I’m sure there will be others who read this who think the same exact thing. I guess the truly old school eccentrics are eccentric for a reason, but figuring them out is not for the rest of us. I was deeply fascinated by the story of W.A. and Anna Clark, Huguette’s parents. I think that’s why the book was so fascinating to me. Huguette’s kookiness with the money kind of made me sick to my stomach, to be honest. I am glad that Dedman and Newell (a close relative of Huguette’s family who cooperated with Dedman on the book) brought forth the story to the masses, for I had not heard of her until this book.