When Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Bill Dedman noticed a real estate listing for a grand estate in Connecticut that had sat empty for nearly sixty years, he had no idea that he was stumbling onto one of the greatest American stories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—complete with copper barons, Gilded Age opulence, backdoor politics, and a reclusive 104-year-old heiress named Huguette Clark. Empty Mansions
explores the fascinating life of this enigmatic figure, who had not been publicly photographed since the 1920s. Though Huguette Clark 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, despite being in good health. With Huguette’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have had frequent conversations with her, Dedman presents a fairy tale told in reverse: a daughter born into privilege who in time locks herself away from the outside world.
By age twenty, Huguette had inherited her fortune from her father, copper industrialist W. A. Clark, who at the dawn of the twentieth century was one of the richest men in America, possibly even as rich as John D. Rockefeller. The money afforded Huguette gorgeous paintings by Degas and Renoir, a world-renown Stradivarius violin, a vast collection of antique dolls, lavish gifts for friends (and even strangers), and the privacy she valued above all else.
The Clark family story encompasses the entire span of American history in just three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to miners’ camps in the Montana gold rush, from cross-country travel in private railroad cars of the nineteenth-century to a police investigation in the largest apartment on Fifth Avenue in the twenty-first-century. The same Huguette who held a ticket on the return trip of the Titanic
was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11.
With access to twenty thousand pages of personal and financial correspondence, Dedman and Newell take us on a grand tour of Huguette’s fascinating world. They introduce us to Huguette’s life as an artist, her handsome boyfriend in France, and the nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts from the heiress. Including previously unseen photographs of Huguette and her homes, Empty Mansions
is a surprising and touching story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.