Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr. took some time for me to finish. This isn’t my typical read, but I selected it after seeing the title listed on a friend’s post of current reads. I stuck with the book, even though I got bogged down a bit with my reading.
This book delves into the lives of the extremely wealthy Clark family with special attention to daughter Huguette Clark. It starts with a “tour” of her three mansions, all sitting empty, as she lived her final years in a NY hospital room. The homes are described in great detail.
Readers are then taken back in time to discover how Huguette’s father accumulated his wealth (and her life leading up to hospitalization). Their wealth is unlike anything I can even imagine, gained by shrewd risk taking in the upcoming industries of Clark’s time, copper and railroad to name a couple. Huguette grows up with great affluence, living in France, Butte (I think?) and New York. She eventually owns mansions in California, Connecticut and three huge apartments in a prime New York building spot overlooking Central Park.
Huguette has a unique personality, collecting and pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into dolls, doll houses, art and music. Not to mention the millions she gives to charity and to those people in her inner circle. Her primary nurse was gifted millions of dollars while taking care of Huguette in her final ten-twenty years or so of life (I forget the exact number). Huguette lived a long (over 100 years) and mostly secluded life with extended family erupting after her death to fight for an inheritance.
A standout moment for me is toward the very end of the book. The author recounts a memory of Huguette reciting a French poem about a cricket and butterfly. A cricket enviously watches as a beautiful butterfly flits about. Children chase after the butterfly until eventually catching it and tearing it apart in their desperate need to have it. The cricket decides it is happier in its safe, hidden world. I think this is the perfect lens to appreciate Huguette and her choices.
People who enjoy true family histories and reading about the lifestyles of the extremely wealthy will enjoy this book.