Empty Mansions

EmptymansionsThe Mysterious Life Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell
2013 / 496 pages
rating 8.5

Based on the NBC news article of the same name, this is the fascinating account of Huguette Clark, the youngest daughter of William A. Clark, Gilded Age multi-millionaire (railroads and copper) and scandal-plagued Senator from Montana. Huguette lived as a debutant and a recluse between her birth in1904 and death 2011. She died in a hospital as she’d lived for 20 years, although she was healthy enough to leave.

During her stay Henrietta gave generously of her millions, but her relatives, with whom she’d had little or no contact, were not the usual recipients: they barely knew she was alive. Her giving was to her nurse of 20 years and many other people around her from cooks to doctors. Yes she was bilked a couple of times she also said no quite well. When she died she left many “mansions,” all lovingly cared for but unlived-in for decades, one never, as well as paintings, jewelry, financial assets, dolls, doll houses, etc. as well as a bunch of unpaid taxes. Many millions of dollars involved.

Her last will and testament stated that the bulk of her inheritance go to charities, friends, employees and lawyers, one of whom was a felon the other not overly ethical. Nothing went to the relatives. So the relatives came out of the closet and sued.

I expected a fluffy piece but as was the case with the Henrietta Green (a woman financier of Huguette’s father’s era) book by Charles Slack, I was pleasantly surprised. This is a fine little piece of investigative reporting and the history behind the story.

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