Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune - Paul Clark Newell Jr., Bill Dedman In 2009 Bill Dedman noticed an advertisement for the sale of a grand old mansion that had remained well cared for yet unoccupied for nearly 60 years. What Pulitzer Prize winning journalist worth his salt could help but wonder at the story behind that empty and forgotten mansion? Collaborating with Huguette Clark’s cousin Paul Newell, Mr. Dedman takes readers on what has been described as “a fairy tale in reverse”.

Huguette was heir to her father’s copper fortune, and despite having opulent homes throughout the United States and despite being in excellent health, she chose to spend the last 20 years of her life in a small hospital room in NYC until her death at age 104.

This is the story of a woman who had unbelievable wealth. The list of her assets was astounding and the account of her spending and “gifts” to friends and employees made my jaw drop. Huguette remained sharp and financially independent until the end of her long life and throughout this book I often silently applauded her handling of unscrupulous lawyers and doctors who tried – and were cleverly thwarted – in their efforts to get their hands on some of her vast wealth. Putting her finances aside, it quickly became apparent to me that Huguette was also a sad and somewhat lonely woman throughout her very long life. She married and then divorced quickly, never to remarry again. She enjoyed, genuinely loved and most definitely lavished on family (most of them), friends and employees, yet always kept them at a distance, except for her long time nurse. A woman who was very well paid for her loyalty … or a woman who knew how to quietly take advantage of a wealthy employer? That was the burning question I was left with after I turned the last page.

This is not a book to read if you are looking for a quick page-turner as sometimes, out of necessity, it gets bogged down in financial accounts and terms and explanations. I found this book fascinating, shocking and heartbreaking all at the same time.