Empty Mansions Summary & Study Guide

Bill Dedman
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Empty Mansions Summary & Study Guide Description

Empty Mansions Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune is a biography by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. Huguette Clark was the daughter of W.A. Clark, an American entrepreneur who made the bulk of his fortune in copper mines. When Huguette Clark died, her life as a recluse who lived in a hospital for twenty years not only caught the attention of curious reporters, but the district attorney of New York City and various Clark family members who wanted to know what had happened to their aunt’s wealth. The writers of this book found not only what illuminates the life of a woman who valued privacy above all else, but how greed can motivate even those who should have the best interests of a patient at heart.

W.A. Clark was born in Pennsylvania. As a young man, he moved to the west coast in hopes of finding gold. Clark settled in Montana where he began making his fortune first in selling groceries to miners and then by moving the mail to remote parts of the state. Eventually Clark bought several copper mines, took classes in mineralogy to teach him how to make the most of those mines, and became one of the richest men in America.

Clark married and had seven children with his first wife. In Butte, Clark built one of the finest homes the city had ever seen. After the death of his wife, Clark got involved in politics. Unfortunately, Clark’s first run for Congress ended when an investigation showed that he bribed officials for their votes. Clark handed in his resignation in an attempt to trick his way around the rules, but failed. Clark would later be elected to Congress a second time and serve his term without controversy, but would always be known for the accusations of corruption.

In the early 1900s, Clark would announce that he secretly married a young woman he had taken into his care, providing for her a music education in Paris. The marriage had already resulted in a child, two year old Andree, by the time the announcement was made. In 1912, Clark would bring his new family to America from Paris, a family that now included daughter Huguette Marcelle.

Clark built a massive home in New York City on Fifth Avenue for his new family. The home included several art galleries and a complete room that had been brought over from France. The family would live in the home until Clark’s death in 1923. At that time, the house was sold to a developer as per Clark’s will. The rest of Clark’s wealth was divided among his five surviving children. Huguette moved into an apartment further down Fifth Avenue with her mother until her marriage in 1928. At that time, Huguette’s mother moved into an apartment four floors below Huguette’s.

Huguette’s marriage only lasted a few months. Several years later, Huguette got a divorce in Reno. Huguette would never marry again, but she did carry on an affectionate relationship with a French gentleman who was a close friend of Huguette’s in childhood.

Huguette became a recluse in her Fifth Avenue apartment, spending most of her time collecting and designing dolls and doll houses. After her mother’s death, Huguette moved into her mother’s apartment, buying an apartment next door simply to keep from having neighbors and keeping the upstairs apartment as well. As the servants her mother hired began to die or retire, Huguette refused to hire new ones. For that reason, when Huguette developed skin cancer in her eighties, her doctor had passed away so she did not see another doctor nor was there anyone to encourage Huguette to go to the doctor. It was not until Huguette could no longer eat did she finally seek medical help.

Huguette was admitted to Doctor’s Hospital near her apartment building to undergo treatment for her disfiguring skin cancer. When Huguette had healed, she refused to leave the hospital. Huguette had never liked change. The hospital allowed her to stay. Huguette quickly became close to her private nurse, insisting that she be the only one to care for her day in and day out. In a short time, Huguette began to give gifts to this woman, eventually giving her nurse and the nurse’s family over thirty million dollars in the course of their twenty year friendship.

While in the hospital, the nurse was not the only person Huguette showered with gifts. Huguette gave money to a charity her lawyer was associated with, gave monetary gifts to her personal assistant and accountant. The hospital came looking for donations, but asked Huguette for huge sums, barely disguising their intentions. Huguette denied them and for that reason found herself transferred to another hospital building and then her room changed three times in the final years of her life.

Several years before Huguette’s death, she made two wills. The first will left all of Huguette’s money to her living relatives. The second will left money to her nurse, her accountant, and her lawyer, with the bulk of her estate going to an arts foundation honoring her mother’s west coast estate, Bellosguardo. Not until months before her death did any of Huguette’s family reach out to her or attempt to learn her condition. When Huguette passed away, her family began legal proceedings to protest her second will. In these proceedings, the family members claim Huguette was mentally unbalanced even though most had not seen her in nearly fifty years. The fight over Huguette’s will continues.

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