Thursday, September 19, 2013

(77)Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman

Empty Mansions

Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Pages: 432

My love of houses and real estate is no secret to anyone who has read this blog. So when a book called Empty Mansions crosses my path how am I to turn away? But  Empty Mansions is about more than just empty buildings.  Empty Mansions is a book about American History, extreme wealth, eccentricities, love, devotion, and especially greed.

Huguette Clark was the youngest child of wealth copper king, W.A. Clark.  Huguette's father came to wealth during the Gilded Age and that is evidenced in the opulent mansions he built all over the country.  The author sets the scene by taking us all the way back to to W.A. Clark's childhood and his move out West.  We follow him through his first marriage, the birth of his children, his short lived stint in Congress, and his second marriage which resulted in the birth of Huguette and W. A. Clark was nearly seventy when his youngest child was born.  We follow the building of his extravagant homes and then his death, leaving Huguette a very wealthy heiress.

The Pulitzer Prize winning author then takes us through the rest of Huguette's eccentric and semi- secluded life.  Huguette was notoriously media shy and kept the public at bay by never leaving her Fifth Avenue apartment until cancerous tumors on her face forced her to the hospital that soon became her home for the remainder of her life.  What she left behind in her apartment was truly something out of a TLC show.   She had millions of dollars of art, but that was just the start of her collections. She had collected thousands of dollars of dollhouses and dolls.  I am not talking about just a display case full of dolls, I am talking every hallway lined with chairs that housed these dolls.  Eccentric to say the least.

The circle of people who surrounded Huguette was very small.  She had a personal assistant that she used for personal business like running errands and buying "stuff" for her.  She also had a private nurse who never left her side in twenty years, and was also the recipient of millions of dollars of gifts. A lawyer, accountant, and a few doctors rounded out the small circle of people who saw Huguette on a regular basis.   Even though Huguette was rarely seen in public and never after she entered the hospital, she kept up with friends and family all over the world via her devotion to the art of letter writing.  When Huguette passed away in 2011 she was 105 years old and left an estate in excess of $300 million dollars.  This is where greed enters the game and the legal battle over her estate.  Her heirs, many of whom she never met or had not seen in over fifty years still wage a battle against those that Huguette chose to surround herself with and whom she left large sums of money.   The legal battle may continue to this day, but Huguette's story will forever live on in this fascinating book.

Bottom line, I know Empty Mansions is a bit of a deviation from the kind of books that I usually read, but it was incredibly fascinating.  With over 70 photos of said mansions this book gave me a heavy dose of eye candy.  If you enjoy history and houses and strange, eccentric characters then you must pick up Empty Mansions.  You will not be disappointed, I promise!


Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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