Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the nineteenth century with a twenty-first-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for twenty years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?
When Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.
The Clark family story spans nearly all of American history in three generations, from a log cabin in Pennsylvania to mining camps in the Montana gold rush, from backdoor politics in Washington to a distress call from an elegant Fifth Avenue apartment. The same Huguette who was touched by the terror attacks of 9/11 held a ticket nine decades earlier for a first-class stateroom on the second voyage of the Titanic.
Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.
How Ancestry.com helped with research for Empty Mansions
In order to make contact with relatives of the Clarks in America and their friends in France, the authors had to do some genealogical digging. They found photographs from passport applications, located documents from ship’s registries, census rolls, immigration petitions, birth & deaths records, and cemeteries. And for a small fee they hired a freelance genealogist through Ancestry.com to confirm a birthdate for Huguette’s mother, the French-Canadian Anna Eugenia LaChapelle, in 1878 in Calumet, Michigan. (The birth had been recorded under the name “Lashpell.”).
Family history research also surfaced some interesting details about W.A. Clark and how he carried himself throughout his life. As many have experienced researching their family history, sometimes what is recorded is vastly different than the actual account. In researching W.A. Clark’s life, many of these details came to light, such as the following:
Huguette’s father, Sen. W. A. Clark of Montana, was said by his children to be no taller than 5 feet 5 inches, maybe 5′ 6″ with his boots on. But his passport applications, located through Ancestry.com, show that he listed himself as 5 foot 8 to 5 foot 10, as his political power and wealth grew.
Staff at Ancestry.com also assisted the authors by researching the family tree of Huguette’s mother, and by searching Civil War records for W. A. Clark. No Clark of his name and county was enlisted on either side of the war, disputing a legend put forth by Clark’s political opponents that he was a Confederate deserter.
What the Ancestry.com Team thought about Empty Mansions
“It’s no secret that the team here at Ancestry have weak spots in our hearts for US history and a fascinating family story. The two subjects combine in an explosive manner for the story of Huguette Clark, the heiress to one of the last great American fortunes. Pulitzer prize-winning author Bill Dedman along with co-author Paul Clark Newell, Jr. took us on a tantalizing tale in his book Empty Mansions, outlining with incredible detail the early making and the later spending of an outlandish fortune.
The book’s tales of $50,000 doll houses and $85,000,000 real houses are not just about big money and the motivations behind their creation, but also the grueling research process to uncover the story of their existence in the first place. It is a fascinating read that will literally have you on the edge of your seat, and all the while the details of the family were brought to life via family recollections, historical documents (including many from Ancestry.com!), and good old fashioned investigation.”
Research the Ancestry.com Team Found on William, Anna and Huguette Clark:
Here you will find informational, and sometimes fun, posts from the folks behind the scenes here at Ancestry.com. We hope you’ll notice just how passionate we are about family history and about the products we’re building to help connect families over distance and time.Visit Ancestry.com