Huguette Clark, and the story of her wealth, is quite remarkable. Her father was an industrialist and capitalist who had staggering wealth that out-paced and out-valued his contemporaries like Carnegie, Astor and Rockefeller. If you haven’t heard of W.A. Clark (and by extension, his reclusive daughter Huguette) don’t feel out of the loop. They were famous in the 19-teens and 1920s, but they dropped off the popular radar. Clark was the kind of wealthy where you didn’t know who his family was. He liked being in the limelight, but his family didn’t, and with the jaw-dropping wealth they had, they simply didn’t have to be in the spotlight. That’s some real wealth, not the Hollywood nouveau-riche who end up in the tabloids day after day. We’re talking about the kind of wealth that you CAN’T lose. The kind of wealth that can make you invisible if you so choose. Combine that reality with the amazing story of Huguette’s reclusive and secretive life, and the fact that this woman of intense wealth was off the radar for decades was not surprising.
What IS surprising is the ways in which she spent her money and how she lived her life. In some ways the book about her life, Empty Mansions, reads like a ghost story, except the ghost isn’t a ghost at all, but is alive and well and a recluse. What began as a series of articles for an NBC News website grew into this book. The authors say that one of the reasons they wrote the book was to provide a better understanding of America through the lens of the Horatio Alger-myth come true: W.A. Clark, and his rise to wealth and power from the humble beginnings of his birth in a log cabin outside of Connellsville, PA.
From the gilded age descriptions of the mansion that Clark built which was so extravagant that, upon the family moving out, nobody else could afford to buy and operate it, to the way Huguette spent her money until her death at age 104, this book is gripping and fascinating. As for the title, you might be able to guess why it’s called Empty Mansions, but I won’t include any spoilers. I will say that this book is highly readable, interesting and worth your time.