Tuesday Thoughts – Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

The required US legal disclaimer: All images are the property of their owners I reproduce them here under the Fair Use Doctrine of the copyright law for commentary and critique

The required US legal disclaimer: All images are the property of their owners I reproduce them here under the Fair Use Doctrine of the copyright law for commentary and critique

I have to admit I was on the waiting list for this book so long I gave up and got the audiobook. This is a biography of a child born in the Gilded Age to a family as wealthy as the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, or Astors. Her father W. A. Clark was a contemporary of them all. Huguette Clark was the daughter of W.A. and his second wife, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle. She was raised in the Clark mansion in New York City that took up a whole city block. However upon the death of her father she and her mother moved to apartments on 5th Avenue. Once her mother died, Huguette stayed there until she was taken to hospital on a stretcher in 1991 and there she should live for the next twenty years until her death. Along the way she was an interesting character given to childlike indulgences (dolls, dollhouses) and reclusiveness. Her life was filled with the best of the best – master art works on the walls, mansions not visited for decades stood at 48 hour readiness should she want to appear. She owned jewels that would stun Tiffanys, had not just one but two Stradivarius violins and more. Her life saw the Empire State Building go up where the Astor house once stood and the World Trade Center towers come down in 2001. The history seen and owned by her is astounding. Yet I don’t think she was ever happy nor do I think I would have particularly liked her as a person.  BUT I do not think she deserved the treatment she got in her old age.

Let’s face it Huguette Clark wasn’t normal in any sense of the word.  I was left pondering just what was wrong with her psychologically all her life.  Her reclusiveness wasn’t normal nor was her carrying dolls after her marriage failed.  How she felt people were at her disposal was sad.  Even sadder was her belief that throwing money at a problem would fix it.  When she rescued a friend with dementia she could never grasp that no amount of money would return her friend’s mind.  No medical cure could ‘fix’ her.

Yet in her old age she wasn’t physically mistreated but financially.  The bank sold off her mother’s jewels when the safe deposit box wasn’t renewed properly and only gave her a tiny fraction of what they were worth.  They knew she was terrified of media coverage so would settle easily.

When her <a href=”https://mediakc.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/how-a-stolen-degas-painting-ended-up-in-the-nelson-atkins-museums-bloch-collection-kcmuckreads/”>Degas painting was stolen</a> she didn’t get it back and the man who purchased the stolen goods got it put back on the wall of his dining room in the end.  It doesn’t seem quite fair now does it?

Then there’s what I consider the abuse by her private nurse.  The woman got over $31 million dollars from the old lady.  She held a promised five million dollars over the woman’s head so much so Huguette was attempting to get the cash.  Really!

Then there’s the hospitals who milked her for donations, hid her from medical inspectors, didn’t address her psychological problems, and didn’t discharge her either.  In her medical files notes by doctors on how to get money from her for various causes.  Sickening.  Medical records are for health care not hospital fund raising!

OH and the lawyer that hooked her up with the pedophile accountant… yeah that’s a tale in and of itself.

I wanted the book because I am amazed by the rich in the Gilded Age and wanted to see what the life was like for children of it.  When I put the book down I was angry about elder care, ignoring of mental health issues, and theft of who knows what from the woman that held treasures.  I learned money and beautiful things don’t bring happiness or peace of mind.  I knew that already but sometimes a sad tale such as Huguette’s drives home just how rich I am in the things that matter.  No I can’t view a Degas over my cornflakes, nor can I hop to another mansion for a change of scenery with two days notice.  But I can say I am surrounded by friends that have my interest at heart and don’t help me for hope of a hand out.  I can say that despite being an intervert who needs significant time alone to recharge, I do enjoy getting out seeing the sights and being with people.  I don’t live in fear as I think she did.  I can afford hobbies, adequate medical care, and pets that bring me joy.  I have a loving husband and son.  I live in a comfortable if not grand home.  I look at these things and see very few Huguette enjoyed.  Sometimes riches aren’t in jewels, artifacts, and houses but in relationships, contentment, and love.  Those Huguette was poor in and I am the rich girl.

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