Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Empty Mansions

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Empty Mansions Summary

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Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune (2013) by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr. is the story of Huguette Clark, who, in spite of her immense wealth, has spent the last twenty years living in a hospital room. The title is in reference to the many properties in the possession of Huguette, none of which she has occupied in the last couple of decades.

The book is written by journalist Bill Dedman, and Huguette’s cousin Paul Clark Newell Jr. is credited as co-author. Newell maintained contact with Huguette, receiving the occasional phone call and was kept more or less up to date on the happenings of her life.

The first part of the book explores Huguette Clark’s background and the history of her family’s fortune, starting with her father, W.A. Clark, who made his money in the copper mines, earning him the title Copper King. He also established a railway from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles and sold small lots of land in the Nevada desert, which later came to be known as Las Vegas.

Huguette Clark was born in 1906. Though she could have easily fallen into life as a debutante, she showed a marked interest in art and was herself a painter as well as a collector of fine art. Also enamored of music, a quality she had inherited from her mother, she collected rare instruments. Her valuable collector’s items made her a target in her later years for those seeking to separate her from her fortune, including nurses and hospital administrators who took advantage of Huguette’s kindness and generous spirit.

The book details her stay at Doctors Hospital, known as a recovery center for the wealthy elite, citing celebrity stays including Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe. Typically, a place that housed the ultra-famous during a rehabilitation phase for drug use or extensive plastic surgery, in its infancy, the hospital had operated more like a spa or a hotel getaway, even providing accommodations for patients’ families.

Huguette Clark checked into a room with a grand view of the Upper East Side. Since the beginning of Ms. Clark’s stay at Doctor’s Hospital, she received private care from nurses twenty-four hours a day. She was described as being a difficult patient, unwilling to cooperate with any of the nurses and with a general distrust for the medical institution.

After being evaluated by a social worker, it was discovered that Ms. Clark had been living a reclusive lifestyle, keeping to herself with few friends and relatives to check in on her and help her with her affairs. She had not been eating and was very dehydrated. It seemed that Huguette had decided to check in to Doctor’s Hospital rather than be taken to a nursing home, which she found a very depressing prospect.

What was meant to be a short stay turned into a long-term care situation, with Huguette paying more than $1200 a day for her accommodation at Doctor’s Hospital. Although she was regularly encouraged by hospital staff to return to her home, Huguette refused, seeming perfectly contented with her situation at the hospital. It seemed that she needed to be surrounded by people, the chaos of the hospital environment. Still, she insisted that she did not believe in medicine and often refused the treatment prescribed to her. She was overall healthy considering her age and did not need to take any daily medications. There was an irony to the fact that she was so healthy yet was spending years in the hospital, a setting that most people would avoid at all costs.

At Doctor’s Hospital, Huguette met Hadassah Peri, who would become her private nurse for the next twenty years, and possibly one of the richest registered nurses in history. They developed a very close, almost familial relationship, and the first thing Huguette would ask every morning was when Hadassah would be coming to see her.

There is currently an investigation by Huguette’s relatives into the state of her financial affairs, although her habit of excessive generosity makes it difficult to ascertain what was given freely and what was coerced. The book details the efforts gone to by the Beth Israel Medical Center to incite a large donation from Huguette, as she was a long-term patient there.

The hospital’s president has been documented directly requesting a grand donation from the wealthy woman. After his attempts to sway her decision were unsuccessful, Huguette was placed in a room beside the janitor’s closet. The book draws a direct comparison, including photos, of the palatial properties owned by Ms. Clark and the drab hospital room she has been confined to, with the only view being that of an air conditioning unit.