Empty Mansions and the Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark

June 11, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Empty Mansions author and NBC News investigative reporter Bill Dedman unravels the mystery of a reclusive New York heiress with $300 million to her name. Photo courtesy Empty Mansions.

When NBC News investigative reporter Bill Dedman went looking to buy a house in Connecticut in 2010, he stumbled upon something strange.

“Just as amusement, I was looking at the most expensive houses,” he said. “I saw in New Canaan a house of 52 acres, 14,000 square feet. I didn’t recognize the owner — Huguette Clark? That meant nothing to me. I looked up on the town website and it said this house, by the way, has been unoccupied since this owner bought it in 1951.”

Over the next several years he began unraveling the mysterious and reclusive life of Huguette Clark, the youngest daughter of a U.S. Senator and wealthy industrialist in the Gilded Age. She owned mansions in Connecticut and California, and three huge apartments on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Yet she spent the last twenty years of her life in hospital rooms in New York by her own choice. Dedman recently co-authored the best-selling book Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune with Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

When Huguette Clark died in 2011 at the age of 104, she left behind a fortune of $300 million and unoccupied homes filled with works of art and treasures. Monet, Renoir and Degas paintings were recently auctioned at Christie’s. This month, the auction house will offer furniture, decorative arts and a Stradivarius violin from the Clark estate. Over 400 items from An American Dynasty: The Clark Family Treasures will go on sale on June 18 and the public can preview all the items June 14-17. Andrew McVinish, Head of Private and Iconic Collections at Christie’s New York, previewed a few of the treasures from the Clark estate hidden away for decades. 

Courtesy Christie’s, An American Dynasty: The Clark Family Treasures, 18 June 2014, Christie’s New York. Archival Images © The Estate of Huguette Clark © Christie’s Inc.

“She invested her money quite well,” Dedman told MetroFocusRafael Pi Roman. “We found her to be quite surprising — protecting her privacy but engaged in her art, her painting, her collecting.” Despite her reclusive nature, Dedman said that Huguette Clark “was a maintainer of relationships.”

“She had fears…she told her friends in France, ‘No I can’t come back to visit, there might be another revolution.’ She clearly did not do well,” Dedman said. But “she was not the sort of crazy person that one might assume.”


MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.


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