The cliché is that truth is stranger than fiction. The Library owns many fascinating biographies of people who are little known, but whose stories are compelling to read.
Take the life of Huguette Clark, born in 1906 to a copper baron and United States Senator who owned the biggest mansion in New York City. She was a beloved and much coddled daughter. Although fabulously rich, she lived a quiet life far from public eyes. When Ms. Clark died in 2012 at the age of 104, she had lived in a hospital room for the last twenty years despite the fact she was a healthy woman. She was also enormously wealthy and had no heirs.
Her story is told in the new biography Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. Written by reporter Bill Dedman who discovered her story when he found that for decades her sumptuous houses in Santa Barbara, Connecticut and New York City had sat empty, but perfectly cared for. He also found out that some of her valuable art pieces had been taken and sold without her permission and that the authorities investigated her accountant, lawyer and staff who had been given large sums of money. Ms. Clark’s will has been all over the front pages as relatives and charities battled it out over who would receive her inheritance.
She was a dignified woman who probably would not have enjoyed her recent celebrity. Her life, which straddles the Gilded Age and the twenty-first century, makes for great reading.
Southern California readers will find it interesting that her Santa Barbara home, Bellosguardo, will soon be a museum open to the public.