Image: Huguette Clark
Copper King Mansion Bed And Breakfast, Butte, Mont.
Huguette Clark, heiress to a copper fortune, has been secluded for decades. She just turned 104 in a New York hospital.
Investigative reporter Bill Dedman of msnbc.com
By Bill Dedman Investigative reporter
msnbc.com
updated 5/23/2012 6:06:13 AM ET 2012-05-23T10:06:13

Huguette Clark was already a mystery. Now there are new glimpses into the life of the reclusive heiress.

The daughter of a disgraced former U.S. senator, Huguette inherited millions from the Montana copper mines, and has lived a solitary life while her three fabulous homes sit empty: a $100 million estate on the Pacific Coast in Santa Barbara, a $24 million country house in Connecticut and a $100 million co-op, the largest apartment on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park — all immaculately kept but unoccupied for decades.

As Huguette has just marked her 104th birthday in an ordinary hospital room in New York, there are unanswered questions as well:

Who protects an old lady who secluded herself from the world, limiting her life to a single room, playing dress-up with her dolls and watching cartoons? Who protects an old lady whose Stradivarius violin, the famous one called "The Virgin," which her mother gave her as a 50th birthday present, has been sold secretly for $6 million? Who protects an old lady whose dearest friend, a social secretary to whom Huguette supposedly gave $10 million, now has Alzheimer's and is unable to visit anymore? Who protects an old lady who has no children, and whose distant relatives have been prevented from visiting her? Who protects an old lady whose accountant fell behind on his own federal income taxes and is a convicted felon and a registered sex offender?

Interest in Huguette Clark was sparked in February by msnbc.com's photo narrative, "The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal and mystery." (on this page) The story was one of the most popular ever on msnbc.com. Yahoo! Buzz named Huguette Clark a hot topic of Web searches. “The TODAY Show” followed up with a report and newly discovered photos of Huguette. The New York Daily News breathlessly declared, based on the Today report, "Reclusive 104-year-old heiress Huguette Clark enters hospital," which is true enough, though that event happened at least two decades ago. The tabloid also compared her to Paris Hilton, which will be an apt comparison if Miss Hilton doesn't have her photograph taken in the next 80 years.

  1. Part 1
    1. Copper King Mansion B&B
      At 104, mysterious heiress is alone now
  2. Part 2
    1. Who is watching reclusive heiress's millions?

      Reclusive heiress's assets are sold by two advisers, one an accountant with a felony conviction. Another elderly client signed over his property to the same accountant and attorney.

  3. More
    1. Investigated pair still controls heiress's wealth
    2. Generosity of an heiress: 4 homes for the nurse
    3. A PDF file for printing the photos
    4. Clark family notes and sources
    5. Contact the author

But off the public stage, quietly we began to hear from people who have known Huguette through the years. Pieces of her story emerged. Here is an account of what we know about her decades of seclusion, and about the men who are watching her money.

Do you think she's still alive?
First, an update on those empty mansions:

Image: Bellosguardo, the Clark family estate in Santa Barbara, Calif.
John L. Wiley http://flickr.com/photos/jw4pix/
Bellosguardo, the Clark family estate in Santa Barbara, Calif. Huguette Clark hasn't visited since the 1950s.
In Santa Barbara, at Huguette's cliffside home known as Bellosguardo, or "beautiful view," estate manager John Douglas won't give the time of day, under the orders of Huguette's attorney, Wallace "Wally" Bock. But Douglas did tell his volleyball-playing buddies a story. The caretakers at Bellosguardo used to get long, handwritten notes from Huguette in New York City, giving instructions for upkeep of the 21,666-square-foot house on 23 acres, the labyrinthine rose garden, the dining room paneling from Sherwood Forest, the English thatched roof on the playhouse kept as a memorial to her sister, Andrée, who died at 16.

Bellosguardo is not for sale — an offer of $100 million was rejected. Huguette has not visited in at least 50 years. Then, years ago, Douglas got a phone call from an attorney — Miss Clark wanted to see him, to give him instructions personally. So he flew to New York, stayed in a nice hotel, and the next morning went to her apartment. He was allowed up in the elevator to the eighth floor, and into the great apartment's art gallery, 47 feet by 19 feet, with paintings by Old Masters and Impressionists. He sat for a while. Then a servant came to say that she was quite sorry, but Miss Clark didn't need to see him after all. He went back to Santa Barbara, and still hasn't met his employer.

Image: Le Beau Château, the Clark estate in New Canaan, Conn.
Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild
Le Beau Château, the Clark estate in New Canaan, Conn. Huguette bought it in 1952, and never spent a night.
Huguette's Connecticut country house in New Canaan, Le Beau Château, is out of view at the end of a long driveway that curls through woods. There's no intercom or bell, but one can rap on the air conditioning unit of a caretaker house by the gate. Tony Ruggiero, an 81-year-old former boxer, answers the knock but won't open the gate — attorney Bock has given strict instructions. Huguette bought this "country house" in 1952 and added a bedroom suite with an artist's loft — one can see the tiny paintbrushes carved into the handrails — but she never moved in. The 12,766-square-foot house with 52 acres is on the market for $24 million. The attorney and accountant keep the bills paid, including $161,000 a year for property taxes. Only one car is parked in the garages — Ruggiero's 1987 Jaguar. Ruggiero doesn't have answers, but he does have a question about the woman he has served for 21 years: Do you think she's still alive?

Image: Apartment building on Fifth Avenue
Bill Dedman  /  msnbc.com
Huguette Clark has half the top floor, the 12th, in this apartment building at 907 Fifth Avenue in New York City, and all the eighth floor. In all, that's 42 rooms. She hasn't been seen here in about 22 years.
At 907 Fifth Ave., Huguette's New York apartment building overlooking Central Park, no one has seen her in at least 22 years. Other residents say she's been in the hospital for that long. Even before that, sightings were scarce. A housekeeper comes regularly to dust the 42 rooms, and attorney Bock occasionally counts the paintings. She has the entire 8th floor — 10,000 square feet — and half that much again on the 12th, her mother's old apartment, which is stuffed with dollhouses and fine furniture. Huguette's share of the building's taxes and upkeep is $28,500 a month, or $342,000 a year. Outside her door on the 8th floor, where the buzzer is unanswered, the building's staff has stored old carpets in the hallway.

Beginnings
In Montana, where Sen. William Andrews Clark made his fortune and lost his reputation, people had assumed that all his children were long dead. After all, he was born in 1839, and was of age to serve in the Civil War. Instead, he headed west from Pennsylvania to the mines and became as rich as Rockefeller. His name was tainted by a colorful battle to see which Democrat could pay legislators the highest price for a seat in the Senate. His legacy includes the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which switched to election of senators by the people.

Image: William Andrews Clark
Library of Congress
Sen. William Andrews Clark, always dour and already a bit deaf by the time Huguette was born.
The senator's reputation in Montana is summed up by Keith Edgerton, a professor of history at Montana State University-Billings, who is working on a biography:

"The cumulative sentiment here is that he made a fortune off of the state’s resources in the free-wheeling laissez-faire times of the late nineteenth century, prostituted the political system with his wealth and power, exploited the working class for his own gain, left an environmental wreck behind and took his millions to other places to benefit a handful of others. And in some ways, the state has never really recovered from it all."

Who would have thought that a daughter of the dour senator's second marriage, born in 1906 when the 67-year-old's red whiskers had turned white and he was mostly deaf, would still be alive 171 years after his birth? When our story appeared in February, the governor of Montana responded by writing to Huguette through her attorney, asking her to send some of her father's wealth back to the state for cultural institutions; he received no reply.

We don't know why Huguette became a recluse. Was it the grief from the death of her sister, Andrée, from meningitis in 1919? Was it the embarrassment of her divorce in 1930? Or the mortification of being named as a potential bride of a bankrupt rogue Irish duke in 1931? Was it the 1941 tell-all book by a former employee of the family, William D. Mangam's "The Clarks: An American Phenomenon," which questioned whether Huguette was Sen. Clark’s daughter and claimed that she broke up her brief marriage by failing to consummate it? (The family tried to pulp all copies of the book, but at least one survived.) Or was it simply the death of her mother in 1963?

Anna Clark and her daughter Huguette took up residence in the Fifth Avenue apartment in 1927, taking the entire 12th floor, which had been marketed as "the finest apartment in the world." Anna Eugenia La Chappelle had been the teenage ward who became the mistress and then second wife of the widower U.S. senator, who hid her away in Paris. They supposedly married in 1901 in France, though it wasn't announced until 1904 and no record of the marriage has been produced. Anna was 23, younger than the four children from his first marriage, and William was 62, older than his mother-in-law. The couple had two daughters, Andrée in 1902 in Spain, and Huguette in Paris on June 9, 1906.

Image: Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue,  1907 to 1927
New-York Historical Society
The home of Sen. William Andrews Clark at Fifth Avenue and 77th Street, which stood from approximately 1907 to 1927.
After he retired from the Senate, in 1907, William and Anna brought the children over to a grand mansion in New York, at 962 Fifth Ave., at 77th Street.

And what an overwhelming house for a young girl to grow up in. Her father's last will and testament describes the contents of its 121 rooms, including four art galleries with walls lined in velvet: 225 paintings, a statue of Eve by Rodin and others by Donatello and Canova, collections of antique lace, Greek and Egyptian antiquities, Gothic tapestries, Persian carpets, an Empire Room and a Gothic room, the Louis XV and Louis XVI salons, a circular Marble Hall, and antique bronzes representing Ulysses bending his bow and Prometheus attacked by the Eagle.

After the deaths of Andrée, in 1919, and William Andrews Clark in 1925, Anna and Huguette moved five blocks down Fifth Avenue, to the Italian-Renaissance apartment building at 72nd Street. The great house was sold and dismantled.

In New York they were active in society, the opera, parties with Huguette's friends from Miss Spence's School. Anna and Huguette also spent time in Santa Barbara, traveling on a private Pullman rail car.

Butte Miner
Huguette's mother, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle Clark, 1904.
"They weren't odd or strange," recalled Barbara Doran, who grew up at Bellosguardo, the daughter of a longtime estate manager. "They were very quiet, lovely, giving ladies. Huguette was the same age as my mother. They were always thoughtful about thinking of us, always making sure we were taken care of. My mother told me that during World War II, America was going to be invaded, we had coast watchers, and the Clarks had gold stashed in the basement of the big house. If we were invaded, we were told we were to go to the basement and get that gold, for all of us."

When Huguette married law student William Gower in 1928, the couple moved into the Fifth Avenue building, in a separate apartment from her mother. The Gowers had no children. After the divorce, in 1930, it was just mother and daughter. By the 1950s, they stopped going to Bellosguardo. Then Anna died in 1963.

What did Huguette make of her inheritance, her advantages? We have a few windows into her half century of seclusion.

The caretaker
One of Huguette's caretakers on Fifth Avenue for many years was an Irish immigrant named Delia Healey, six years older than Huguette. Healey worked for Huguette from the mid-1960s until just before Healey's death in 1980.

During one period back in the 1970s, Healey's grandchildren recalled, her main duties were threefold:

She would make Huguette's lunch every day, usually crackers with sardines from a can.

She would look after Huguette's impressive collection of French dolls, carefully washing and ironing their clothes. Healey ran out to buy new baby dolls as soon as they became available at FAO Schwarz.

She managed the recording of TV shows for Huguette to watch. Huguette purchased a newfangled Sony recorder and had it delivered to Healey's apartment. During one period, granddaughter Chris MacKenzie said, her grandmother not only had to record, but also to transcribe, every word of every episode of "The Flintstones."

Yabba-dabba-do!

Healey's grandchildren recall that she loved Huguette, and that Huguette sent them generous gifts in the 1970s: basketballs for the boys, the new Pong video game, an enormous dollhouse. "It had to be 2 or 3 feet tall, and the front of it swung open, hinged, and it was all hand-painted with flower boxes,” said Eileen Rowland, a granddaughter who lived with Healey. “It had two floors inside. The house was fully furnished. The little toilets had wooden toilet seats on them and the seats would lift up. She'd sent little dolls she'd had made to resemble our family: my Mom, and us, a dog.”

When Healey became too infirm to make the trip by subway, Huguette would send her chauffeur to pick her up at her apartment in suburban Larchmont, N.Y. During all this time, the children thought that their grandmother was taking care of a much older woman. "Now we know she was younger than my Grandma," MacKenzie said.

The antiques man
In the New York suburbs from the 1970s through the 1980s, Ann Fabrizio remembers that the phone would ring at home during family dinners, and a small voice with a French accent would ask for her father, the antiques dealer Robert Samuels of French & Co. Huguette would call almost daily with urgent requests — an inlaid table that had cracked, a chair to be reupholstered, new cases for the dolls. Samuels would head into the city from Crestwood, in Yonkers, a 35-minute ride on the train, then uptown to her apartment.

In 25 years, he never talked face to face with her. He saw only a shadow behind the door.

"Dad, being a patient man, would listen to her childish conversation — she from behind a closed door telling him that something in 'Mommy's apartment' needed work," Fabrizio said, though Huguette's mother, Anna, had died back in 1963. "I do remember that Dad would talk to her like a child. She wanted everything kept like Mommy had it, and that was not always possible.”

Samuels told his family that Huguette hadn't left the building voluntarily for a long time. She had a vintage car that had not been driven in 30 years, since her chauffeur died. "Dad tried to persuade her to sell it, but she would not hear of it."

"Several times, she had to be taken to the hospital for malnourishment," Fabrizio recalled her father saying. "One time the help could not get her to eat anything except bananas and ice cream."

As with the caretaker's children, Huguette would send gifts at Christmas, elaborate toy soldiers and forts, luxurious dolls, always from the Parisian store Au Nain Bleu.

"Even after my father retired, he continued to keep Miss Clark as a client, and he would trudge into New York City at age 80 to go to her empty apartment to check something out that she had called about," Fabrizio said. "He died in 2005 at age 90."

"By then she was living in the hospital. First she took up residence in Doctors' Hospital," on the Upper East Side, Fabrizio said. That hospital was razed in 2004.

"She had all her dolls over there. It was a safe environment for her."

The harpist
Anna and Huguette did have a regular visitor at the Fifth Avenue apartment from perhaps the 1940s until the late 1960s, one who brought music and memories of Paris.

Huguette's mother, Anna, had studied the harp in Paris under the sponsorship of her husband-to-be, and by the 1950s she was a patron of a renowned harpist and composer, Marcel Grandjany, a Frenchman who began teaching in the 1930s at the Juilliard School in New York. Grandjany’s son, Bernard, now retired and living in Queens, still remembers the Clark address, 907 Fifth Ave., because he would drive his father over for lessons. "She never came to our house at all."

Grandjany's protégé, Kathleen Bride, a harp professor at the Eastman School of Music, recalled that in the 1960s Grandjany's wife would remind him that it was time to go over to "Mrs. Clark's" for a 4 o'clock lesson.

Image: Harp composition dedicated to Huguette Clark
Prof. Kathleen Bride
A harp composition dedicated to Huguette Clark by her teacher, the famous harpist Marcel Grandjany, from a Grimm fairy tale, "The Water Sprite of the Pond."
Among Grandjany's original sheet music, Bride found several unpublished and unrecorded manuscripts written between 1951 and the early 1960s, dedicated to a patron, "Madame W.A. Clark."

Other works are dedicated to Huguette. These works are dating from 1960, 1961 and 1968, indicating that she maintained the connection after her mother died. Anna's will left $100,000 to Juilliard. The lessons would have ended by 1970, when Grandjany was injured in a fall; he died in 1975.

The works for Huguette all have themes of childhood, though she was now middle aged, including a suite based on "La Belle au bois dormant," or "Sleeping Beauty." Also in her name is a larger work for the harp based on a Grimm fairy tale, as well as French folk songs.

Huguette's instrument was the violin. It appears that these harp lessons, one of the few contacts between the Clarks and the outside world, were for her mother.

"I have the feeling that these folk songs were used as teaching pieces for her to work on and then play at lessons," Bride suggests. "They may be tunes that she heard while in Paris."

The companion
The only friend known to visit Huguette regularly in her later years at the apartment, through the 1970s and 1980s, was Madame Pierre. Suzanne Pierre was the wife of Huguette's physician, Jules Pierre. Like Huguette, the Pierres were from Paris.

Image: Huguette Clark around 1910.
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
Huguette Clark with one of her dolls around 1910. "Her closest companions have always been her dolls," said her friend Suzanne Pierre.
Suzanne was more than a friend to Huguette. She was also a sort of social secretary. She would carry messages and documents to the accountant and attorney. She helped Huguette dispose of paintings and other items anonymously. At the end of each year, Huguette would pay her a bonus.

Now Suzanne Pierre is a widow, at age 89 still in her Park Avenue apartment. I called on her without an appointment, on a stormy Saturday afternoon in March. I was told to come back in one hour, and she was ready, smartly dressed, with makeup on. Her caretaker had set out hot tea and cookies. We sat and talked in front of the television.

Yes, she said, she was Huguette's friend, a companion, but "her closest companions have always been her dolls."

She said she couldn't explain why Huguette was a recluse. "I would ask her to go out to lunch, but she preferred to stay in."

Huguette didn't trust outsiders, even relatives, because she "thought they were just after her money. She didn't trust people."

Suzanne was easily distracted by the television, and the conversation lagged. I showed her photos of Huguette, and her face brightened. She wouldn't divulge where Huguette was. No, she said, she couldn't recall the last time she had been to visit her.

In the kitchen, her caretaker explained that Suzanne has Alzheimer's disease, as Suzanne's son later confirmed.

A cousin of Suzanne's filled in the details. "From what I was told, one of the chief reasons that Ms. Clark trusted my cousin was that she preferred to conduct all of her conversations in French, so that others within earshot would be unlikely to understand the discussion," said Kurt Harjung, whose mother, Alice, talked with Suzanne Pierre nearly every day until Alice's death last year. "The whereabouts of Miss Clark was kept a secret, but she has been cared for in a private room with 24/7 staff and basically limited access by only my cousin and possibly her attorney."

Why was Huguette in the hospital? What kind of illness would justify staying in a hospital for 22 years?

"She just liked the comfort, she felt safe, she was isolated from getting sick and dying," Harjung said. "She was afraid of getting sick. She did not want to socialize with people for whatever reason."

Physically, "there didn't seem to be anything wrong with her. She was just a quirky person who couldn't contend with the outside world."

"Suzanne felt kind of sorry for her, in a way, because she didn't have any other friends, sequestered in a hospital room," Harjung said. "She had all this money and all these capabilities and never used any of them. This was her comfort zone."

And did you know, Harjung added casually, that Huguette gave Suzanne $10 million?

In 2000, "Suzanne mentioned that Miss Clark had given her — it wasn't clear whether it was a gift or given her to dispose of — a Monet or a prominent painting, the painting was valued between 10 and 15 million dollars, to market anonymously."

The gift is recorded, in an oblique way, in a federal tax case. Suzanne Pierre gave most of the money to her son and granddaughter, and the IRS challenged the amount of gift tax she owed. The court record explains that Suzanne "received a $10 million cash gift from a wealthy friend in 2000." (She won the tax case, too.)

I spoke briefly with Suzanne's son, Jacques "Jackie" Despretz, a maître d' at French restaurants. He did not dispute that Huguette gave his mother the $10 million, but offered no details.

As for his mother's contacts with Huguette, he said, it's been "a while," because of Madame Pierre's illness.

'There is no one'
Distant relatives had only irregular contact with Huguette by telephone.

André Baeyens, a retired French diplomat in Austria who wrote a book about the family, is Huguette's great-half-nephew, descended from Clark's first marriage. Baeyens spoke with Huguette on the phone several times, but found that she would back off when he pressed too hard for information on her father or herself. And then some years ago, she stopped taking his calls.

Image: Last known photo of Huguette Clark, in 1930
Associated Press
Taken in 1930, about the time of her divorce, this is the last known photo of Huguette Clark. Perhaps she was cornered by a photographer on a steamship; she and her mother traveled to Hawaii after her divorce was finalized in Reno, Nev.

Other relatives have sought permission to visit over the years, and her attorney, Bock, has turned them away. He has told relatives that he passes along their messages.

Baeyens said that one of the great-great-half-nieces on the Clark side, Carla Hall, went so far as to go to the hospital room, about two years ago. "I know Carla forced things — went straight up and she saw Huguette. She was kept away."

Hall, an interior designer in New York City, said Huguette was asleep. "I visited the hospital, and met discreetly and quietly with Ms. Clark's nurse outside her room," she said in an e-mail. "On behalf of her family, I asked if I could enter the room and see her, though she was asleep. No one on the hospital staff nor her private nurse had any objection to my visit or entry to her room as they knew that I was a concerned family member. My intention was to assure the family that she was comfortable and receiving good care."

If Suzanne Pierre no longer visits, and no family visit, then who does?

"The only people she sees are people who are her attorney's people," Baeyens said. "Now if Madame Pierre is no longer seeing her, then it's finished.

"There is no one from the outside who is coming to see her."

ON TO PART TWO: Who is watching Huguette's millions?

---

More links for "The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal and mystery":

All our coverage is collected at http://clark.msnbc.com

The original photo narrative (on this page)

A PDF file for printing the photos

Notes and sources on the Clark family

Contact the author

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Who will inherit heiress’s $500M estate?

  1. Closed captioning of: Who will inherit heiress’s $500M estate?

    >>> one of the richest and exclusive heiresses has died. she passed away on tuesday. prosecutors were looking into how her vast fortune was being handled. nbc's jeff rossen has the latest. hey, jeff. good morning.

    >> reporter: hi, ann. good morning to you. just to give you an idea how much money we're talking, she owns the largest apartment on all of manlt's fifth avenue. inside this building behind me, 42 rooms worth about $100 million. that's just the beginning of it. she herself is worth about half a billion dollars by some estimates. when she died this week, big questions started. what will happen to all of her money, especially considering her closest advisers are under investigation for stealing millions from her. she pass added away this weekend at a new york city hospital living under an alias. reclusive until her final breath. she leaves behind three massive estates. this one in santa barbara hugs the california coast. its value, over $100 million. clark 's estate in connecticut is worth over $20 million. and, of course, the prestigious fifth avenue property filled with dolls and fine art worth over $100 million. clark hadn't seen any of them in 20 years. instead she was living in seclusion in what would be her final home, the medical center surrounded by her french doll collection. clark 's lifestyle is so mysterious, this is the last known picture ever taken of her in 1930 . her death two weeks shy of her 105th birthday means the battle begins for her riches.

    >> she was buried wednesday evening the way she had lived, alone, no ceremony, no funeral mass , no priest. it was a strange life that came to a strange ending.

    >> reporter: new york prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into her inner circle . her lawyer wally and her accountant irving.

    >> the gfters want to know if she was taken advantage of all those years. they have a roomful of documents to go through.

    >> reporter: wally quietly arranged his sell, a stradivarius violin for $6 million and a rpainting.

    >> as we say, follow the money. it goes some place. the court may freeze the money, put it someplace, lock it up, and have someone other than these two people in control of it until they can sort out the facts.

    >> reporter: clark who divorced young and had no children inherited her wealth from her wealthy father, a copper king . she reportedly has a will, too, but it remains unclear who's in it. the mystery stretches beyond the grave. we reeved out to both her attorney and the accountant. the accountant never called us back yesterday, but we did hear back from a spokesman for the attorney wally . he told us, cloak, madame clark 's passing is a sad event for everyone who love and respected her over the years. she died as she wanted with dignity and prove sichl we intend to continue to respect her wishes for privacy. it's important to note, ann, they would not comment on the ongoing criminal investigation against them, and we should mention this apartment is so big behind me if it does end up going on the market depending on what's in her will, it would make a huge splash here in the always business new york real estate market .

    >> jeff rossen , thanks.

Photos: The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal, mystery

loading photos...
  1. By Bill Dedman, NBC News. Why are the mansions of one of America’s wealthiest women sitting vacant? Huguette Clark's father, the copper king and "Paris millionaire senator," was the second richest American — or first, neck and neck with Rockefeller. Huguette, 103, has no children. Where is she? And what will become of her fortune?

    Click on the photo to continue. (W.A. Clark Memorial Library) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. She doesn't live here. The mysterious Clark estate in Santa Barbara, Calif., has been empty since 1963. Named Bellosguardo for its "beautiful view" of the Pacific, it's worth more than $100 million, a 21,666-square-foot house on 23 acres. Caretakers have labored at the Clark estate for generations — and not met Huguette Clark.

    Click on the photo to continue. (John L. Wiley, http://flickr.com/photos/jw4pix/) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. She also doesn't live here. In 1951, Huguette Clark bought this home in New Canaan, Conn. She named it Le Beau Château, or "beautiful country house." And she never spent a night in it. Now her 13,459-square-foot home, with 52 wooded acres, is for sale for $24 million, marked down from $34 million. Taxes are $161,000 a year.

    Click on the photo to continue. (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. And she doesn't seem to live here, though her belongings are here. The largest spread on New York's Fifth Avenue is her three apartments at 72nd Street overlooking Central Park. She has 42 rooms and 15,000 square feet. That's all the 8th floor and half the 12th, worth more than $50 million. The building staff have seen Huguette ("u-GET") few times in 30 years.

    Click on the photo to continue. (Bill Dedman / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Where did such wealth come from? It started with hard work, ingenuity and unfettered ambition. One of these miners in 1863 in Bannack, Mont., would, by the end of the century, own banks, railroads, timber, newspapers, sugar, coffee, oil, gold, silver, copper — seemingly unending veins of copper. He's on the right, William Andrews Clark, Huguette's father.

    Click on the photo to continue. (Newell family photo) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania in 1839, of Scotch-Irish and French Huguenot immigrants, Clark stood 5 feet 8½, with fastidiously tended whiskers, unruly red hair, and cold blue eyes. A contemporary wrote, "There is craft in his stereotyped smile and icicles in his handshake. He is about as magnetic as last year's bird's nest."

    Click on the photo to continue. ("The Clarks: An American Phenomenon," 1941) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. After two years panning for gold, Clark turned to selling goods he hauled by wagon through the Rockies. He bought eggs at 20 cents a dozen, marketing them for $3 a dozen to miners for a brandy eggnog called Tom and Jerry. He took a year back East to study geology at Columbia University, then returned to Montana, to Butte's "Richest Hill on Earth."

    (Lewis Pub. Co. / New-York Historical Society) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Clark made his greatest fortune in the Southwest. His United Verde copper mine, in Jerome, Ariz., yielded a profit of $400,000 a month, or in today's dollars, $10 million a month. The trading post of Las Vegas was a stop on his rail line. Here he speaks to a crowd in Las Vegas from his Pullman car in 1905. Las Vegas today is in Clark County, named for him.

    (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Libraries, Special Collections) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Clark's desire was a title: Senator Clark. Montana denied him time after time, a battle called the War of the Copper Kings. Who knows how a feud flared between Democrats: Marcus Daly, left, a Catholic who loved racehorses, and Clark, a Presbyterian who loved art. Legislators picked senators; newspapers made legislators; all were for sale.

    (Montana Historical Society Research Center) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. An aide said, "We'll put the old man in the Senate, or the poorhouse." Clark was elected in 1899, but $1,000 bills turned up in envelopes. He had to resign. Clark said publicly, "I propose to leave to my children a legacy, worth more than gold, that of an unblemished name." Privately he said, "I never bought a man who wasn't for sale."

    (Montana Historical Society Research Center) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Clark's men tried one more audacity: On the day he resigned, they tricked the governor into traveling outside Montana. His lieutenant filled the vacancy — with Clark! When the governor returned, again Clark was out. Finally, he was elected in 1901. Though he retired after one term, for the rest of his life he insisted on being "Senator Clark."

    (Clinedinst / The National Magazine, 1905) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mark Twain had a few other names for Senator Clark. "He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a chain and ball on his legs."

    (Library of Congress) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Clark's first wife, Kate, died in 1893, leaving him four grown children. In 1904, while in the Senate, Clark announced that he had taken a second wife in France three years earlier, and that the couple already had a 2-year-old daughter. At the time of the supposed marriage, he was 62, and wife Anna was 23. No proof of the wedding date has been found.

    (The Butte Miner) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. His new wife, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, had been Clark's ward. She came to him as a teenager for support. Clark sent her from Butte to boarding school, then to Paris, where she studied the harp. He visited by steamship. They had two daughters: Andrée, born in 1902 in Spain, and Huguette in 1906 in Paris, where they lived with Anna.

    (The Butte Miner) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. "THEY'RE MARRIED AND HAVE A BABY," thundered Daly's opposition paper. All this was news to Clark's children from his first marriage, who were older than his young wife. One older daughter wrote that, while she was "greatly grieved and dreadfully disappointed, we must all stand by our dear father."

    (The Anaconda Standard) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. After he left the Senate, Clark moved his young wife and daughters into this Beaux-Arts house he built at Fifth Avenue and 77th Street in New York. It had 121 rooms, four art galleries, Turkish baths, a vaulted rotunda 36 feet high, and its own railroad line to bring in coal. All for a family of four. It was known as "Clark's Folly."

    (George P. Hall & Son / New-York Historical Society) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Clark spent as much as $7 million on the house, about three times what it would later cost to build Yankee Stadium. The mansion's treasures included this Louis XVI salon, a marble statue of Eve by Rodin, oak ceilings from Sherwood Forest, and the grandest American collection of European paintings, lace and tapestries.

    (Salon Doré, 1770, on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Clark hosted organ recitals, so his neighbors on Millionaire's Row could see his paintings by Degas, Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, van Dyck, Gainsborough, Cazin, Rousseau. Once his chosen artworks were installed in the house, Clark bought few more. If he acquired any more paintings, he wrote, he would have to remove something.

    (Edgar Degas, "The Dance Class," 1873, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Writer Wallace Irwin set it all to verse: "Senator Copper of Tonopah Ditch made a clean billion in minin' and sich. Hiked for New York, where his money he blew, bildin' a palace on Fift' Avenoo. 'How,' says the Senator, 'kin I look proudest? Build me a house that'll holler the loudest. None of your slab-sided, plain mossyleums! Gimme the treasures of art ...

    (George P. Hall & Son / New-York Historical Society) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. ... an' museums! Build it new-fangled, scalloped and angled, fine like a weddin' cake garnished with pills. Gents, do your duty, trot out your beauty. Gimme my money's worth, I'll pay the bills.' Pillars Ionic, eaves Babylonic, doors cut in scallops resemblin' a shell. Roof was Egyptian, gables caniptian. Whole grand effect when completed was — hell."

    (One of four galleries in the Clark mansion, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Clark's wife was rarely seen in public. He wrote of Anna, "Mrs. Clark did not care for social distinction, nor the obligations that would entail upon my public life." In 1912, former Senator Clark, 73, and Anna, 34, walked in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue with Andrée, 9. Huguette, not pictured, was just 5, starting her collection of dolls from France.

    (The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Clark family traveled often to Paris. A ship's registry from 1914 sets birthdates for the family: William Andrews Clark, age 75, Connellsville, Pa., Jan. 8, 1839; Anna E., age 36, Calumet, Mich., March 10, 1878; Andrée, age 12, Spain, Aug. 13, 1902; and Huguette, age 8, Paris, June 9, 1906. At home, they had 10 servants and a French chef.

    (Ship's registry from the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Clark and daughters visit Columbia Gardens, which he built in Butte. It was about 1917. Andrée (left) would be about 15, and Huguette 11. Clark was 78. In 1919, a week before her 17th birthday, Andrée died of meningitis. "When her sister died, it left a hole in her life," said Huguette's great-half-nephew through the first marriage, Ian Devine.

    (Montana Historical Society Research Center) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Through the '20s, society pages chronicled the debutante. "Miss Huguette Clark, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Andrews Clark of 962 Fifth Avenue, entertained a party of girl friends yesterday at Sherry's." At Miss Spence's School for Girls, she learned politics; Isadora Duncan taught interpretive dance. Skirts had to be 3 inches below the knee.

    (The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. William Andrews Clark died in his house on Fifth Avenue on March 2, 1925, at age 86, with his wife and children by his side. He lay in honor in his own gallery, as his paintings looked down. President Coolidge sent flowers. Clark's will called for a "decent and Christian burial in accordance with my condition in life, without undue pomp or ceremony."

    (The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. He was entombed, along with his first wife and Andrée, in this mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. His neighbors now are Woolworth, Macy, Pulitzer — all better remembered. Clark left $350,000 to a Clark orphans home; $100,000 each to Clark kindergarten and Clarkdale, Ariz.; $25,000 to Clark women's home; $2,500 to his butler.

    (Bill Dedman / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Clark had promised his daughters from his first marriage that Anna would not inherit the New York City mansion. It was sold in 1927 for less than half what it cost to build, and was torn down for apartments. Many other houses on Millionaire's Row fell, including the Astor and Vanderbilt palaces. The Gilded Age had passed.

    (George P. Hall & Son / New-York Historical Society) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Anna got the mansion in Santa Barbara and $2.5 million. The rest of Clark's estate — as much as $300 million, or $3.6 billion today — went to Huguette and the four older children, who soon cashed out all his businesses. Huguette, 18, also received an allowance for three years: up to $90,000 a year, equal to $1 million today.

    (Bill Dedman / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. To the art, Clark attached conditions. The Metropolitan Museum could have it, if it kept it all in a separate Clark gallery forever. The Met declined. The art went to his second choice, the Corcoran in D.C. His wife and daughters paid for a Clark wing to hold it. The museum found that some of the paintings were misattributed; this Corot was authentic.

    (Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, "Repose," 1860, reworked 1865-1870, Corcoran Gallery of Art) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Clark bequeathed this advice as well: "The most essential elements of success in life are a purpose, increasing industry, temperate habits, scrupulous regard for one's word ... courteous manners, a generous regard for the rights of others, and, above all, integrity which admits of no qualification or variation."

    (Woodlawn Cemetery, Bill Dedman / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Clark's descendants say he should be remembered as a Horatio Alger hero, a boy from a log cabin who conquered the worlds of finance, politics and art. "He lived exactly as he had planned," said André Baeyens, a great-grandson and diplomat, who wrote a book in French about the family. "He had a ferocious will to 'better my condition in life.'"

    (William Merritt Chase, 1915, Corcoran Gallery) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Bettering the condition of others wasn't his concern. Clark cut timber on federal land, and he benefitted from Arizona's "deportations" of union men who were kidnapped and driven out of state. Criticized for the sulfurous smoke and denuded landscape from his mines, he said, "Those who succeed us can well take care of themselves."

    (B.L. Singley, Butte, 1904 / Library of Congress) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. "Robber barons," some historians call the tycoons of that era. Others prefer "industrial statesmen." Unlike Carnegie or Rockefeller, Clark left little charity, only corruption and extravagance. "Life was good to William A. Clark," wrote historian Michael Malone, "but due to his own excesses, history has been unkind."

    (Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. After her father's death, Huguette Clark practiced music and art; seven paintings she created were shown at the Corcoran. In 1928, she became engaged to William Gower, a law student whose father had worked for Clark. "No married couple ever started married life under more brilliant auspices," The New York Herald said.

    (The New York Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. They were wed at Bellosguardo, the Clark home in Santa Barbara, on Aug. 18, 1928. The groom was 23, the bride 22. That year, Huguette donated $50,000 to the city to restore a salt pond behind the estate (top), called the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge. The couple moved into the elegant apartment on Fifth Avenue, with her mother in the same building.

    (Pictometry International) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. It lasted two years. To establish Nevada residency for a divorce in 1930, she moved to Reno for the summer with her mother and six servants. With the papers signed, mother and daughter took a cruise to Hawaii, then returned to the apartment in New York.

    (The Los Angeles Times) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. This is the last known photograph of Huguette, cornered by a photographer on the day of her divorce in August 1930. In 1931, an Irish nobleman denied reports that he would marry Huguette, then 24. She dropped her seat at the opera, and slipped from the society pages.

    (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. After her mother died in 1963, Huguette stopped visiting Bellosguardo. Vintage cars remained in the garage. Paintings stayed on the walls, depicting her sister, Andrée, living well past her death at age 16, on into middle age. A caretaker's stepdaughter, Joan Pollard, recalls, "It was immaculate, as if someone had just left for the weekend."

    (John L. Wiley, http://flickr.com/photos/jw4pix/) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. In 1964, Huguette gave 215 acres near Santa Barbara for Boy Scout camps. "These camps serve 4,000 kids a year," said Ron Walsh, a Scout executive. "She did a lot of people a lot of good through the years." In 2003, she sold this Renoir for $23.5 million. In 2007, the IRS placed a lien on her houses for $1 million in back taxes; it was paid quickly.

    ("In the Roses," Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1882) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Huguette is trying to sell Le Beau Château, in wealthy New Canaan, Conn., an hour from New York City. She bought it in 1951, and added the wing at top right. It has 22 rooms, nine bedrooms, nine baths, 11 fireplaces, a wine cellar, trunk room, elevator, and walk-in vault. It has sat empty for 57 years, so the kitchens need updating.

    (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. The only residents on 52 acres are the caretaker and his son, in twin cottages, and wild turkeys and deer. The property is silent except for a waterfall. Her attorney put it on the market in 2005 at $34 million, now $24 million. Neighbors in this corner of town include Harry Connick Jr., Paul Simon, Glenn Beck and Brian Williams.

    (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Why would someone buy such a retreat, and never use it, but hold on to it for half a century? Huguette's great-half-nephew, André Baeyens, said he was told by his mother that Huguette bought Le Beau Château as a sort of bomb shelter during the Cold War. "She wanted a place where she could get away from the horrors."

    (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. "Huguette has always led a sort of reclusive life," said nephew Devine. "I think everybody's respected that. She wasn't just sitting in a room herself all her life. She had a small group of friends, confidants and assistants, very small, probably fewer than five people. Her world was always very small; when Anna died, it just became smaller."

    (Le Beau Château, Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Now 103, she may be in a nursing home or hospital. Relatives say they don't know, and fear that flowers and letters are discarded before they reach her. Her attorney, Wallace Bock, won't say. Devine said, "I think various family members have asked Mr. Bock for information, and he's always very respectful of his client and doesn't wish to reveal anything."

    (Barbara Cleary's Realty Guild) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Facing Central Park with curtains drawn, her Fifth Avenue apartments contain her mother's harp and Huguette's French dollhouses. Only a few times in decades has the building's staff seen her, a thin woman retreating into the shadows. They say she's not there now. André Baeyens said of his aunt, "She's withdrawn from this world."

    (Bill Dedman / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Her eighth-floor apartments contain two galleries, seven bedrooms, rooms for nine servants. And her fortune? Where will it go? "The rest of the family would respect her decision," said nephew Devine. "But if she leaves it all to some sketchy cause that she has no close connection to, that would be of some concern."

    ("Apartments for the Affluent," 1975, by Andrew Alpern) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Her attorney, Bock, said her hearing and eyesight have diminished with age — after all, she'll be 104 in June — but her mind is clear, and he receives instructions from her frequently by phone. He said he would not pass along a request for an interview. "She's a very private person. She doesn't care about publicity or reputation."

    (Huguette Clark in France, "Le Sénateur Qui Aimait La France," Andre Baeyens) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Tracing the lives of William Andrews Clark and his Huguette, we are left with mysteries. What does she remember of "Papa"? Is she well cared for? What will she leave to the world? "It's hard to find out what the real story was," said nephew Devine. "No one is alive — except for Huguette."

    (The Copper King Mansion) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. W.A. Clark Memorial Library
    Above: Slideshow (48) The Clarks: an American story of wealth, scandal and mystery
  2. Hugnette Clark Gower
    AP
    Slideshow (17) Mystery heiress

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