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Recluses: Private, Exploited, or Self-Destructive?

Sometimes very private people wish to withdraw from the world, and they have that right. Yet some cases may be more than just personal choice. When there is a lot of money at stake and a very few people have access to an elderly recluse, the temptation to take complete control may be too much to resist. Still, the privacy issues surrounding such cases make investigations difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, the story of Sogen Kato hit the news. Kato was on record as turning 111 years old, which made him the oldest man in Tokyo. City officials went to congratulate him on the milestone, but were rebuffed by family members, who said the patriarch "doesn't want to see anybody." Welfare officials made several visits before police broke into the bedroom to see Kato. The man was found to be nothing but a mummified skeleton. Authorities estimate that he had been dead for as long as thirty years. Kato's relatives said he had locked himself away and refused to let anyone in. However, millions of yen in pension funds had been deposited into Kato's account and withdrawn by the family over the years.

An 1871 account related how an unnamed wealthy recluse shut himself away in a hotel and gave the power to deal with visitors to the hotel manager. Years later, officials forced their way into his room and found that the man had changed his mind about leaving the world behind years before, but the hotel manager had kept him locked away anyway.

Huguette Clark recently turned 104 years old. She is an heiress, the only surviving child of copper tycoon and Senator William Andrews Clark, who was once thought to be the second richest man in America. He was 67 years old when Huguette was born to his second wife, Anna. William Clark had other children from his first wife, and Huguette had an older full sister who died at a young age. Huguette Clark is estimated to be worth about $500 million. She owns several multi-million dollar estates which sit empty. She owns two floors of her New York City apartment building, where she and her mother lived for many years. The building is still listed as Clark's residence, but she has been living at a Manhattan hospital for the past 22 years. Yes, 22 years, because Clark feels comfortable and safe there, she doesn't have to socialize in order to have her health monitored, and she can pay for it.

Huguette Clark was married for a couple of years in the 1920s, but has otherwise stayed out of the spotlight her entire adult life. The last known photograph she ever allowed was taken in 1930. After her divorce, Clark lived in the New York apartment with her mother Anna until her death in 1963. Since then, she has spoken to very few people and has seen even fewer. Even business transactions took place through closed doors. Clark's longtime friends and caretakers have all died with the exception of 89-year-old Suzanne Pierre, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

Clark's money is looked after by her accountant, Irving Kamsler, and her lawyer, Wallace Bock. Both men became the beneficiaries of another elderly client upon his death, inheriting $100,000 each and an apartment in New York after his will was changed several times in short order. Bock recently arranged for the sale of some of Clark's possessions. After the recent stories of Clark's life and finances were published, Adult Protective Services in New York opened a case to determine if Clark is being properly cared for and whether she is being exploited. Distant relatives have requested that a guardian be appointed to watch after Clark's interests. She reportedly gave one of her longtime nurses nearly $2 million just this past week.

The Bouvier family was fabulously wealthy until the Great Depression. Some of the younger generation recovered pretty well: Jacqueline Bouvier married John F. Kennedy and then Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis, and her sister Caroline Lee married a publishing executive and then a Polish prince, Stanis?aw Albrecht Radziwi??. Jacqueline's aunt, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale didn't fare as well. The aspiring singer was left relatively little of her father's wealth and cut off from her husband's fortune after their divorce, but she received a 28-room mansion in East Hampton called Grey Gardens. She lived there with her daughter, who was also named Edith. "Little Edie", as the daughter was known, had been a model and aspiring actress when her mother asked her to come home and care for her in 1952. For decades, Big Edie and Little Edie kept to themselves, feeding off each other's eccentricity. The two women were rarely seen outside of Grey Gardens until inspectors from the local Health Department came to the mansion in 1971. They found the two Ediths living in squalor, with most of the dilapidated mansion's rooms shut off and their living quarters piled high with garbage and inhabited by cats. fleas, opossums, and raccoons. The women refused to cooperate with health authorities, and the story became a public scandal. The extended family was shocked and embarrassed; they had apparently assumed that Little Edie was taking care of Big Edie. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis paid for a professional cleanup project in 1972.

At the same time, Lee Radziwill was in discussions with David and Albert Maysles about producing a documentary film on the Bouviers, meaning Lee and Jackie. The Maysles passed on that idea, but were interested in filming Big Edie and Little Edie. The result was the 1976 documentary Grey Gardens. The mother and daughter enjoyed their opportunity to be seen on the silver screen, although the film crew had to wear flea collars on their legs while filming at Grey Gardens. The movie became a cult hit, which spawned a Broadway musical and a 2009 HBO movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.

After Big Edie died in 1977, Edith Bouvier Beale II resumed a regular life. She gave away the cats, cleaned up the mansion, and made appearances at New York nightclubs. After selling Grey Gardens, she retired to Florida where she lived a normal, relatively subdued life until her death in 2002.

Howard Hughes was a filmmaker, aviator, businessman, and the most notorious recluse of all. He built his fortune in the 1920s and '30s, married twice but had no children, and bought his privacy in a most public way. In 1947, Hughes' obsessive-compulsive disorder took over his when he locked himself in his screening room for four months, insisting that none of his aides look at him or speak to him. He sat naked and watched movies day after day. Afterward he withdrew from the world, conducting business through his close associates, only emerging briefly in 1972 to expose a biography by Clifford Irving as a hoax. Hughes lived in hotels, which he bought one after another, to ensure his privacy. In his later years, Hughes surrounded himself with Mormons because he trusted them, although he was not a member of the faith.

During this time, Hughes kept doctors on staff, but did not follow their advice. He received no psychiatric help. He was so wealthy and powerful that no one dared cross him, even for his own health and safety. Hughes second wife, Jean Peters, divorced him 1971 -she had not seen her husband for years. He died in 1976 of what was determined to be kidney failure. Hughes weighed 90 pounds and had hypodermic needles embedded in his arm, as he had been addicted to morphine for years, prescribed for injuries suffered in plane crashes. His appearance had changed so much since he appeared in public that his fingerprints were taken for identification. Hughes' estate of $2.5 billion was claimed by many people, and was eventually distributed to 22 cousins after years of litigation.

The desire to be left alone can work against a person's best interests, but who is to say when the line is crossed, especially for those who have no close relatives? Sometimes it is hard to tell whether a person's self-destruction is a lifestyle choice or is aided and abetted by those who stand to gain.

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
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It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
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Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
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With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


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Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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Miss Cellania
10 Famous Birthdays in May
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some of our favorite historical figures were born in May. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the notable people we'll be celebrating.

1. SIGMUND FREUD: MAY 6, 1856


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Sigmund Freud is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. The Vienna psychiatrist developed a theory of the unconscious mind, where the id, ego, and superego struggle to balance each other out in the human psyche. Freud attributed his patients' neuroses to childhood trauma, often cloaked in a sexual conflict. His work was at first deemed perverted, but his ideas started to spread after a series of lectures in the U.S. in 1909. After Freud's death in 1939, Freudian theory was hailed as genius in mainstream culture. But beginning in the 1960s, Freud's theories started to fall out of favor in academia and are largely discredited today. However, his attempts to map the psyche gave us the language we still use to discuss personality and mental health.

2. FRED ASTAIRE: MAY 10, 1899


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Fred Astaire began dancing when he was just four years old. Soon he and his sister Adele were in a performing arts school and started dancing professionally. First came vaudeville, then Broadway, and when Adele married, Fred headed to Hollywood. Producers were at first reluctant to cast Astaire as a leading man because of his looks, but his dancing soon won them over. Astaire appeared in dozens of films between 1933 and 1981, 10 of them with with dance partner Ginger Rogers. Although his later films did not revolve around dance numbers, Astaire was seen dancing in an episode of Battlestar Galactica as late as 1979, when he was 80 years old.

3. MARTHA GRAHAM: MAY 11, 1894


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Martha Graham wanted to dance from an early age, but her parents disapproved, so she didn't study dance until college. Her wildly emotional dancing led her to performances in New York, and in 1926 she established the Martha Graham Dance Company. Through the company, Graham promoted modern dance as a spiritual and emotional outlet. Over time, she came to be seen as a genius of the genre. Graham danced until she was in her '70s, and continued to choreograph dances until her death at age 91.

4. KATHARINE HEPBURN: MAY 12, 1907


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Katharine Hepburn caught the acting bug in college and headed to the stages of New York upon graduation. She was spotted in a Broadway production and was offered the lead in RKO's 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. That kicked off a movie career of more than 60 years, in which she was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Hepburn was a certified box office draw, but off screen she refused to behave like a Hollywood star. She spoke her mind, wore pants, and even appeared in public without makeup occasionally. Hepburn was also known for her devotion to the love of her life, actor Spencer Tracy, who was separated from his wife but refused to divorce her. The last of nine films they made together was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, just before Tracy died. Hepburn continued making movies through 1994, when she was 87 years old.

5. PIERRE CURIE: MAY 15, 1859


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French physicist Pierre Curie is often overlooked in favor of Marie Curie, his brilliant student and later wife. Together they discovered radium and polonium, and did extensive research into radioactivity. Pierre, Marie, and Henri Becquerel jointly won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research. Curie might have gone onto many further discoveries, but he was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn cart ran over him in Paris. If he had lived longer, Curie might have also succumbed to illness caused by radiation, as did his wife, daughter, and son-in-law—all Nobel Prize winners.

6. MARY CASSATT: MAY 22, 1844


Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Renowned American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to become an artist, but her parents objected and her Philadelphia art school didn't take women students seriously. So she went to Paris and studied privately under teachers from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as the school did not admit women. Gradually, Cassatt's works sold and her reputation grew. She drew the attention of Impressionist Edgar Degas, and worked with him for years. By 1886, she left the Impressionist movement behind, and afterward refused to be defined by any art genre. Cassatt's body of work often featured women and children in their everyday lives. Her most memorable painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, broke with tradition by portraying a child in a naturalistic, casual pose instead of a formal portrait.

7. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: MAY 22, 1859


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Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his many short stories and novels featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle worked full time as a medical doctor until an illness convinced him he had to choose between writing and medicine. Years later, Conan Doyle volunteered with the British army to fight in the Second Boer War, but because of his age (40), he was only allowed to serve as a medical doctor. Upon his return from South Africa, he entered politics in Scotland, but he lost his only race. In 1907, Conan Doyle became involved in a real criminal case in which he helped George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian heritage, beat an animal cruelty conviction by employing the observational technique that Sherlock Holmes used. The fallout from that case led to the establishment of the appeals system in Britain. Conan Doyle also wrote a science fiction novel The Lost World, published in 1912. It was so successful that he wrote four sequels.

8. MARGARET FULLER: MAY 23, 1810


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Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret Fuller was a precocious child who learned several languages but was not welcome at college because of her sex. She became friends with both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who admired her philosophical thinking. Fuller became a literary critic for the New-York Tribune and a well-known intellectual.

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as an essay in Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," in which Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African Americans.

Fuller went on to become a foreign correspondent and the first American female war correspondent, covering the Italian revolution. She also fell in love with an Italian man and had a child with him. On their return trip to the U.S. in 1850 aboard a merchant ship, a hurricane struck the ship near Fire Island, killing all three. Only Fuller's 20-month-old son was found.

9. SALLY RIDE: MAY 26, 1951

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In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player when she was a teenager. Billie Jean King urged her to turn pro, but Ride went to Stanford University instead. She earned both a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in physics in 1973, and a PhD in physics in 1978. Ride then immediately applied for NASA's astronaut program. She flew two shuttle missions, in 1983 and '84, and was scheduled for a third, but that mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted her life to encouraging students to study science—especially girls. She founded the organization Sally Ride Science for just that purpose, and wrote five children's books encouraging interest in science. Ride died of cancer at age 61 in 2012.

10. "WILD BILL" HICKOK: MAY 27, 1837


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James Butler Hickok was a farmer, soldier, stagecoach driver, spy, lawman, scout, sharpshooter, gambler, and Wild West showman. Many of those occupations came after "Wild Bill" Hickok gained publicity for killing three men in an 1861 shootout. The newspapers followed his exploits from that time on, often embellishing the details until Hickok was more of a legend than the adventurer he was. His various occupations took him to different parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him in 1876. The hand Hickok was holding at the time—a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights—became known as the "dead man's hand."

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