Built at the tail-end of the Gilded Age in Newport, this turn-of-the-century mansion evokes feelings of country estates in England. “Clarendon Court” was built in 1904 for Edward Collings Knight, Jr. (1863-1936) and his first wife, Clara W. Dwight (1862-1910). Edward C. Knight was a railroad executive and amateur artist who “exhibited more talent at spending money than making it”, which was evident from his architectural taste and timing for building such an expensive home in Newport, which was beginning to wane in popularity at the time. Clarendon Court was actually designed in the 18th century by Colen Campbell, a renowned Scottish architect. The country estate was never built, but Gilded Age architect Horace Trumbauer, found the design in one of Campbell’s old books, and except for removing the cupolas over the wings either side of the central block, he reproduced a perfect copy. Trumbauer had just a year before designed a townhouse for the couple in Philadelphia. Edward Knight originally named the mansion “Claradon Court” after his wife Clara. In 1930, Claradon Court was purchased by Maisie Caldwell (1878-1956) and her third husband, Colonel William Hayward (1877-1944), legendary commander of the “Harlem Hellfighters” during World War One. Maisie had inherited a fortune of $50 million from her second husband, Morton Freeman Plant, a railroad and steamship magnate. The couple renamed the mansion Clarendon Court, a more traditional name.
Clarendon Court was later purchased by Claus von Bülow and Martha Sharp Crawford, who was known as “Sunny von Bülow”. Sunny was worth over $75 million and updated the mansion and grounds to exceptionally elegant conditions. It was known that Sunny and Claus had a rough marriage, but it came to a head when on December 26, 1979, after the family had come together for Christmas at their mansion, she was found unresponsive and was rushed to the hospital where she slipped into coma but was revived. After days of testing, doctors determined the coma was the result of low blood sugar and diagnosed her as hypoglycemic, warning her against overindulging on sweets or going too long without eating. No foul play was suspected at the time. One year later, on the evening of December 21, 1980, while celebrating Christmas with her family at their mansion, she again displayed confusion. She was put to bed by her family, but in the morning she was discovered unconscious on the bathroom floor. She was taken to the hospital where it became clear that this time she had suffered severe enough brain injury to produce a persistent vegetative state. A hypodermic needle was found in a black bag in Bulow’s study and coupled with their maid’s testimony he was subsequently charged with her murder, accused of injecting his wife with insulin so he could live at Clarendon on her money with his mistress. His mistress was the actress Alexandra (Moltke) Isles, better known as “Victoria Winters” in Dark Shadows. In 1982, in a sensational case that gripped the country, Bülow was convicted. But, he appealed in 1985 and was acquitted. His stepchildren then filed a $56 million law suit against him, which was dropped two years later: Bülow agreed to divorce his comatose wife, relinquish all rights to her fortune, leave the country and never to profit from the story. Bülow moved to London where he kept a low profile for the rest of his life while Sunny remained in a vegetative state in New York until she eventually passed away in 2008.