The City of New York can claim to be the biggest and the best in so many areas. The saddest addition to that list is ‘hoarding’. Two brothers in NYC, Homer and Langley Collyer singlehandedly brought the phenomena, now a fully described psychological condition, to the shocked attention of the nation in the 1940′s.
The elder brother Homer born in 1881 and his younger brother Langley born in 1885, had a conventional education, family life and careers. The parents split, but the family home was at 2078 Fifth Avenue, Harlem and the brothers lived the life of educated well to do new Yorkers. However the two brothers never lived separately to their parents and never married so when their fther died in 1923 and their mother in 1939 they were then alone in the world.
The precipitating factors which finally led the brothers into a bizarre lifestyle appear to have been Homer losing his eyesight in 1933 and the social changes in their Harlme neighborhood which left them isolated. Once their parents died they withdrew frome everyday contact with others and in response to the sometimes intense and intrusive interest of their neighbors in their lifestyle they developed paranoid fantasies about dangers in the outside world.
Needing to look after his brother Langley developed the habit of nocturnal wanderings to buy food and also to pick up junk of various kinds. All the junk he bought home he stored in the house until it was eventually so stuffed with junk, newspapers and a bewildering array of possessions that the 2 brothers lived in pods hollowed out of the surrounding junk. They moved around through tunnels in the junk loaded with trip wires to deter anyone who might try and take their things away.
In 1947 the police had to enter their house to investigate a terrible smell and they first discovered Homer who had starved to death. Subsequently the reason for Homers starvation became clear when his brother Langley, who was the one who fed hime, also dead. Langley had been crawling along a tunnel towards Homer when he tripped one of their own trip wires and was killed by a fall of junk which trapped and smothered him.
Eventually 120 tons of junk had to be removed from the house which included 14 grand and upright pianos, a Model T Ford, over 25,000 books and endless amounts of furniture, bric a brac and junk Langley had collected on his travels
The sad example of their lives resulted in a description of hoarding as ‘Collyer Syndrome’ and the use of the term ‘Collyer Mansion’ to describe houses in NYC made extremely dangerous by being stuffed with junk. their house was torn down and it is now the site of a pocket park in harlme called ‘The coollyer Brothers Park’.