Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Homer Lusk Collyer (November 1881 - March 21, 1947) and Langley Collyer (October 1885 - March 1947) were two US brothers who became famous because of their reclusive and compulsive hoarding lifestyle.
The Collyer brothers were sons of Herman Livingston Collyer (1857-1923), a Manhattan gynecologist, and Susie Gage Frost (1856-1929). They had a daughter who died as an infant: Susan Collyer (1880). The family lived in a three-story house at 2078 Fifth Avenue and 128th street in Harlem, New York City, New York. Homer got a degree in engineering and Langley became a lawyer, although he mainly concentrated on being an inventor.
Father abandoned family
Dr. Herman Collyer abandoned his family in 1909, and when he died in 1923, his wife inherited all of his furniture, medical equipment and books and took them to the Harlem house. Susie Collyer died 1929 and the brothers inherited everything. But as crime increased in Harlem, the brothers retreated more and more into their house.
Robbers tried to break into the house many times because of unfounded rumors of valuables. As the brothers' fears increased, so did their eccentric lifestyle. They boarded up the windows to their house and set up booby traps. Their gas and water was turned off because they refused to pay and they used only a small heater. Langley began to wander outside at night and fetched their water from a water post four blocks away. He also dragged home anything that he found interesting.
Decline of Homer
In 1933, Homer went blind. Langley devised a diet of one hundred oranges a week, along with black bread and peanut butter. He also began to hoard newspapers so that when Homer regained his sight, he could catch up on the news.
The Collyer brothers were first mentioned in the newspapers when they got in trouble with the bank in 1942 after they refused to pay the mortgage on their house. Langley eventually wrote out a check after police had come crashing in the front door, only to be stopped by the huge pile of junk set up to keep people out.
Homer Collyer dead
The brothers didn't make the news again until March 21, 1947, when an anonymous caller phoned to 122nd police precinct and insisted there was a dead body in the house. The police had a very difficult time getting into the house at first. Eventually, they had no choice but to begin to pull out all the junk that was blocking their way and throw it out onto the yard. A patrolman, William Baker, finally broke in through a window into a second-story bedroom. After a two-hour crawl he found Homer Collyer dead, with his head on his knees, wearing just a bathrobe. Outside, a crowd of 600 had gathered, curious about the junk and the smell. But Langley was nowhere to be found. Homer was taken to a morgue where he was found to have died of starvation and cardiac arrest. The coroner estimated that Homer had been dead for about ten hours.
In their quest to find Langley, the police began the long task of taking out all the junk in the house. It included rope, baby carriages, rakes, umbrellas, rusted bicycles, old food, potato peelers, a collection of guns, an x-ray machine, thousands of books about medicine and engineering, a horse's jawbone, human organs pickled in jars, one UK and six US flags, 14 pianos, a clavichord, two organs, and more and more newspapers. Police also found 34 bank account books with a total of $3,007.18. For weeks there was no sign of Langley.
Langley Collyer found dead
Finally, on April 8, 1947, workman Artie Matthews found the dead body of Langley Collyer. It turned out he was only ten feet from where Homer had died. Three huge bundles of newspapers covered his body. Langley had been crawling through their newspaper tunnel to bring food to his paralyzed brother when his own booby trap fell down and crushed him.
Contents of house
In total, police and workmen took 136 tons of garbage out of the house. The estate of the Collyer brothers was valued at $91,000; $20,000 in personal property. All the junk was auctioned and eventually the house was torn down as a fire hazard.
- Franz Lidz, Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders: An Urban Historical ISBN 158234311X
Selected New York Times coverage
- New York Times, August 16, 1923, page 15, "Obituary Herman L. Collyer"
- New York Times, April 5, 1939, page 26, "Gas company seizes meters of 'hermits'"
- New York Times, August 05, 1942, page 21, "Mortgage on recluses' home is foreclosed, but legendary brothers still hide within "
- New York Times, August 08, 1942, page 13, "Bank and Collyers declare a truce"
- New York Times, September 30, 1942, page 24, "Collyer mansion keeps its secrets"
- New York Times, October 02, 1942, page 27, "Order ejects Collyers"
- New York Times, November 19, 1942, page 27, "Collyers pay off $6,700 mortgage as evictors smash way into home"
- New York Times, November 21, 1942, page 24, "Collyers get deed to home"
- New York Times, February 03, 1943, page 21, "Collyers may lose house"
- New York Times, February 04, 1943, page 24, "Government gets Collyer property"
- New York Times, July 27, 1946, page 16, "Subpoena flushes Harlem recluse"
- New York Times, January 28, 1947, page 25, "Hermit brothers get $7,500 award"
- New York Times, March 22, 1947, page 01, "Homer Collyer, Harlem recluse, found dead at 70"
- New York Times, March 26, 1947, page C24, "The Collyer mystery"
- New York Times, March 27, 1947, page 56, "Langley Collyer is dead"
- New York Times, April 12, 1947, page 15, "Langley Collyer buried"
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