Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Collyer Park - where the brothers gathered junk

       This is a nice little garden on the 5-th Avenue in Harlem, New York City, USA. What is the unusual about it, you might ask. Well, 70 years ago at this spot was the house of the Collyer brothers - the notorious reclusive hoarders. For 30 years they lived here alone without ever marrying and gathered things from all around the city.
       What made the brothers so eccentric is unclear - they were born in 1881 and 1885, respectively,  grew up in a pretty normal home, and both graduated from Columbia University. However neither of them ever got any profession. Since their parents died in the twenties the brothers got all their possessions into this house and closed themselves to the outer world. Homer, the older brother who was paralysed and blind always stayed in the house. Langley, the younger brother would go out every night, scavenging for food and gathering every little thing that got his interest and diligently bringingt it home. And what a nice collection he gathered! At the time of their death there were 14 pianos, two organs, an almost whole car made of different parts, umbrellas, unused fabrics, sewing machines, banjos and violins,guns and other weapons,  human organs in jars, a wine press,a rake, several bicycles, baby carriages, dolls, 25 000 books and thousands of newspapers in large bundles, as well as numerous other indescribable  boxes and pieces of junk. They never paid any bills or even their mortgage, but when the police tried to evict them from the premises they found that the house is impossible to enter because of the piles of garbage from the top to the bottom. Then Langley got out and produced a check to pay the whole mortgage in full and the brothers continued their recluse. Maybe because of numerous past robbery-attempts at their house, or because of the rumor that they had vast fortunes hidden inside, or just because they were pretty crazy - Langley produced numerous booby-traps around the house to catch any possible invader.
       And the cherry on the top of their story is the story of their deaths. On March 21 1947 an anonymous person called the police and insisted that there was a dead body in the house. And indeed an awful stench was coming out of it. At first the police had problems entering, because everything was closed and locked, with no doorbell or phone to call the brothers. Then an emergency squad of 7 men started pulling the junk out of the house piece by piece and throwing it onto the street. Finally a patrolmen managed to enter and after a two hours crawl found the dead body of Homer in his chair, wearing a blue bathrobe. There was no sign of Langley anywhere. The doctors determined that Homer died of malnutrition and dehydration, however his body could not possibly be the origin of the smell since he died mere 10 hours before the forced entrance by the police. The search of Langley continued both inside the house or around New York City and even New Jersey. Finally, on April 8 the real source of the stench was discovered - it was Langley's decomposed body, found in a newspaper tunnel (Yeah, I also don't know what a newspaper tunnel is.) just 10 ft (3 m) away from Homer's body. Langley was bringing food to his brother, when he got caught into one of his own booby traps and died. Several days later Homer died of starvation and that's when the police came.
        After their deaths more than 130 tons of junk was taken out of the house, almost all of it was deemed useless and thrown away. The house was found to be in very poor condition and was soon razed. Since the 60-es  the mini-park bearing their name that we can see today has been established at the place.

Coordinates:40°48'30"N 73°56'25"W
Google Maps
Wikipedia Article

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