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The Collyer Brothers Story.
On March 21, 1947, the 122nd Street police
station in New York City received a call from a man claiming that there was a dead body at
2078 Fifth Street Avenue.
The police knew the house, a decaying
three-story brownstone in a run-down part of Harlem, and its inhabitants, Langley and
Homer Collyer, two eccentric recluses.
No one could recall having seen Homer for years.
There were even rumors that his dead body was in the house. Langley was seen only
when he went out on furtive sorties, usually after midnight. He earned himself the
nickname of "the ghostly man." The day after the call, patrolman William Barker
broke into the second-floor bedroom. What he found there took his breath away.
The room was filled from floor to ceiling with
objects of every shape, size and kind. It took him several hours to cross the few feet to
where the dead body of Homer lay, shrouded in an ancient check bathrobe. The autopsy
revealed that Homer had not eaten for several days and had died of a heart attack. There
was no sign of Langley, and the authorities immediately began to search for him. It took 3
weeks to shift through the estimated 136 tons of junk with which the house was filled. The
bizarre collection of objects included 14 grand pianos, two organs, and a clavichord;
human medical specimens preserved in a glass jars; the chassis of a Model-T Ford; a
library of thousands of medical and engineering books; an armory of weapons; the top of a
carriage; 6 U.S. flags and one Union Jack; a primitive X-Ray machine; and 34 bank deposit
books with the balance totaling $3,007.18.
Gradually the story of the Hermits of Harlem
unfolded, and the presence of some of the contents of the house began to be explained.
Homer Lusk Collyer and Langley Collyer were born in 1881 and 1885 respectively. Their
father, Dr. Herman L. Collyer, was an eminent gynecologist and their mother, Susie Gage
Frost Collyer, a well-born lady noted for her musical abilities. The family set up home at
2078 Fifth Avenue in then-fashionable Harlem. But around 1909 Herman left. When he died in
1923, all the furniture, medical equipment, and books that he had collected over the years
were taken back to Fifth Avenue and crammed into his wife's house. Langley had been
trained as an engineer; Homer became a lawyer. Both were eccentric in innocuous ways -
increasingly so when left to fend for themselves after their mother's death in 1929.
Langley apparently never had a job, but was always tinkering with inventions, such as one
for vacuuming the insides of pianos, and attempting to make the Model-T engine run via
electricity. In the 1930's Homer became blind, crippled with rheumatism, and progressively
paralyzed. Langley devoted the rest of his life to caring for him.
Distrustful of doctors, but with access to his
father's extensive medical library, Langley devised odd "cures" for his
brother's illness, subjecting him to regimes as a diet of 100 oranges a week, black bread,
and peanut butter. The house was already cluttered with the content of two large homes,
but Langley stuffed it with yet more objects picked up on his nightly excursions. After
all windows were boarded up, and the gas, electricity, and water cut off, one small oil
stove served all their cooking and heating needs; Langley collected water from a standpipe
four blocks away. On more that one occasion thieves tried to break in to steal the fortune
that was rumored to be kept in the house. Langley responded by building booby traps,
intricate systems of trip wires and ropes that would bring tons of rubbish crashing down
on any unwary burglar.
A honeycomb network of tunnels carved out in the
mountains of junk enabled Langley to grope his way to where Homer sat. As the world's
newspapers revealed the secrets of 2078 Fifth Avenue, there was a final, grisly twist. On
April 8, Artie Matthews, one of the workmen commissioned to clear the place, raised a pile
of newspapers, tin boxes and other debris near a spot where Homer has been found.
His horrified gaze fell first on a foot, then
the remains of a body. It had been gnawed by rats, but there was no doubt that it was
Langley Collyer. Langley had died some time before his brother, suffocated under the
garbage that had cascaded down upon him when, he had sprung one of his own burglar traps.
Homer's death was now easily explained. Blind
and paralyzed, and totally dependent on Langley, he had died of starvation and shock. The
house was gradually emptied and its more valuable contents sold at auction. But despite
the Collyer brothers lifelong hoarding, the 150 items raised only $1,800. The house too
has now gone.
Condemned as a health and fire hazard, number
2078 Fifth Avenue was razed to the ground.
There is a
viable solution for Disposophobia TM and we have been applying it for
years. The first step is for the clutterer to recognize and admit that
his/her behavior and the need to collect and save things beyond normal is a
health, safety and fire hazard.
What's more it
serves to isolate the disposophobics from other people. Even thought they
seem to try to recover from their own by buying "HOW TO" books on
getting Clutter Free or Organizing, or Time Management, and buying more
stuff such as file cabinets, personal storage boxes, shelves, etc.
these items almost always become a larger part if the clutter and end up
buried under the next ill-conceived solution. It is not unusual to
find 3-7 books about Getting Organized and every sort of storage and filling
system in a disposophobics space.
that we have the solution for disposophobics. The first step is to call us
and ask for help.
This recovery process for a
disposophobic requires an adroit project manager and a
highly trained staff who must possess a multitude of skills which are.
- Being able to understand the short and long term needs of the
patient and/or clients.
- The ability to assess the scope and size of the project and
provide a guaranteed bid and time frame to cure the problem.
- The ability to gain and maintain control of the situation
throughout the project to avoid loss of time and assets.
- The wisdom to be able to appraise the contents for real and
- A high degree of organizational skills while working in
- The ability to direct the project's staff and negotiate with
lawyers, agents, landlords, managers, government agencies who often interrupt the
progress of the project.
- The goal of win, win, win so that all concerned do not lose
assets or dignity during the process.
First things first.
To intelligently assess any of these situations, an on-site
evaluation is mandatory.
This on-site appraisal provides the project manager with the
information needed to present a creditable written report of findings as well as being
able to propose a realistic recovery plan of action which includes a time frame and fixed
To find out more about DISASTER
MASTERS clutter management skills and services
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