October 30, 2003

Pack Rats. Homer and Langley Collyer lived in a four-story brownstone on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 128th Street in Harlem for much of the 1930's and 40's. According to Franz Lidz: "The elderly Collyers were well-to-do sons of a prominent Manhattan gynecologist and an opera singer. Homer had been Phi Beta Kappa at Columbia, where he earned his degree in admiralty law. Langley was a pianist who had performed at Carnegie Hall. The brothers had moved to Harlem in 1909 when they were in their 20's and the neighborhood was a fashionable, and white, suburb of Manhattan. They became more and more reclusive as the neighborhood went shabby on them, booby-trapping their home with midnight street pickings and turning it into a sealed fortress of ephemera, 180 tons of it by the end." ... Last year, I did some preliminary research centering on March 1947, when city authorities began emptying out the house following reports of the death of one of the brothers, with the idea of possibly writing a book. But Lidz has already done that; "Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders" has just been published.

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