Posts Tagged ‘famous hoarders’

A Harlem park named after two famous hoarders

October 7, 2013

It’s not as if their Harlem neighbors were close to Homer and Langley Collyer.

The two brothers seemed to want nothing to do with local residents—and the feeling appeared to be mutual.

Collyerbrothersstreet

Born in the 1880s, Homer and Langley resided in a once-elegant brownstone at Fifth Avenue and 128th Street since 1909 with their well-off parents, a physician and a former opera singer.

Homercollyer1939The brothers were always eccentric. But once their parents passed away in the 1920s, they retreated from the world and lived behind locked doors, “hiding from the eyes of curious neighbors,” The New York Times stated.

The 1920s passed, then the 1930s.

Neighbors never saw them, so rumors spread: they were rich, they owned half the city waterfront, they had 20 grand pianos in their basement. No one had been inside, so no one knew the truth.

[Homer, above in 1939, makes a rare appearance on his stoop to fight eviction]

Langleycollyer1946Their phone and gas had been shut off. The brothers had money, they preferred to live in seclusion among thousands of hoarded items: bundles of newspaper, old pianos, car parts, and mountains of other worthless possessions.

[Langley, right, forced to leave the house in 1946 for a court date to battle a condemnation order.]

They met their end in 1947. Langely appeared to die first, felled by one of the booby traps he’d created amid piles of trash to block thieves.

But police found Homer’s body first. The medical examiner determined that he died of malnutrition. Blind and paralyzed, he starved to death days after Langley was caught in his own trap.

Over the next weeks, about 130 tons of garbage were removed from the rotting house, which was bulldozed.

Collyerbrothersparkwiki

Considering how Homer and Langley had nothing to do with their neighbors, it’s curious that the pocket park occupying the site of their old brownstone bears the name Collyer Brothers Park.

I wonder what they would think of the honor?

[Photos: New York Daily News, Wikipedia]

The strange story of the recluse of Herald Square

January 9, 2013

IdamayfieldwoodIf Ida Mayfield Wood were around today, she would be a candidate for Hoarders.

A Southern belle who hit the city in the 1850s, Ida ran in elite circles, marrying congressman and Daily News publisher Benjamin Wood, brother of Mayor Fernando Wood.

After her husband (below) died in 1900, Ida grew increasingly paranoid about money. She’d always been shrewd with cash, but the Panic of 1907, which caused a run on banks, pushed her to the edge.

So later that year, Ida, her daughter Emma, and Ida’s sister Mary all moved into a very modest two-room suite of a 34th Street (below in 1921) residence called the Herald Square Hotel.

From 1907 to the late 1920s, the three elderly women lived as recluses in squalor. They never left their suite; hotel staff fetched food (evaporated milk, coffee, crackers, bacon, eggs, and an occasional fish), as well as Cuban cigars, according to a New Yorker piece published in the 1950s.

West34thstreetbroadway1921

By 1931, Emma and Mary had died. Ida, feeble and emaciated, was discovered living in her filthy suite, crammed with “an accumulation of old newspapers, cracker boxes, balls of used string, old wrapping paper, and several large trunks,” reported the New Yorker.

Oh, and more than a million dollars in cash and securities, plus $75,000 worth of jewelry—huge sums in that dark Depression year.

Her story made headlines in 1931 because a nephew applied for guardianship over her. By the time she died in 1932 at age 93, dozens of relatives had come out of the woodwork, hoping for an inheritance.Benjaminwood

Then, as a judge tried to verify her descendants, he uncovered something incredible: Ida Mayfield Wood, who claimed to be a rich Southern belle, was really Ellen Walsh, the poor daughter of Irish immigrants from Massachusetts.

Not only was she a hoarder and recluse—she was a fraud who’d gone to elaborate lengths to invent her identity, her husband and social circle in the dark.


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