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.
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.
The 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]
Their 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.
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]