Collyer’s Mansion are two words every emergency responder fears.
It is an official term that the New York City Fire Department uses. You may have heard reference to it before. Basically it means an extreme hoarder’s house.
The phrase was coined in 1947 after two wealthy but reclusive brothers – Homer and Langley Collyer – were discovered dead in their large Harlem, New York home. Their bodies were found among overwhelming mounds of debris and trash which they had accumulated throughout their lives.
Here’s how it all played out…
Homer and Langley were born in the 1880’s. Their father was a relatively wealthy gynecologist who purchased a 4 story brownstone mansion at 2078 Fifth Avenue in Harlem. After both Mr. and Mrs. Collyer passed away in the 1920’s, the brothers inherited the home. Neither Homer nor Langley worked and both were very anti-social. Their odd behavior fueled rumors that a fortune in cash was hidden in the house. Would-be robbers broke into the brownstone several times. The intrusions fueled paranoia and further isolated the brothers. Homer and Langley began building booby traps in their home. They were known to emerge only on rare occasions to collect things which they crammed into their home.
Langley Collyer (right)
Homer Collyer (center)
The brothers did not pay their utility bills for years so eventually the gas, water, and electricity were turned off. They used a kerosene heater in the cold months and carried water from a nearby park.
Homer and Langley also neglected to make payments in their outstanding mortgage. Eviction proceedings began in 1942. The police tried to force their way in to evict the brothers but all of the accumulated junk prohibited the authorities from even entering.
Shortly after the attempted eviction, Langley handed the bank a check for $6,700 which paid off the entire balance of the mortgage.
Things were quiet for a few years until March of 1947, when an anonymous call to police reported a dead body at the Collyer residence. Emergency responders could not enter the mansion through the first floor because it was stuffed to the ceiling with garbage and debris.
They entered the home via ladder through a second story window. After navigating through pathways in towering piles of junk, they found the body of Homer Collyer sitting in a chair.
The coroner determined that he had only been dead for 10 hours. So once his body was removed, there was no accounting for the terrible stench of decaying flesh that permeated the building.
Well, I guess you might figure it out that Langley had died too. Quite a bit before Homer.
The house was such a mess that it took over 2 weeks for the body of Langley to be found. His body was buried in a pile of clutter a mere 6 feet from where Homer was found dead in his chair.
The investigators surmised that Langley has been caring for an ailing Homer who was blind and essentially paralyzed from rheumatoid arthritis when a pile of junk fell on the mobile brother and killed him. Unable to move from his chair, Homer starved to death.
Sad, sad, sad.
It took authorities and junk haulers several months to clean out the mansion.
In all, it is estimated that 140 tons of junk was removed.
It was not just garbage, however. The Collyer brothers had obsessively collected rarities like antique books, furniture, musical instruments and just plain odd stuff for several decades.
Some of the bizarre finds in the Collyer house: a horse’s jaw, a complete human skeleton, a two-headed baby in a jar, an early X-Ray machine, baby carriages, guns, glass chandeliers, bowling balls, pickled human organs, eight live cats, 14 pianos and a Model T chassis.
The removal of the junk from the Collyer Mansion drew huge crowds of onlookers. Perhaps the precursor of our current fascination with hoarders?
The house was later torn down and in its place, a small park was built in memory of the Collyer Brothers:
It’s kind of a sad little park, but, it’s better than a condemned mansion full of garbage.
Soon after the grim episode of the Collyer Brothers, “Collyer’s Mansion” entered our lexicon as code for the house of an extreme hoarder and has held its meaning ever since.
So now you know.
ps… thanks to Suzanne for the idea!