They were also hoarders, paranoid, yet very inventive.
Eventually their hoarding, reclusive ways would kill them both and their deaths would become a public spectacle.
The family would later move into a four storey brownstone 'mansion' in Harlem, but in 1909, Mr and Mrs Collyer separated and the boys, now in their mid twenties, chose to stay with their mother in their Harlem home.
Things seemed to be going well for the brothers, Langley became a concert pianist and Homer practised law. However, in 1933, Homer lost his eyesight so Langley quit his job to care for him. This care came in the form of Langley feeding Homer 100 oranges a week, lots of peanut butter and rest. He would also play piano for his blind brother.
The two distrusted doctors, fearing that medicine will just make Homer worse.
Reclusive and Paranoid
Children began to throw rocks at the house as they passed by, shattering the windows. In response the brothers boarded them up, and placed grills over the lower floor windows. After several break ins due to rumours of fabulous wealth located in the residence, Langley began to build a myriad or passageways complete with traps through the house.
And what did he build these passageways with?
Homer never left the house, never saw anyone else, and was completely reliant upon his brother. Langley would crawl the tunnels with food for Homer, travelling through the house, typically on hands and knees, between the two 'nests' the brothers lived in.
Langley would not completely avoid human contact and he would speak to people if he came into contact with them on his nightly walks. He was well spoken but shabbily dressed, this was because he feared that if he wore nice clothes he would be robbed. The brothers had plenty of money and after several years of not paying their mortgage and facing forced eviction, in 1942 Langley wrote a check for the remainder of the house payments in full. They also purchased a neighbouring property just so they would not have any prying neighbours.
The brothers were totally reclusive now, having only each other for company... and one completely reliant on the other for everything.
Eventually, failing all other options, police began to pull the junk from the home in attempt to gain access and investigate the horrid odour. As items were pulled from the house they were thrown out into the street. This scene attracted thousands of onlookers who lined the opposite side of the road. Everyone knew of the 'crazy' Collyer brothers and all wanted a peek at what mysteries lay within.
It was rumoured that Langley had left his brother to starve to death and police received reports of Langley being sighted all over the US. Although these reports were investigated they all turned up nothing. Homer Collyer's funeral was held but Langley never showed.
The clearing of the Collyer house continued and eventually 120 tons of junk was removed. The collection of items was quite varied ranging from a gun collection to bowling balls, Fourteen pianos and a model T Ford chassis. More than 25,000 books were removed as were tons of old newspapers. Human organs were discovered pickled in jars and several pet cats. There was also a lot of garbage.
Langley died within ten feet of where his brother waited.
It was actually Langley Collyer's decomposing body that caused the stench, alerting police to the situation in the house.
Homer and Langley Collyer were buried next to their parents at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. They lay in unmarked graves.
As for the house... after it was cleared out it was found to be in terrible condition. Several walls had fallen in, the roof leaked, and there was a lot of hazardous mold. Being condemned it was soon demolished and the area where it sat is now a small park named after the Collyer Brothers. If you would like to visit it is found on the corner of 5th Avenue and 128th Street.
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