Friday, October 23, 2015

Fallen Down a Wikihole: The Collyer Brothers

Have you ever looked up something on Wikipedia, then gotten sucked into the "see also" section? And then on and on you travel from article to article until you're reading about quantum mechanics when you had initially been trying to find out Billy Ray Cyrus' birthday? I have. And it happened the other day. It's called a Wikihole, and although you can blink your eyes and seven hours have gone by, they can be super fun and informative.

So you know how shows about hoarding are all the rage on TV nowadays? Hoarders, and Hoarding: Buried Alive, and Hoardmeister: Throw Some Shit Away, etc. You might think that the disease is relatively new to humanity, but it just isn't so. It's been around pretty much as long as humans have decided that owning things is fun. In fact, I'll bet some neanderthals had caves full of shiny rocks and animal skulls and crap they just wouldn't throw away.

"Og, why you keep so many bones?"

"Quiet, Glurg. All bones different! Og might need one day!"

Okay this has seriously gone off the rails.

The other day while getting lost in the see-also-abyss of Wikipedia, I came across a super-interesting article, and since I learned about this, now you're gonna hear about it.


The Collyer Brothers were two Manhattan bros infamous in the 1940s for being "those guys" in the neighbourhood. You know... the ones the kids make up stories about, the ones you hardly ever see and so rumours start a'swirlin'. "What are they up to in that brownstone?" "I heard they worship Satan and have a portal to hell in the living room."

Langley Collyer, c. 1942

Homer and Langley both died amongst their hoard, roughly 140 tonnes of stuff! Apparently they hadn't left the home in twenty years and had created an elaborate system of tunnels through their collections that they used to navigate the mess. They even set up booby traps, one of which actually killed Langley. Yikes. That backfired, didn't it?

The images of their home are absolutely bewildering.

An anonymous phone call in April 1947 brought the police around, and they were shocked at what they found. Apart from the filth and the hoard of weird items, they found that the two men had died about ten feet apart, hidden in the junk

The most interesting tid-bit in the Wikipedia article has to be the contents of the house.

"Baby carriages, a doll carriage, rusted bicycles, old food, potato peelers, a collection of guns, glass chandeliers, bowling balls, camera equipment, the folding top of a horse-drawn carriage, a sawhorse, three dressmaking dummies, painted portraits, pinup girl photos, plaster busts, Mrs. Collyer's hope chests, rusty bed springs, the kerosene stove, a child's chair (the brothers were lifelong bachelors and childless), more than 25,000 books (including thousands about medicine and engineering and more than 2,500 on law), human organs pickled in jars, eight live cats, the chassis of the old Model T with which Langley had been tinkering, tapestries, hundreds of yards of unused silks and fabric, clocks, 14 pianos (both grand and upright), a clavichord, two organs, banjos, violins, bugles, accordions, a gramophone and records, and countless bundles of newspapers and magazines, some of them decades old."

Holy schnikies! Human organs? Fourteen pianos?  Yeesh! Well, needless to say, the excavation of their house became widespread news, and brought on many onlookers. In this time period hoarding was very misunderstood, and sufferers were looked upon as eccentric and strange. Nowadays we know it's a mental disorder and a therapist is always brought in with the cleaners.

I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia article on these brothers, as I found it fascinating.

You could also check out the book Ghostly Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers and My Uncle Arthur, New York's Greatest Hoarders (An Urban Historical) by Franz Lidz. Although the title is a mouthful, I bet it's a great read. It's on my wish list, but if you beat me to reading it, please send me your thoughts.

Have you ever found an awesomely random Wikipedia entry?

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