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Biography of Hermits of Harlem Homer and Langley Collyer

About the famous scrooges Homer and Langley Collyer, biography and history of the Hermits of Harlem.

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The Hermits of Harlem: HOMER COLLYER (1881-1947) AND LANGLEY COLLYER (1885-1947)

The discovery, in March, 1947, of Homer Collyer's dead body in the rubble-filled three-story home he had shared with his brother in a once fashionable section of Harlem fascinated New Yorkers. Blind and paralyzed, the former admiralty lawyer had starved to death amidst so much debris that police spent several hours just getting into the house. Neighbors crowded around, hoping for a glimpse of the millions of dollars the legendary Collyer brothers had reputedly stashed away. Official investigators were concerned with another question: Where was Langley Collyer, the former engineer and concert pianist?

The reclusive Collyers had lived in their house since their beloved mother had separated from their father, a wealthy and well-known doctor, in 1909. When the mother died 20 years later, the brothers abandoned their careers completely and grew even more reclusive, allowing all the utilities to be shut off. Homer went blind a few years later and became paralyzed around 1940. He never saw a doctor and was completely dependent on Langley, who thought he could cure Homer's blindness by feeding him 100 oranges a week. Homer never again emerged from the house alive, but Langley was constantly active. He cooked on a kerosene stove, fetched water from a park four blocks away, and roamed the streets at night foraging for food and supplies. Obsessed with a fear of burglars, Langley barricaded the house's doors and windows (how he got in and out remains a mystery) and piled up mountains of debris inside as barriers and booby traps. Police found the house honeycombed with narrow crawl spaces he must have negotiated like a mole.

While police mounted an interstate search for Langley, sanitation officers slowly cleared away the house's clutter. Working from the basement up, they removed 120 tons of material in the several weeks it took them to reach the second floor, where Homer had died. The news media reveled in the catalog of discoveries: 14 grand pianos, the chassis of a Model-T Ford, old toys, boxes of rotting clothes, thousands of books, bicycles, sewing machines and dressmakers' dummies, a coil of barbed wire, unopened mail, 34 bank books (totaling only $3,007), an arsenal of modern and archaic weapons, the jawbone of a horse, machinery, scrap iron, heaps of coal, two 7-ft. sections of a tree, and endless other items which Langley must have dragged home from back alleys and garbage cans. Dominating the whole mess were tons of newspapers Langley was saving for Homer to read when he regained his sight.

Finally, just 10 ft. from where Homer had been found, officials uncovered the rat-gnawed body of Langley. He had been crushed by one of his own booby traps while crawling through a tunnel to feed Homer. No millions were found, but the Collyers' attorney valued their total property at over $100,000, and scores of relatives appeared to stake their claims.

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