A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 08, 2004
Collyer brothers (hermits)
Homer Lusk Collyer (1881-1947) and Langley Collyer (1885-1947) are the legendary recluse brothers of New York City. The lived in Harlem, secluded from the world in a house filled with junk. They died there.

In 1995, a New York Times "F.Y.I." stated that "Collyer" was "part of the lexicon" of New York.

See also the book Ghosty men: the strange but true story of the Collyer brothers, New York's greatest hoarders: an urban historical (New York: Bloomsbury, 2003) by Franz Lidz.

4 February 1943, New York Times, pg. 24:
GOVERNMENT GETS
COLLYER PROPERTY

House in Fifth Ave. Opposite
Home of Recluse Brothers
Is Seized for Taxes

MOVE MADE RELUCTANTLY

Federal Representative Waits
in Vain for Appearance of
Owner at Auction

The Federal Government yesterday took possession of an old brownstone house at 2077 Fifth Avenue after a representative of the Collector of Internal Revenue had waited more than an hour beyond the scheduled time of the auction sale of the property in the hope that Homer Collyer or his brother Langley would appear to pay an income tax claim and make the seizure of the parcel unnecessary. The building is at the northeast corner of 128th Street, opposite a residence at 2078 Fifth Avenue where the Collyers live in seclusion.

22 March 1947, New York Times, pg. 1:
HOMER COLLYER,
HARLEM RECLUSE,
FOUND DEAD AT 70

Police Require Two Hours to
Break Into 6th Ave. Home,
Booby-Trapped With Junk

BROTHER FAILS TO APPEAR

Investigators Think, However,
He May Be "Charles Smith"
Who Summoned Them

24 March 1947, New York Times, pg. 44:
THOUSANDS GAPE
AT COLLYER HOUSE

30 March 1947, New York Times, pg. E10:
SOMETHING FOR O. HENRY:
STORY OF THE COLLYERS

Strange Case of the Elderly Brothers
Who Tried to Shut Out the WOrld

9 April 1947, New York Times, pg. 1:
Body of Collyer Is Found
Near Where Brother Died
By HAROLD FABER

Langley Collyer was found dead yesterday in his old brownstone home at 2078 Fifth Avenue. His body, wedged in a booby trap set to keep out intruders, was lying in the same room on the second floor where hius blind brother, Homer, had been found dead on March 21.

The time of his death was not fixed by the medical examiner pending an autopsy today at the morgue, but the police were sure that the eccentric 61-year-old recluse had died at least three weeks ago. The cause of death was unknown, but he apprarently starved or suffocated, unable to get out of his own trap.

Langley's body was found in a mazelike tunnel just inside the hallway entrance to the room. He was lying on his right side, his head turned toward the front space where his paralyzed older brother spent his time. He apparently was carrying food to his ailing brother, whom he had carefully nursed since Homer was stricken in 1932. His body was ten feet from where Homer had been found.

Piles of newspapers, books, tin cans and old furniture filled the room.

1 July 1947, New York Times, pg. 13:
COLLYER HOUSE TO GO

Court Orders the Demolition of
Fifth Avenue Building

Another chapter in the history of the eccentric Collyer brothers was begun yesterday when Supreme Court Justice J. Edward Lumbard Jr. signed an order directing the demolition of the Brownstone house at 2078 Fifth Avenue where the 61-year-old recluse Langley Collyer was found dead on April 9, a victim of one of his boobytraps.

It was in the house that Langley lived and cared for his 65-year-old blind brother, Homer, after they had turned their backs on society and barricaded themselves in the junk-littered home. It was there, too, that Homer's body was found on March 21 after the police had received a telephone call informing them of his death.

15 October 1995, New York Times, F.Y.I. by Jesse McKinley, . CY2:
The Collyers moved into 2078 Fifth Avenue (at 128th Street) in 1909. Homer, the older brother, worked as a lawyer, and Langley was a concert pianist. Throughout their lives, though, their residence was off limits to anybody but themselves. (They forswore gas, electricity or any other modern convenience.) Homer was rendered blind and bedridden by a stroke in 1932, and the Collyers withdrew further. Langley left the house only to buy groceries for his brother, but he sometimes went on daylong runs to Williamsburg for whole wheat bread.
(...)
The mystery persisted for more than two weeks, as the authorities cleaned out an estimated 120 tons of debris, including 14 grand pianos. The house was labyrinthine, with tiny passages between towers of stacked books, boxes, papers, periodically rigged with wire and bucket booby traps.

Ah, those booby traps.

it was on April 8 that they finally found Langley, dead about a month, decomposing under a crushing stack of newspapers, apparently a trap gone wrong. He lay about 10 feet from where his brother, left without his caretaker, had died.

Thus, the Collyers, front-page news in the spring of 1947, became part of the lexicon, and the very papers that they knew so well.

Posted by Barry Popik
Workers/People • (0) Comments • Wednesday, December 08, 2004 • Permalink