A true tale of changing New York by Franz Lidz, whose Unstrung Heroes is a classic of hoarder lore.
Homer and Langley Collyer moved into their handsome brownstone in white, upper-class Harlem in 1909. By 1947, however, when the fire department had to carry Homer’s body out of the house he hadn’t left in twenty years, the neighborhood had degentrified, and their house was a fortress of junk: in an attempt to preserve the past, Homer and Langley held on to everything they touched.
The scandal of Homer’s discovery, the story of his life, and the search for Langley, who was missing at the time, rocked the city; the story was on the front page of every newspaper for weeks. A quintessential New York story of quintessential New York characters, Ghosty Men is a perfect fit for Bloomsbury’s Urban Historicals series.
From Publisher’s Weekly
When 65-year-old Homer Collyer, blind and crippled by rheumatism, was found dead in his dilapidated, junk-filled Harlem brownstone in March 1947, the discovery made all of New York’s newspapers, as did the subsequent hunt for his younger brother, Langley, whose body was finally located under piles of debris. In this slim volume, part of Bloomsbury’s Urban Historicals series, Lidz, a memoirist (Unstrung Heroes) and senior writer at Sports Illustrated, examines the Collyer brothers’ intriguing, baffling lives. The compulsive hermits came from a respected, well-to-do family and were educated at Columbia, Homer as a lawyer and Langley, who was a talented pianist, as an engineer. They became part of New York lore in August 1938, when the World-Telegram wrote about the pair and their once-fashionable house on Fifth Avenue and 128th Street, which was crammed full of pianos, other instruments, bicycles, chandeliers, clocks and thousands of newspapers, “strewn in yellowing drifts across the floor.” In addition to deconstructing the brothers’ descent into their own world of squalor and isolation, Lidz shares recollections of his Uncle Arthur, an eccentric hoarder who was a featured character in Unstrung Heroes. Arthur amassed everything from magazines and bus transfers to socks and shoelaces and lived “nested inside his walls of junk.” “My junk was like a friend,” says Uncle Arthur. “Sort of freedom, it was. I’d saved it in my own way.” These words help make sense of men like Uncle Arthur and the Collyers, whose stories Lidz captures vividly, with humor and compassion.
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“The Collyer Brothers made compelling reading then, as they do now in this short, captivatingly detailed book.” Adam Bernstein- Washington Post
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I found this book to be a wonderful read and a nice compliment to E.L.Doctorow’s ‘Homer and Langley‘s book. The author’s vivid description by his Uncle Floyd of the great Times Square ‘Hubert’s Museum‘ and all the characters that performed there is worth the read alone.
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