The Strange Story of the Collyer Brothers


Oliver Barnfield, Cool Guy/Entertainment Editor

Littered throughout history you’ll find many strange figures known for their reclusive personalities. Perhaps none are more famous than The Collyer Brothers from Harlem, New York. Here is their story.


Homer and Langley Collyer were both born to a doctor father and an opera singer mother. After the death of their father in 1923, the brothers lived with their mother until her death in 1929, where they lived with each other in the Harlem Brownstone they inherited from their parents. Homer practiced law and Langley sold pianos. Nothing was out of the ordinary, and they both taught at a local church.

By this time, Harlem was becoming a predominately Black (and poor) community. This seemed to make the brothers paranoid, and then tragedy struck. Homer suffered a stroke, causing his eyesight to be lost. Langley and Homer refused to see a doctor however, instead deciding to cure his brother instead by feeding him nothing but Oranges, Black Bread, and peanut butter. Langley believed this would cure his brothers blindness. In addition, he read him literature and played classical music on the piano to entertain him.

Homer eventually became paralyzed, but Langley still did not allow him to see a doctor. He started to collect news, every issue of every NYC newspaper published. He believed that when Homer regained his eyesight, he would want to catch up on the news. This would never happen, and the house began to fill up with newspapers and food. Slowly they also became fearful of the people who would begin to gawk at their home, and started to board up their windows and build complex booby traps among the rows and rows of boxes and junk. They also began to put junk behind the doors to avoid burglary. Eventually, Langley stopped working, and they stopped paying taxes, and the government shut down their electricity. Langley used an old Model T car and rigged it to make a homemade generator, which they put in the center of the house.

Eventually, Langley left the home only at midnight to get Homer food, often fishing through trash cans to find them. He also would scout for various items strewn about on the street, bringing innumerable pieces of trash into their residence. Eventually, the government shut off their water, so Langley went to a local water pump to fetch it for Homer. When a small fire broke out in their home, Langley refused the firefighters access to his brother’s enclave. When a few officers decided to go inside to check on the brothers, what they saw shocked them.

A maze of boxes, junk, and grand pianos was designed to keep intruders out, and if you took a wrong step then a giant stack of junk metal would crush you beneath its weight. Langley led the officers to Homer, who could not lay down and smelled foul due to his paralysis.

On March 21st, 1947, the police received a call informing them that someone had died in the Collyer apartment. They couldn’t enter through the front, however, as it was blocked by boxes and junk, so they were forced to climb up to the next level to get in. When they got in, they found mundane junk like grand pianos, but also more disturbing objects like a full human skeleton and a 2 headed infant skeleton. Eventually, they found Homer’s body after spending two hours evading traps and combing through the piles of junk. They confirmed he had died due to starvation, having not eaten in three days. Langley, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found. They searched over five states, looking for Langley, but when he couldn’t be found they realized what had occurred. He was bringing food to his brother when he incidentally activated one of his own traps, being crushed by his own mess.

Eventually, the house was demolished and was replaced with a small park named The Collyer park. They live on in the memory of many New Yorkers as 2 strange figures who lived in squalor and had a strange devotion to each other.