Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Hoarders" of 1947

I'm not a huge fan of the cable TV series "Hoarders," about people who live in homes crammed to the ceiling with junk, trash, and 'collectibles.' To its credit, the show tries to get at the root of the problem, which is almost always psychological and typically based on trauma (frequently childhood trauma). For me, that makes the show tragic rather than whimsical.

Nevertheless, until now I've always assumed that 'hoarding' was a modern phenomenon, somehow a decadent manifestation of post-WWII consumer culture in America.

But THIS article in today's New York Daily News, about two brothers who lived for decades as notorious hermits in a Harlem brownstone before WWII amid the clutter of a lifetime, suggests the phenomenon of 'hoarding' is much older, and is perhaps psychological, not cultural, after all. 

Homer and Langley Collyer were found dead in their dilapidated home in 1947, after not having been seen in public for years.  This article has a 21 photo slideshow of what police found when they broke into the home, looking for the men.  There were 5 grand pianos buried under the piles of junk, as well as a stash of pornography and a skeleton.  The men's bodies were also found, after an extensive search.  One brother apparently died when he accidentally triggered one of their own booby traps.  The other, already an invalid reliant on his brother for care, died helpless and unattended soon thereafter.

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