This chapter explores the role that Collyer Brothers syndrome played in hoarding’s historical formation. This cultural history of Homer Collyer and Langley Collyer surveys sensational reports regarding two of the most famous hoarders in modern America. It argues that representations of the Collyers facilitated a cultural shift in hoarding as a curious abnormality. Descriptions of these two eccentrics in newspaper articles after their deaths in 1947 treated their disorderly mansion in Harlem and their belongings as a freak show. Magazines and novels supported this image of these men as pathological hoarders, and they influenced the concept of hoarding as a form of chronic disorganization. Exploring how these early accounts of hoarding also connected to depictions of Harlem and its residents, the chapter finds that reports on individuals treated as insane hoarders were influenced by social anxieties over urban social disorder.
Keywords: hoarding, mental illness, Homer Collyer, Langley Collyer, disorganization, freak show, eccentrics, Harlem