RESEARCH | REALIZATION

RESEARCH: The true history of the notorious hoarding brothers of Harlem, Homer and Langley Collyer

REALIZATION: The characters, set, and story line for ARTBARN’s 2014 production of THIS IS A GHOST HOUSE

Homer and Langley Collyer, the notorious hoarders of New York, lived in a Harlem brownstone where they kept all of their possessions. These brothers were known for their obsessive collection of books, magazines, furniture, instruments, and other items. As Homer’s health deteriorated and both brothers became increasingly paranoid about thieves taking their belongings, Langley began setting up booby traps in doorways and corridors throughout their house. Langley also developed a bit of an obsessive collection of newspapers in hopes of gathering all the stories for Homer. “I am saving newspapers for Homer, so that when he regains his sight he can catch up on the news.” With all of the possessions from both their mother and father, the brothers decided to continue collecting and eventually filled their house with over 140 tons of items.

The conclusion to the story of Homer and Langley is tragic. Homer, who had gone completely blind and whose mobility was severely limited relied on Langley to get him food. One night when Langley went out to get food for them, he was caught in one of his own booby traps where he died. Homer, remained waiting for Langley to return, not knowing that he and his brother were dying amidst all of their belongings in their own home.

Naturally, the members of ARTBARN were fascinated with the brother’s motives behind the decisions to seclude themselves from the outside world. The piece This is a Ghost House, performed summer of 2014, featured Homer and Langley along with a wall full of newspaper clippings in which Langley was collecting and mapping a paper to tell all the stories. The plot followed the decent of their trust for the outside world and the accumulation of stuff along with the imagery of a Minotaur and labyrinth to reveal the fear and paranoia that eventually led to their deaths.