Hoarding has been around much longer than you think
Some of you may have read our recent post about hoarding versus collecting
in which we attempted to unravel the difference between the two. Since discovering people’s love for their collections we were intrigued to discover more about famous hoarders since many psychologists note that there are crossovers between the two.
One could argue that growing consumerism has encouraged hoarding tendencies among a larger proportion of people, hence the constant ‘declutter your life’ lifestyle tips seen in magazines today. However hoarding has been around for a long time and a few cases have gone down in history as some of the worst exhibits of obsessive tendencies ever discovered.
1. Homer and Langley Collyer, USA
The Collyer brothers, members of Manhattan’s elite back in the late 1800s to early 1900s, were well documented hoarders. After their parents’ death in the 1920s the brothers started to withdraw from society, only leaving one family home in Manhattan to go and stay at another in Harlem.
In 1947 a neighbour of the Collyer’s Harlem residence called police, complaining that he could smell a vile odour emanating from the house. Inside, Homer (who was blind and crippled for most of his life) was found dead, surrounded by pile upon pile of newspapers and junk.
The second brother, Langley, was nowhere to be found but as the house clearance was under way (workers managed to clear 180 tonnes worth of junk from the house) his body was discovered under a huge stack of newspapers. He too had been dead for weeks and was believed to have been crushed to death when the papers fell on top of him.
Unfortunately Langley’s death spelled the end for Homer who relied on his brother to care for him; the autopsy revealed that he had died of starvation.
2. Edmund Trebus, UK
For those of you who were addicted to the BBC reality series A Life of Grime
you’ll certainly remember the 1999 episode that featured Edmund Trebus. He quickly became a much loved reality TV personality, known best for his short temper and stubbornness.
Trebus filled his five-bedroom home in north London with bags of what many of us would consider rubbish. He took items out of his neighbour’s bins, collected home grown vegetables in bags (which were brought inside and left to rot), brought home For Sale signs and even had a mortuary table.
His hoarding habits were discovered when neighbours complained of a terrible smell and cluttered garden. Access to his home was so bad, Trebus had to use a ladder to get in and out of the property!
3. Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale
Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale (known as ‘Little Edie’ to minimise confusion) became high profile hoarders when their living conditions were discovered. Why were they discovered? Well because they were related to Jackie Onassis, the wife of John F. Kennedy (the 35th
President of the United States).
The two women lived in a huge 28 room mansion known as Grey Gardens
in East Hampton, New York, of which they only used three rooms. Every other room in the house was occupied by cats (300 were found in the property), empty tin cans, racoons, possums and faecal matter.
Jackie Onassis found out about her relatives living habits and paid $32,000 to have the house cleaned up, repaired and made liveable again.
When film makers Albert and David Maysles began shooting a documentary about the house and its tenants in 1973, the entire house was still so badly infested with fleas that the crew had to wear flea prevention collars to minimise the number of bites.
4. Alexander Kennedy Miller
Alexander Kennedy Miller owned many ‘collections’ all of which were left undiscovered prior to his death in 1999. During his life he and his wife were extremely frugal, barely spending any money at all, however he was known to spend money on cars and car components – something he was passionate about.
When his property was investigated after his death it was revealed that he owned 50 Stutzes (vintage luxury cars), countless engines and thousands upon thousands of spare parts. The most surprising find of all however was huge sums of money, stashed all over the estate.
Investigators found $1 million worth of gold bullion, $60,000 in silver, notes from people who owed them money to the grand total of $700,000 and $200,000 in stocks and shares.
5. Ida Mayfield Wood
Ida Mayfield Wood was another socialite of New York, inhabiting the city during the same era as the Collyer brothers. She was from a poor Irish immigrant family but managed to lie her way into a marriage with Benjamin Wood, a rich businessman and politician, by telling him that she was born into a rich family in New Orleans.
Benjamin was notoriously bad with his money, gambling most of it away, but Ida made sure he gave her half of everything he won (and paid for any losses himself) which she squirreled away. When her husband passed away in 1900, Ida and her sister Mary lived together until they eventually moved into a hotel room in 1907 which they shared for 24 years before Mary’s death.
Hotel staff had not seen the inside of the room since it was occupied by the sisters and when Mary passed away they were finally granted access by Ida. They were greeted by years’ worth of newspapers, boxes, trunks and stacks of old wrapping paper. The sisters’ bills had always been paid in cash and they ate the same meal every day brought to them by the same bellhop; evaporated milk, crackers, coffee, eggs, bacon and occasionally fish (which they ate raw).
Later in 1931, Ida was declared incapable of looking after herself and was removed from the room, allowing hotel staff and family members to clear the room. They discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, exquisite gowns and jewels and a letter from Charles Dickens to her late husband.
Do you know any interesting historical hoarders not listed here? We’d love to find out more so please drop us a comment below!