One's Treasure is Another's Trash, Part I

Miss Havisham and Pip in the dining room at Satis House;
David Lean's interpretation of Great Expectations (1946)

Lately, a lot of fuss is being made over down-about-the-heels interiors. And the disposophobic inhabitants of said, sad places. Folks seemingly entombed in aspic hors d'œuvre made of equal parts atrophied emotion, exquisite antiques, and household garbage. Fabulous, filthy rooms and their creators -- say, in the spirit of Dickens' Miss Havisham at Satis House -- are these days very of-the-moment, for some strange reason. What comes to mind is, of course, the recently retold story of a grotesque shingle-style beach cottage, Grey Gardens, out on Long Island, and its psychologically and socially corrupted residents. Voyeurism of these Baroque interiors has trickled down to the masses with Help! I'm a Hoarder on The Learning Channel. And the -- maybe -- more high falutin' version: Japanese conceptual artist Song Dong's MOMA installation Waste Not, created from his mother's hoarding.

Grey Gardens, 1979

The sun room at Grey Gardens

Brothers Homer and Langley Collyer were the hermit hoarders of Harlem, bachelor brothers barricaded in a townhouse at 2078 Fifth Avenue. For nearly two decades. This is the Greek love version of Grey Gardens' mother-daughter Beales. In 1932, The New York Times printed gossip of the brother's as living in "Orientalist splendor" and of the piles of cash reputedly stashed inside. Rumors fueled by Homer and Langley's snobbish demeanor, as descendants of a family that prided its association with the Godspeed. (A ship arrived on these shores shortly after the Mayflower, and reputedly had a more exclusive passenger list.) Homer and Langley were usually seen at night, carting home street trash in antiquated clothing. Eccentric behaviors, fersure.

(Admittedly, I am also known for working the sidewalk after-hours, wearing, say, a 19th century petit point waistcoat and tight-fitting corduroy knickerbockers, with a trash-scavenged naïve painting or a Windsor chair balanced atop my head.)

Anyways, both men were found dead in 1947, surrounded by over one hundred tons of rubbish, including: countless bundles of newspapers and magazines stacked literally floor-to-ceiling, guns, bowling balls, a horse-drawn carriage, a Model T chassis, plaster busts, rusty bed springs, eight live cats, 25,000 books, tapestries, fourteen pianos, two organs, as well as human organs pickled in jars. Today, these astonishing tabloid photographs of Collyer style deserve to be re-interpreted from an aesthetic point of view.

1947 Spring Cleaning at the Collyer Mansion, 2078 Fifth Avenue, Harlem, New York

New York City firefighters still refer to an emergency call to a junk-jammed apartment as a''Collyer.''

The odor was likened by one reporter as
"...a punch to the face by a chain-mail fist".

"The morning papers seem to be piling up awful high
in the breakfast room", said Homer to Langley.

A typical, high-style New York interior at the turn of the last century, from the vantage point of a fly on the wall.

The deathly quiet music room,
and a portrait of Mr. Collyer, Sr.