The Sad Case of the Collyer Brothers
The following is an excerpt from John MacArthur's 1991 book Our Sufficiency in Christ.
Homer and Langley Collyer were sons of a respected New York doctor. Both had earned college degrees. In fact, Homer had studied at Columbia University to become an attorney. When old Dr. Collyer died in the early part of this century, his sons inherited the family home and estate. The two menboth bachelorswere now financially secure.
Langley Collyer in happier times
But the Collyer brothers chose a peculiar lifestyle not at all consistent with the material status their
inheritance gave them. They lived in almost total seclusion. They boarded up the windows of their house and padlocked the doors. All their utilitiesincluding waterwere shut off. No one was ever seen coming or going from the house. From the outside it appeared empty.
Inside the Collyer mansion
Though the Collyer family had been quite prominent, almost no one in New York society remembered Homer and Langley Collyer by the time World War II ended.
On March 21, 1947, police received an anonymous telephone tip that a man had died inside the boarded-up house. Unable to force their way in through the front door, they entered the house through a second-story window. Inside they found Homer Collyer's corpse on a bed. He had died clutching the February 22, 1920 issue of the Jewish Morning Journal, though he had been totally blind for years. This macabre scene was set against an equally grotesque backdrop.
Langley ponders life as a recluse
It seems the brothers were collectors. They collected everythingespecially junk. Their house was crammed full of broken machinery, auto parts, boxes, appliances, folding chairs, musical instruments, rags, assorted odds and ends, and bundles of old newspapers. Virtually all of it was worthless. An enormous mountain of debris blocked the front door; investigators were forced to continue using the upstairs window for weeks while excavators worked to clear a path to the door.
The body of Homer Collyer is removed through the second-floor window
Nearly three weeks later, as workmen were still hauling heaps of refuse away, someone made a grisly discovery. Langley Collyer's body was buried beneath a pile of rubbish some six feet away from where Homer had died. He had been crushed to death in a crude booby trap he had built to protect his precious collection from intruders.
The garbage eventually removed from the Collyer house totaled more than 140 tons. No one ever learned why the brothers were stockpiling their pathetic treasure, except an old friend of the family recalled that Langley once said he was saving newspapers so Homer could catch up on his reading if he ever regained his sight.
Workmen haul away the stash
Homer and Langley Collyer make a sad but fitting parable of the way many people in the church live. Although the Collyers' inheritance was sufficient for all their needs, they lived their lives in unnecessary, self-imposed deprivation. Neglecting abundant resources that were rightfully theirs to enjoy, Homer and Langley instead turned their home into a squalid dump. Spurning their father's sumptuous legacy, they binged instead on the scraps of the world.
Too many Christians live their spiritual lives that way. Disregarding the bountiful riches of an inheritance that cannot be defiled (1 Pet. 1:4), they scour the wreckage of worldly wisdom, collecting litter. As if the riches of God's grace (Eph. 1:7) were not enough, as if "everything pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3) were not sufficient, they try to supplement the resources that are theirs in Christ. They spend their lives pointlessly accumulating sensational experiences, novel teachings, clever gurus, or whatever else they can find to add to their hoard of spiritual experiences. Practically all of it is utterly worthless. Yet some people pack themselves so full of these diversions that they can't find the door to the truth that would set them free. They forfeit treasure for trash.
More on the Collyer boys:
- "But where was Langley?" from Useless Information
- "The Hermits of Harlem," by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace
- "Collyer brothers," from Answers.com
- "Extreme Phobias: The Collyer Brothers," from Hypnotic WWWorld