Here is what I found out about the real lives of the Collyer brothers: Homer and Langley Collyer grew up in a privileged New York City brownstone, not really needing much in the way of professions. The Collyers were a part of New York society until both of their parents died in the 1920s. Langley Collyer went off to the Great War, and returned a changed, and somewhat broken, man. Homer Collyer slowly went blind and became more and more dependent on his brother. The two brothers became recluses, seldom leaving their brownstone, which eventually became shuttered and boarded up, cutting themselves off from the outside world. Homer and Langley Collyer were a mystery until March 21, 1947, when police entered the house on the tip of a possible dead body. It took two hours and seven men to reach the body of Homer Collyer. On April 8th, eighteen days later, Langley's body was found just 10 feet from where Homer's body had been found. It took a team of men to gain access to the bodies of the brothers, because of a mountain of, well, stuff blocking every step they took.
What happened to Homer and Langley Collyer between their social years of the 1920s and their death in 1947 is a mystery. E.L. Doctorow explores the possible hows and whys of what came to be of these two strange, possibly mad, brothers, in Homer & Langley: A Novel
I absolutely loved this book. I think I am completely enamored by the idea of taking a real-life mystery and constructing answers to the multitude of questions that surround it. In the book, it is Langley, the older brother, who begins obsessively collecting things -- beginning with newspapers and pianos, and branching out into anything and everything from art and figurines, to typewriters and bicycles. There are reasons for every single object being in that house -- even the Model T Ford in the Dining Room. Langley, I believe, uses Homer's blindness as an excuse to feed his own obsessions, but in the book, it becomes Langley's obsessions that essentially causes the two brothers to cut themselves off from the world. Only occasionally do we get an idea of their ages, or passing time, by the few people that come in and out of their lives. A newspaper article displays the picture of a girl they once knew turned into a middle-aged woman. A well-known mobster gets arrested, and then shows up at their front door shot. They once host society-type dances, playing big band music, but then we find them serving as host to a bunch of Hippies.
The dialogue is witty and fast paced, and the household completely bizarre.
Below is a picture of the actual house where Homer and Langley Collyer' were found. It may give you an idea of its state...and E.L. Doctorow brilliantly takes us on the journey of how these two brothers and this house became to be so completely and utterly mad.