Franz Lidz looks at the timeless story of the Collyer Brothers for the Times' City section. Two educated brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer, lived in Harlem at the beginning of the 1900s and soon their house would have 180 tons of garbage, much of it newspapers, in it. The main impetus to save was when Homer went blind, and Langley, while taking care of him (like feeding him oranges for his sight), saved newspapers for him, adding to a collection that included 10 pianos, a disassembled car (or two) and a dozen gas chandeliers among other things. Unfortunately Langley died when he sprung on of his homemade burglar traps, becoming buried beneath mounds of newspapers, and Homer died from starvation. Police found Homer's body, but did not find Langley's rat-gnawed body until weeks later within the debris, after searching the city for him.
The Collyer Brothers were a favorite true urban legend for young Franz: "To my 7-year-old ears, the cruel twist was deliciously gruesome: Homer and Langley had been killed by the very bulwarks they had raised to keep the world out of their lives. Now Lidz has written about them, in Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders, An Urban Historical (the brothers were called 'ghosty men' by their neighbors as their reclusive habits emerged). Lidz also connects the story to his own Uncle Arthur, a pack ratl; but Uncle Arthur says "My junk is like a friend, another person, another cat." In that case, Gothamist has many, many friends.
A version of Lidz's Uncle Arthur can be seen in Unstrung Heroes, a 1995 Diane-Keaton-directed film starring John Turturro, Andie MacDowell, and Michael Richards, based on Lidz's memoirs. If you're in Philadelphia, Franz Lidz is reading from Ghosty Men tonight.