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Famous squalorees

The Collyer brothers and Mr Trebus achieved fame for their squalor. Beethoven was a slob from time to time too, but he was famous for, um, something else.

Langley Collyer

Probably the most famous hoarder of all time, Langley Collyer did not survive his squalor. He lived with his blind and paralyzed brother, Homer, in a three-story mansion in New York, filled from floor to ceiling with newspapers, boxes, barrels, crates, and 10 grand pianos: "They all have such different tonal effects."

On March 21, 1947, New York police received an anonymous tip-off that there was a dead body in the house. Breaking down the front door, they were unable to pass the wall of rubbish. Gaining access through a second floor window, they found the body of Homer. An autopsy established he had not eaten for several days and had died of a heart attack. No one knew where Langley was.

The whole place was a maze of warrens and nests and tunnels. Everything was booby-trapped. The tunnels were full of trip wires that would bring debris showering down on any intruder.

Workers had to cut through the roof and lift out 136 tons of junk, floor by floor: the grand pianos, two organs, and a clavichord; human medical specimens preserved in a glass jars; the chassis of a Model-T Ford; a library of thousands of medical and engineering books; an armory of weapons; gas chandeliers; the folding top of a horse drawn carriage; a rusted bicycle; three dressmaking dummies; a saw horse; a doll carriage; a rusted bed spring; a kerosene stove; a checkerboard; a child's chair; countless old newspapers; pinup girl photos; 6 U.S. flags and one Union Jack; a primitive X-Ray machine; and 34 bank deposit books with the balance totaling $3,007.18.

After 18 days one of the workmen, Artie Matthews, shifted a pile of newspapers, tin boxes and other debris near where Homer had been found and discovered Langley Collyer, dead for weeks.

It appeared that he had been crawling through a tunnel to deliver dinner to his brother when he triggered one of his own booby traps and suffocated. Homer had then starved to death.

What was salvageable from the tons of junk that had been collected sold for less than $2000 at auction. The house, condemned as a health and fire hazard, was razed. Today it is a parking lot.

[Langley Collyer]

Langley Collyer

[Langley Collyer and mess]

Langley with his junk.

[The Collyer residence]

The Collyer mansion.

Ida Mayfield Wood

Mrs. Ida Mayfield Wood lived in seclusion and squalor in the Herald Square Hotel in New York City, from 1907 to 1931. An exceedingly rich woman and former member of New York high society, she had over $750,000 (remember, this was 1931) stashed in odd places such as pots and pans and in a pouch secured to her waist, as well as shoeboxes filled with yellowed securities worth thousands of dollars and, legend has it, a diamond necklace in a cracker box,

She was born Ellen Walsh, the daughter of immigrant factory workers in Massachusetts. In 1839, Ellen left home in the late 1850's and was never heard from by her parents again. She resurfaced in New York under a new name, Ida Mayfield, passing herself off as a southern belle from a wealthy family. She quickly gathered a number of suitors, and eventually married Benjamin Wood, the congressman brother of Mayor Fernando Wood and publisher of the New York Daily News, the highest-circulating daily newspaper in the US.

It must be said that Benjamin was not the ideal husband, having affairs and even fathering a daughter, Emma, by another woman, who he and Ida raised as their own. To atone for his philandering he regularly gave Ida large sums of money. Shrewd woman that she was, she invested in stocks and when in 1899 Benjamin came to her to save him from some bad investments, she was in a position to give him $100,000. In return, she took control of the newspaper, making her one of the first women to serve as publisher of a major metropolitan newspaper.

Benjamin died in 1900, and in 1907 Ida, increasingly reclusive and paranoid, moved into the Herald Square Hotel with Emma, her sister Mary, and one million dollars in cash. The three women lived there in frugal squalor, cooking thrir own meals and rarely venturing outside. Sometime in the late 1920's, Emma and Mary died, leaving Ida alone as she approached her 90's, frail (weighing just 70 pounds) and nearly blind and deaf.

In 1931, Ida's nephew, Otis F. Wood started legal proceedings to have himself declared her guardian, partly on account of her dreadful living conditions. Otis used some of Ida's money to clean up her home and provide medical care.Ida dies 5 months after her "discovery" in 1932, aged 1932. Because her fortune had been publicized by the Boston Globe, news of her death brought hundreds of Mayfields claiming to be direct descendants out of the woodwork. The court hired a law firm to determine Ida's true descendants and settle the estate.

The result was the court finding finding that "Ida Mayfield" was the false identity assumed by Ellen Walsh. Ten direct descendants of Ellen Walsh received $90,00 each, a fortune in the late 1930's.

Mr Trebus

Polish war veteran, Edmund Trebus, who fought an epic battle against Haringey Council in North London to remain in his rubbish-filled house and garden, was filmed for the BBC documentary A Life of Grime. Mr Trebus welcomed the presence of the BBC crew, believing that they offered him a measure of protection. After nearly forty years of hoarding, he was reduced to living in a corner of his kitchen, and using ladders to get in and out of his house. In the end, Mr Trebus stayed in his five-bedroom Victorian villa - filled from floor to ceiling with rat-infested rubbish - but the council succeeded in clearing his garden. It was a job that took over a month, required five large trucks and 11 skips and cost more than £30,000. The widowed Mr Trebus had five children (who seldom visited him,) and was an avid Elvis Presley fan. He died on the 29th September, 2002, aged 83.

As time passed and his children moved out, the collections piled one on top of the other, like sedimentary layers, until each room was full to the ceiling. Trebus would push a small cart around the streets of Crouch End, gathering discarded building materials, which he carefully arranged in the garden, doors in one corner, windows in another. There were washing machines, wood, motorcycles and bicycles. There was even one of musician Dave Stewart's old synthesisers, retrieved from the back of his recording studio. Like all the objects, it came to be forgotten about and covered up over time.Guardian Obituary for Edmund Trebus
[Edmund Trebus]

Edmund Trebus

Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale

Edith Bouvier Beale ("Big Edie") and her daughter Edie ("Little Edie") lived in squalor in a 28-room East Hampton mansion known as "Grey Gardens," which had deteriorated to such a state that in 1971 the Suffolk County Board of Health threatened to evict them for violating building and sanitation codes. This incident made national headlines due to Edith and Edie's pedigree - they were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

In 1976, their living situation became the subject of a documentary by David and Albert Maysles, "Grey Gardens." During the film, which has acquired cult-status, Little Edie laments opportunities lost when she moved from Manhattan back to Grey Gardens in 1952 to care for her mother. The documentary crew reportedly wore flea collars around their ankles while filming.

After Big Edie's death in 1977, Little Edie sold the house and finally moved to New York, then to Montreal and finally to Florida.

Little Edie died alone in her apartment in Bal Harbour, Florida on January 14th, 2002, aged 84. She spent her last years looking after the odd stray, swimming in the Atlantic and "putting together revolutionary costumes every day."

[Little Edie]

"Little Edie" Beale.

Louis Bonard

Louis Bonard was a rich eccentric and a French fur trapper who saw the "error of his ways" on his deathbed in 1871 and left his fortune to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. His generous bequest ensured the survival of the fledgling organisation, but he himself purposely lived in squalor and poor conditions in a tiny, decrepit apartment.

Born in France in 1809, little is known about his early life before he arrived in Anerica in 1951. He left Rouen in 1849, traded in South America and California, then settled in New York City, where he invested in real estate.

His gravestone in in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn has a bronze ASPCA Seal of Mercy, which depicts the angel of mercy hovering over a fallen carriage horse being beaten by its driver, placed there by Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA.

Louis Bonard's family contended that no one in his right mind would give so much money and real estate for the care of animals.

[Louis Bonard's gravestone]

Louis Bonard's gravestone.

Eliza Emily Donnithorne

Eliza Emily Donnithorne may have been the inspiration for the character of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, although no concrete link between the two has ever been proved. Eliza showed an unusual defiance for young ladies of her age by spurning all the men to whom her domineering father attempted to marry her, insisting she would only marry for love. She did fall in love, with a shipping company clerk, George Cuthbertson, and accepted his proposal. The wedding was to be at the Donnithorne fanily home, Camperdown Lodge, in the Sydney, Australia hamlet of Newton

But on the wedding day, George failed to appear. As her father announced that the wedding was postponed, Eliza descended the stairs in her wedding dress, and was horrified to see those guests who hadn't already left beginning to pick at the wedding feast. Eliza screamed at them to leave the feast alone so that it would be perfect when the groom arrived, then fainted and had to be carried to her room. She demanded that the wedding finery be left untouched; her father, fearing for her mental health, acquiesced and the doors to the dining room were locked, leaving the wedding feast to the cockroaches and mice.

Eliza never again left Camperdown Lodge. When she was 26, her father died, and she ordered all the windows to be closed with drapes drawn and shutters nailed shut, dismissed all but two servants (Sarah and Elizabeth Bailey) and abandoned most of the interior to fall to decay in total darkness while she waited patiently for George to return. Discharged servants remembered Eliza wandering the house clad in her wedding dress and allowing the wedding feast to rot on the table. Visiting ministers, who were the few people that the deeply religious Eliza would allow in, described furniture that fell apart at the touch, and swathes of dust and decay.

Unlike the bitter and twisted Miss Havisham, however, Eliza Donnithorne was a gentle soul who "possessed a truly kind heart, the great troubles which darkened her life and wrecked her hopes for happiness could not sour the natural sweetness of her disposition. She was long remembered by the people of Newtown for her many acts of kindness."

[Eliza Donnithorne]

Eliza Donnithorne.

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Quentin Crisp

"Squalor was my natural setting." - from The Naked Civil Servant

Crisp prided himself on the absolute squalor of his single-room homes - the Chelsea bedsit where he lived for 40 years, and the studio near the Bowery that was for 18 years his New York home. He also thought you should never keep up with the Joneses. Instead, drag them down to your level - it's cheaper.

There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn't get any worse. It is simply a matter of not losing one's nerve.Quentin Crisp

Ludwig van Beethoven

As far as Beethoven's music was concerned, he was an exacting perfectionist. He often became so absorbed in his work that everything else in his life fell to squalor.

During those times he tended to spend his time locked in his flat working like a madman. His flat was always a terrible mess, and he often appeared unkempt and sloppy while he was working on a piece.

He had such a keen grasp of music that he could continue to compose it even after he began to lose the ability to hear it. Beethoven never heard some of his greatest pieces outside of his own mind.

Ludwig van Beethoven


Katie Holmes?!

Katie Holmes

Claimed to be "kind of" a slob. Admittedly, this is not much evidence for inclusion on a page of Famous squalorees,.

I'm not the easiest person to live with. I'm kind of a slob. So for me to consider a roommate, it would have to be one of my sisters or something. Katie Holmes, Seventeen magazine, March 1998