I received an email from Rob in Danvers Mass. who wanted to know if I had ever heard of a term called "Collier mansion condition," and if I found any information on it could I please forward it to him. This gentleman had found two references concerning this, but after reviewing information I could not determine what it meant.
The first reference I came across was that a firefighter from the FDNY had crawled through a "colliers mansion condition" to rescue two occupants and for this was rewarded one of the medals given out during an FDNY medal day presentation. I started to search for fire conditions or smoke conditions such as chimney, stack or wind effect. I sent out emails to everyone hoping for a lead. One of my associates responded that it was a "FDNY" term for a cluttered residence. My next move was to call the FDNY public education unit. I talked to a Captain who was on duty. He confirmed that it meant a residence that was cluttered by a collector or "pack rat." The official name for the condition is "Collyers mansion syndrome," but for now we will learn were the term came from, so here is the story of the Collyer brothers.
Dr. Herman L. Collyer and his wife the former Susie Gage Frost bore two male children in the years 1881 (Homer Lusk Collyer) and 1885 (Langley Collyer). The Collyer family resided in a section of New York City called Murray Hill. The Collyer family was descendants of a long line of aristocrats who had come to the new world onboard a ship named the "Speedwell". Langley Collyer would later state to a reporter that the Speedwell had a more prestigious passenger list than the Mayflower did. The Collyer family had deep roots in New York. Many of the relatives resided in or around the Hudson valley area for nearly 300 years.
In the year 1909, Dr. Collyer decided to move the family into a 4-story Brownstone mansion located at 2078 5th Ave. at 128 St. in Harlem. At the time Homer was 27, and Langley was 23 years of age and both were still living at home. The borough of Harlem at the time of the 1800's was considered to be both exclusive and fashionable due to a speculative development boom that had occurred. To the borough of Harlem this brought wealth and luxury. Harlem had been known for its lavish apartment buildings, museums, and institutions of culture and the neighborhood was prosperous.
Dr. Collyer was an eminent, well-known and wealthy Manhattan gynecologist at Bellevue Hospital in 1909. After the move to Harlem Dr. Collyer separated from his wife and two children. It is about this time that the brothers would begin to shut their lives off to the outside world. But Susie Collyer would continue to raise her children to be gentlemen and scholars. Susie Collyer was well educated and would read the classics of literature to her children in Greek. Both Langley and Homer would attend the prestigious Columbia University in New York City. Homer attended law school and after passing the New York City BAR exam would pursue admiralty law.
Homer who had graduated in 1904 earned an MA, LLB, and LLM. This type of law deals mainly with marine law, the law of marine insurance and the law of the sea, ships, shipping, fisheries and offshore oil and gas. Langley studied chemistry and mechanical engineering, but during this time he also developed a talent for playing the piano. Instead of gaining employment, Langley would devote his life instead to music.
Dr. Collyer Passed away in the year 1923. The doctor had amassed a collection of books, medical equipment and residential furniture in his home. Upon his death all of these belongings were moved to home on Fifth Avenue. This home would now have the belongings of two homes within one.
African-Americans in large numbers started to move into Harlem in the year 1911. Harlem was known as an upper-class predominately white suburb but by 1925 it would become an African-American community. While the whites who lived in Harlem moved out due to the influx of African-Americans the Collyer's decided to stay.