July 5, 2006

"Habitrail house," "packer house," "multiple waiting to happen," "Collyers' Mansion."

A few different terms for houses like the one where "Homer and Langley Collyer were found dead in 1947 amid more than 100 tons of stockpiled possessions, including stacks of phone books, newspapers, tin cans, clocks and a fake two-headed baby in formaldehyde."
Thomas Von Essen, a former New York City fire commissioner, said that the term communicated crucial information to new firefighters. "What's dangerous is that all this stuff could fall down," he said. "Or it could weaken the floors, and when you put water on it you could have a collapse. You could fall into it and then you have a hard time getting out. You could get caught behind it; your mask could get tangled. I could guarantee you that people have gotten hurt in those kinds of situations."
Makes me think about this pretty cool movie. There are various other fiction and nonfiction stories on this subject. Can you remember some?


Dave said...

Can't remember any movies or stories about that, but I do know that when I asked a retired firefighter was his biggest fear was whne going into a burning apartment, it wasn't "drug dealers" or "weapons" or anything that one would think.

It was pack rats.

For good reason, I would imagine.

jeff said...

I had a friend in New Jersey who's house was like this. I sincerely hope that since they've moved and her father (who I think was largely responsible for it) has died, that they are no longer living in such conditions.

Hoarder's Son said...

I don't have any movies to suggest, but if I were to make one, it would most likely be a horror film.

These types of homes are typically the result of a mental disorder called "Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding Disorder."

A recent estimate from a leading academic researcher placed the number of such hoarders at approximately two million in the USA. It is only in the last few years that serious academic research in the area has gained traction. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for OCHD yet.

The consequences can be devastating for the hoarder and for the hoarder's family, particularly children who grow up in such an environment.

While it is common to pass it off as an eccentricity or to laugh about a pack rat, it is a serious public health problem.

For more information, please take a look at:

1) Obsessive Compulsive Foundation -- Hoarding Website
2) Children of Hoarders Website
3) A good USA Today article
4) A good Discover magazine article.
5) A snapshot of the kitchen in the house in which I grew up.

PatCA said...

I just saw The Realm of the Unreal yesterday, a documentary about Henry Darger, a schizophrenic (probably) who left behind such a collection. In this case, though, he left behind some interesting/creepy art as he turned out to be a very talented artist as well.


paul a'barge said...

!Chick Flic!

Henry said...

Backdraft II: The Habitrail

A Ron Howard Film. To be released directly to video.

Bad Penny said...

IIRC, in Dylan Thomas's Adventures in the Skin Trade theres a house that is chockerblock to the ceiling with furniture. Tables stacked on tables, many sofas on end, and a narrow path weaving amongst the pack-rattery.

Troy said...

Didn't the Mel Gibson character in the movie Conspiracy Theory have this disorder?

Robert said...

All I had to see was the note "Director (Directrix?) Diane Keaton" and I knew enough to run as fast as possible the other way.

Judith said...

Drudge linked to some news item about a man who hoarded cats. He had 60 cats in his house, the place was covered in feces, some of the cats were dead or sick, the firemen they sent to extract him and close the building had to wear contamination suits. I think they demolished the building because it was impossible to clean it up.

Simon Kenton said...

"Strong Poison," by Dorothy Sayers, has a seance set in a house crammed with gifts to a once-scandalous actress, now reduced to a comatose old woman. The house of one who always took, and never gave.

Steve Barton said...

In case you didn't see, the NYT has posted a correction to their original story on "Collyers' Mansion(s)" -- turns out the two-headed baby in formaldehyde was real!