7 Famous Hoarders

iStock / kali9
iStock / kali9

Do you have trouble throwing stuff out? Afraid to let go of that old remote control for the broken TV you've got stored away in the basement just in case you might need it someday? You might be suffering from disposophobia, sometimes called pathological hoarding. Of course, there's a big difference between needing to exorcize your clutter and hoarding, pack rat-style. Disposophobia is a serious form of OCD, and one not to be taken lightly, as the following seven people prove.

1. & 2. Homer and Langley Collyer

The Collyer brothers have been the subjects of movies, plays and a recent novel by E.L. Doctorow. With American roots tracing back to the days of the Mayflower, Homer and Langley Collyer were well-off members of Manhattan's elite. After their parents' death in the 1920s, the brothers withdrew from society and divided their time between their family's Manhattan and Harlem brownstones. Appropriately enough, thanks to Homer (who was also crippled and blind) and his brother Langley, disposophobia is also sometimes referred to as 'Collyer brothers syndrome.'

Why? Because as the brothers became more and more reclusive, rumors began circulating that the houses were filled with riches and the brothers set booby traps to protect their valuables. Then, in 1947, a neighbor called police complaining of a pungent odor. Inside the Harlem brownstone police found Homer Collyer dead. His corpse was amid tons of junk, including an early X-ray machine, the jawbone of a horse and bundles upon bundles of old newspapers.

His brother Langley was nowhere to be found, and a nationwide manhunt was conducted. Weeks later, when half the brownstone had been cleared of 180 tons of junk, a worker discovered Langley's decomposed corpse buried beneath a stack newspapers. He had been dead for weeks and rats had eaten most of his body. It was ultimately determined that Homer died of starvation when Langley, who fed his crippled, blind brother, was crushed to death under—what else?—a bunch of junk.

3. & 4. The women of Grey Gardens

In the early 1970s, two women related to Jackie Onassis were the subjects of the critically acclaimed documentary, Grey Gardens, about eccentric behavior. The women, Edith Bouvier Beale and her mother, Edith Ewing Bouvier, were former New York socialites who spent their days holed up in a decrepit East Hampton mansion.

When the Suffolk County Board of Health raided their house, they found piles of garbage amid human and animal waste. It was said that only three of the mansion's 28 rooms were used, while the others were occupied by hundreds of cats, possums and raccoons.

When word of the deplorable conditions got to Jackie-O, she and her then-husband Aristotle Onassis paid $32,000 to clean the house, install a new furnace and plumbing system, and cart away 1,000 bags of garbage. When Grey Gardens filmmakers Albert and David Maysles began to shoot there in 1973, the mansion was so infested with fleas that they had to wear flea collars around their ankles.

5. Edmund Trebus

TV viewers all over the UK knew compulsive hoarder Edmund Trebus for his eccentric habits and snarky English temper. Featured on the 1999 television documentary A Life of Grime, Trebus would often tell friends and neighbors to "stick it up your chuffer!" especially when they complained about the odor emanating from his house. The majority of his household junk was acquired from his neighbors' trash, and Trebus went to great lengths to collect any material related to his favorite musician, Elvis Presley. He had an expansive Elvis collection that included most of the King's original records. But it was the flotsam and jetsam that took up most of his five-bedroom Victorian villa at Crouch End in north London: window frames, motorbikes, scaffolding poles, tree-trunks, For Sale signs (complete with posts), fridge-freezers, even a mortuary table.

The smell his neighbors complained about was a result of the bags of rotting vegetables (mostly grown in his own garden!) piled from floor to ceiling in every room. At the time of his death, Trebus's North London home was so stuffed with junk that he was living in a small area on the floor.

6. Ida Mayfield Wood

In the late 19th century, all of New York's high society knew Ida Mayfield. Her charm and beauty attracted many suitors and Ida eventually married Benjamin Wood, publisher of the New York Daily News. But the couple's marriage was an unhappy one and Benjamin fathered a child by another woman.

To make up for his womanizing, Benjamin would give his wife large sums of money to deposit into her own savings account. By the time of Benjamin's death in 1900, Ida was a very wealthy and powerful woman. The influential pages of the New York Daily News were now under her control. But after the financial panic of 1907, Ida grew increasingly paranoid about her finances and withdrew from society.

She lived in squalor in a couple of rooms at New York's Herald Square Hotel and never went outside. By the time of her death in 1932, Ida had hoarded nearly $1 million in cash, stuffed in pots and pans inside the hotel room. Among other valuables found inside were a diamond necklace hidden in a Cracker Jack box. Ida was even found to have $10,000 in cash sealed around her waist.

7. Bettina Grossman

New York's famed Chelsea Hotel, the place everyone from Mark Twain to Janis Joplin once called home, was also home to an unknown artist by the name of Bettina Grossman. Bettina had been living in the Chelsea as one of its artists-in-residence for 30 years and had amassed an entire lifetime of artwork. The fruits of Bettina's labor lay stashed away in hundreds of boxes inside her tiny two-room apartment.

When filmmaker Sam Bassett, another artist-in-residence at the Chelsea, discovered Ms. Grossman, she was literally sleeping on a deck chair in the hallway. Bassett became inspired by Bettina's artwork and eventually convinced her to display her various collages and mixed media portraits. He even helped her build shelves to organize it all. Bettina agreed, and Bassett's 2007 documentary, Bettina, chronicles the eccentric artist's long road to personal recovery.

Last year, Ms. Grossman fell and broke her hip, and is now living a Brooklyn nursing home. Still, her artwork is never far behind. She's brought a few boxes of her work with her to the home.

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.