Sometimes the symptoms of mental health diseases manifest in quiet ways; occasionally, though, they can turn heads and leave bystanders shocked by the result. People with hoarding tendencies have the potential to do just that, though in the beginning, it can be hard to tell when collecting crosses the line into hoarding -- especially for the person who's doing the actual acquiring.
But for the purposes of this article, we'll focus on hoarding tendencies that have been taken to the extreme. Ready to meet five famous hoarders who have made the headlines due to their outrageous collections? First on the list is a resident who packed her apartment to the brim, all for the sake of her art.
Bettina Grossman lives the life of an artist. A very prolific artist. Yet over the years, she's enjoyed only brief tiptoes into the shadows around the restrictive limelight of the artistic world. So without much exposure, sales of her artwork never exactly took off, but that didn't stop Grossman from continuing to explore all sorts of artistic mediums, creating paintings, sculptures, photographs, films and drawings.
And create she did. For several decades. Eventually, the relics of this reclusive effort started to stack up, until they reached nearly to the ceiling of her 5th floor Chelsea Hotel apartment. Grossman spent large amounts of her time camped out in the front hallway, barely able to squeeze inside the living space. She probably would have remained unknown except to fellow residents had a young filmmaker by the name of Sam Bassett not befriended her and filmed a documentary concerning her life's work. In the film, he helped Grossman organize her massive inventory and brought her art to light. Since then, at least one other filmmaker has also carried her story to the silver screen.
Also known as "Big Edie" to prevent confusion in an extended family that recycled names at a stunning rate, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie") lived for many years in an East Hampton, N.Y., manse known as Grey Gardens. A documentary concerning their unique situation was later made with the same name.
Considered incredibly eccentric and exceedingly reclusive (starting to sense a theme here?), the two women lived amid luxurious squalor, and over the decades, they reportedly harbored some 300 cats all told. Occasionally other animals, such as raccoons, also entered the home after falling through holes in the roof. When sanitation workers eventually gained access to the residence, they found mounds of empty tin cans littering the floor, and fecal matter strewn everywhere. Fiercely protective of their dwindling collection of heirlooms, the mother-daughter pair made national headlines when local officials subsequently struggled to evict them. The reason for this 15 minutes of fame? They were Jackie Kennedy Onassis' aunt and first cousin.
It's hard to say whether the Bouvier Beales were hoarders, or if something else was going on, but let's put it this way: That was an awful lot of cats.
Our next hoarder of note is Alexander Kennedy Miller. Miller was frugal to the point of being miserly during his lifetime, so when it came to his collections, he drove a hard bargain. Upon his wife's death in 1996 (he predeceased her by three years), investigators for the estate found some expected items -- in much larger-than-anticipated quantities -- and some surprises as well.
Miller's fondness for cars and aircrafts was well known; what wasn't well known was just how many he had acquired over the course of his lifetime. He owned about 50 vehicles, many of them Stutzes (an early model luxury car), as well as countless engines, gaskets, shock absorbers, radiator caps and the like. Countless as in the thousands. But what really surprised those tasked with combing over the estate was the discovery of huge caches of money. Miller and his wife had squirreled away about $1 million worth of gold bullion, $60,000 in silver bullion, $700,000 in promissory notes and $200,000 in stocks and shares. This fortune was housed in all sorts of places, including safes and metal cabinets, in some cases buried in the earth.
Edmund Trebus came to the attention of the masses when he was featured on "A Life of Grime," a BBC television series about the day-to-day lives of environmental health workers. Early on, some of Trebus' favorite items to amass included vacuum cleaners, cameras and Elvis albums.
That specialized collecting gradually spiraled out of control over the decades, however, and he took to roaming the streets looking for more items to pick up. Trebus' hoard eventually overwhelmed his house and spilled out into the yard, soon becoming a veritable mountain of possessions of dubious worth. Trebus fiercely defended his items and had several verbal conflicts on camera with local health department workers and police officers when they forcefully tried to clean up the site. He died in 2002.
The extremely reclusive Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley, are perhaps two of the most famous hoarders of all time, but it took their deaths in 1947 to really shoot them into the spotlight. Langley, the younger of the two brothers, looked after his eventually blind and paralyzed sibling, while roaming town at night to collect more items. To protect the approximate 100 tons of stuff piled high in the brothers' Manhattan brownstone, Langley would set booby traps.
Langley was killed when he accidentally triggered one of these traps, but when the smell finally caused overwhelmed neighbors to call the police, it was Homer whose body was found first. He had starved to death much too recently to make such an odor, so the search for Langley was still on. It would be weeks before he was found -- after a citywide search -- just 10 feet from his deceased sibling, unearthed from the debris he had spent so many years diligently amassing.
HowStuffWorks looks at the concept of digital hoarding and how it compares with other forms of hoarding.
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