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Darryl Kelly was hired to clean out Harry Shunk's NYC apartment.
July 26, 2013 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Darryl Kelly was hired to clean out Harry Shunk's New York City apartment. Things worked out well for Kelly.
posted by R. Mutt (50 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
oh wow. Great story.

His wife, Danette Kelly, wearing a new brown dress and a fur coat, cried after the auction, saying she could finally go on a honeymoon. The couple have been together for 35 years, 30 of them in the same apartment on Fordham Road.

“My promise to Harry is to get him a tombstone,” Mr. Kelly said.


Ugh, something in my eye brb.
posted by sweetkid at 1:36 PM on July 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


How awesome! Hope they have a fantastic retirement together!
posted by zarq at 1:39 PM on July 26, 2013


Wow, the video says it took six days to clean the apartment. He only took a few boxes. I wonder what else was in there.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is hopefully not going to be story about how they spent in all in a year...
posted by Napierzaza at 1:52 PM on July 26, 2013


The Harry Shunk Archive
posted by R. Mutt at 1:57 PM on July 26, 2013


retirement? I hope they have the most super awesome fantastic 35-years in coming HONEYMOON. they never had a honeymoon and thats a thing that brought tears to Mr Kelly's wife's eyes. awwww....
posted by supermedusa at 2:10 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good for you, Mr. Kelly.
posted by evilDoug at 2:15 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Too bad Shunk didn't get the help he needed in life and that his items didn't actually go to people he loved and cared about.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:33 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, cjorg...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:34 PM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I have nothing against Kelly. I just find mental illness in general sad and hoarding in particular to be terrible. To amass a life that amounts to people digging through your dumpster and selling your things off at auction. It's tragic.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:43 PM on July 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


Why isn't that considered theft from the estate? Are one's possessions really up in a free-for-all if they aren't explicitly willed? Shouldn't the government (ie. public trust) get first dibs in that case?
posted by five fresh fish at 2:44 PM on July 26, 2013


My guess is that "people he loved and cared about" were rather thin on the ground in Shunk's life, considering that it's Kelly who wants to see to it that Shunk gets a tombstone. Many people don't have family or friends who care - it happens, especially with older recluses.

More power to Kelly if he and his wife can get a nice life (or at least a sweet honeymoon) out of the proceeds. I'd rather see someone like Kelly get goodies out of the estate than have some long-lost relative swoop in and say "But faaaaaaaamily!"
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:51 PM on July 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


> Are one's possessions really up in a free-for-all if they aren't explicitly willed?

If they haven't been catalogued and there are no creditors demanding compensation or heirs demanding assets, yeah, it's more or less a free-for-all. If Kelly didn't take it, it would have gone in the trashbin, as implied in the article.
posted by ardgedee at 2:52 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


He may had had a mortgage. The bank may have seized his assets and put them against his debt. He may has had no will or living relatives. There is for sure a bigger story there. Kelly took things only because he saw others doing so. He had no understanding of the value of the items. Again, more power to him, but I still find this story to be incredibly sad. People dug though Shunk's possessions and either discarded them or saved them (or sold them). If you think this is a happy story imagine the kind of life you would have to live for this to be possible. Imagine someone doing this to your grandmother, but no one is there to stop them, because there is no one.

My guess is that "people he loved and cared about" were rather thin on the ground in Shunk's life....

That was sort of my point. A life in such isolation that he has no one that cares what happens to him until the man who takes his stuff comes along.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:53 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why isn't that considered theft from the estate? Are one's possessions really up in a free-for-all if they aren't explicitly willed? Shouldn't the government (ie. public trust) get first dibs in that case?

The government actually did get first dibs, but the "non-valuable" leftovers Kelly ended up with were still worth six figures. From an earlier NYT article:

Mr. Shunk died without a will or known relatives, so the Manhattan public administrator took control of his estate. For about a week, a team of investigators removed whatever it deemed valuable. Two years later, at auction, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation acquired the bulk of Mr. Shunk’s archive, about 200,000 photographs and other items, valued at $2 million.

Mr. Russas called Mr. Kelly to haul off the rest.

posted by bassooner at 3:12 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you get paid money to clean up, it is generally implied that you can keep any of the "trash" if it fancies you. Standard deal really. Someone decided all that stuff should go to the dump, luckilly Kelly knew better.
posted by idiopath at 3:14 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh. Don't seem to have much in the way of investigators... Warhol and Lichtenstein are not exactly obsure names.
posted by tavella at 3:20 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


My guess is that the 1960's/1970's Pop Art was near the bottom of the hoard, where the investigators never looked.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:28 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with cjorgensen; no ill will towards the Kellys but from Shunk's perspective this is a scene straight out of Dickens. The scene where the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come shows Scrooge a vision of his neglected, untended grave and the house servants rifling through his bedroom possessions looking for items valuable enough to fence.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:44 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Imagine someone doing this to your grandmother, but no one is there to stop them, because there is no one.

Actually, this is not too hard to imagine in my misanthropic family. Maybe I'm not old enough yet (40s), but it doesn't seem terribly heartbreaking to me.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:53 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have little money, but would like to imagine some people would care when I go and find homes for the things I valued. I am guessing had I millions of dollars worth of stuff...maybe this is what added to his isolation.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:11 PM on July 26, 2013


That's also a wonderful photograph heading the article.
posted by hwestiii at 4:42 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Someone decided all that stuff should go to the dump, luckilly Kelly knew better.

Well, he knew that other people might be on to something when he saw them dumpster diving. If he had really known better, he would have taken more. You have to cringe at the thought of what actually did reach the dump.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:45 PM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]



When you get paid money to clean up, it is generally implied that you can keep any of the "trash" if it fancies you.

In Soviet Russia, trash fancies YOU!
posted by etherist at 5:13 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that was part of why this stuck me as sad as well. Kelly had no idea what he'd gotten. He only grabbed it because of mob mentality. Other people are grabbing this shit! I should too! Shunk didn't even merit a proper dissolution of his estate. He'd gotten so bad that they had to haul his shit out a window. He's a reality TV episode in the flesh and no one is helping.

I think it's sad what items are probably gone forever.

This is my last comment in this thread. I am removing it from recent activity. If you really want to take me to task for the idea that I find Shunk a tragic figure, take it to my memail.

Again, I have no problem, nor have I ever said so, with Kelly. He should be praised for seizing an opportunity to make some cash.

I just don't see this as the feel good story of the decade.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:13 PM on July 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


As someone who has been recently getting help in dealing with my unmanageability in the area of my collection, and have been trying to regularly spend time sorting through my papers and zines and donating them to various archives, this sort of story is a helpful reminder of what will happen if I don't continue with that.

I certainly know other people who have had issues with not having organized collections, including one guy who has been a long-time community photographer and has thousands of negatives but no organization system.
posted by larrybob at 5:22 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'll totally be the cynical dick/curmudgeon here if cjorgensen does not want to. Although I understand the desire to splurge and buy some luxury items if you stumble upon a windfall, when among the first things you read about someones junkpile find and the money it sold for is a wife in a new fur coat.. I don't see it having a happy ending. It's not even a huge amount of money, and especially considering the nature of it will be taxed in the extreme. They are probably looking at being able to keep $100k if they are lucky.

Good for them, a fortuitous moment that will afford them.. 6-10 months or so? Unless they just don't pay the tax, that should give them another 6 months or so. Followed by 18 months in prison.
posted by mediocre at 6:08 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mr. Kelly also completed a sale of 1,701 items to the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, for a sum sealed by agreement, but which Mr. Kelly described as “six figures.”
posted by R. Mutt at 6:47 PM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


mediocre: "Yeah, I'll totally be the cynical dick/curmudgeon here if cjorgensen does not want to. Although I understand the desire to splurge and buy some luxury items if you stumble upon a windfall, when among the first things you read about someones junkpile find and the money it sold for is a wife in a new fur coat.. I don't see it having a happy ending. It's not even a huge amount of money, and especially considering the nature of it will be taxed in the extreme. They are probably looking at being able to keep $100k if they are lucky.

Good for them, a fortuitous moment that will afford them.. 6-10 months or so? Unless they just don't pay the tax, that should give them another 6 months or so. Followed by 18 months in prison.
"

This is really gross, and anti-black as fuck.
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:59 PM on July 26, 2013 [10 favorites]


Reading it as racism says much more about you than I. When I read the article, images didn't even load on the lame tablet 'twas using.
posted by mediocre at 8:06 PM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is really gross, and anti-black as fuck.
I'd like to know why.

I also found it disturbing that a windfall was spent on one item of clothing (that is depreciating as we speak - furs are not a great investment vehicle) and a vacation that will soon be taken and in the past (yes, memories are priceless but...) with taxes still to come. They could end up being in the red from the whole sequence of events depending on how much the coat could be sold for.

I agree with mediocre's comment, and that was reading the article text only because no photos came up on my phone and couldn't view the vid. So it took your comment to point out the race of Mr. Kelly.
posted by variella at 8:43 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


OMG someone with a six-figure windfall bought a fur coat and a vacation? Clearly they are probably going to piss away all the money in 6 months and then go to jail for tax evasion. This shit is science.
posted by leopard at 8:45 PM on July 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Actually sorry, they haven't bought a vacation yet. But once they buy the vacation, it will be gone forever, so even talking about taking a vacation is irresponsible and foolish. It is a well-known fact that honeymoons are bad investments and the people who take them are surprisingly likely to end up in jail.

This couple is in their late 50s, they should be saving money so that they can take a nice vacation in 20 or 30 years.
posted by leopard at 8:51 PM on July 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


The comments in this thread simply reinforce the "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" attitude that I see so frequently in life.

I don't wish to argue further, so I won't but, rather than lamenting what was lost, shouldn't we be praising what was saved?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:13 PM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Boy, is it shitty to pre-judge their not-yet-taken actions. Worst of MeFi indeed.

As previously: The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor

#4. Extra Money Has to Be Spent Right Goddamn Now!

When a windfall check is dropped in your lap, you don't know how to handle it. Instead of thinking, "This will cover our rent and bills for half a year," you immediately jump to all the things you've been meaning to get, but couldn't afford on your regular income. If you don't buy it right now, you know that the money will slowly bleed away to everyday life over the course of the next few months, leaving you with nothing to show for it. Don't misunderstand me here, it's never a "greed" thing. It's a panic thing. "We have to spend this before it disappears."

#3. You Want to Go Overboard on Gift-Giving

I remember all the years that we couldn't afford to give them even a quarter of the things they asked for, and I swore I would make that right. So we spent about double what a normal person would consider reasonable. And then went back to buy more.

#2. You Become an Obsessive Bean-Counter

[this is probably related to his new habit of dumpster diving: he now knows the value of stuff and can't stand the thought of losing that windfall]

#1. You Only Spend with the Short Term in Mind

This is a problem, because that's actually a very shitty way to manage a budget. You skip over the great 2-for-1 deal on laundry detergent because you're not out of laundry detergent yet.


It's probably a lot more terrifying to grow up sort of middle class and find yourself facing the loss or depletion of wealth, because you don't have the experience of being poor. (This is more or less my situation.) But if you grew up really poor, being poor again doesn't terrify you the same way, because -- you lived. It won't kill you. And maybe you'll get another windfall.

Anyway, with Shunk, there probably was a lot of good, valuable stuff that was lost, although the public administrator may have judged the costs of bringing in sorters and appraisers to not be worth the potential return to the estate. That said, while a Warhol or Lichtenstein print (even numbered) may not exactly be a dime a dozen, they're not really scarce, either.

But I do know what it's like to lose art, even if it isn't necessarily really valuable art. My grandparents amassed a pretty nice collection and kept it through two or three downsizings as they aged, and then it was amicably split between their two sons. There were two Curt Frankensteins in the collection, and the eeny-meeny system they used meant my uncle got the one I liked best. There were other nice paintings, and sculpture, and treasures from their Asian travels (they were tourists in China before the Cultural Revolution, possibly through attending an academic conference). So really nice stuff that would impress any collector. Then my uncle got Alzheimer's, his wife died from asthma, and he eventually lost his Florida condo. Supposedly all this artwork got put in a storage unit, but when my uncle reached serious levels of dementia, and his kids (who hated him) were trying to get US to take care of him, I suspect somebody didn't pay the storage unit bill. There was a particular sculpture that my dad had given my uncle, made by a friend with whom he was currently on the outs, and we decided we would like it back more than anything but only got multiple levels of runaround from my cousins -- so I suspect they just lost the thing, and this whole pile of art and Scandinavian furniture and so on was sold unseen at auction (that's often the case) as a lot. I just pray that whoever bought it understood what had come into their hands, because the thought of it being treated as at best interesting rummage is almost unbearable.
posted by dhartung at 11:18 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Note that the "Kelly" link auto-plays a video, which isn't obvious from the URL or text.
posted by knile at 12:36 AM on July 27, 2013


They may or may not blow the money, just as anyone else may or may not. But a nice coat and the honeymoon they never got to take are not evidence of such, and a bunch of snotty MFers going on about how they are so stupid because they are poor or will inevitably end up in jail for tax evasion is kind of obscene and yeah, more than a little bit racist and classist.
posted by tavella at 2:04 AM on July 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


A fur coat, a tombstone for a dead man, and a 35 year delayed honeymoon don't strike me as madly extravagant either. Nearly all people will splurge when they get an unexpected windfall like this - or even an expected one. Jesus, what about that Google (?) guy who had that ridiculous Lord of the Rings themed wedding recently? All that's different is that this guy isn't ruining a national park when he spends his money as he wants. Well that and he's not a raging narcissist.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:51 AM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying he's a bad person at all, but of course he's going to blow through the money in a year or two. Poor guy.
posted by Unified Theory at 4:14 AM on July 27, 2013


I'm not saying he's a bad person at all, but of course he's going to blow through the money in a year or two. Poor guy.

I don't understand this reasoning at all. Would it have been better for him not to have found art worth over a 1/4 of a million dollars? Even if you are right and blows through it all, he's still going to have had a fun year or so of having money, rather than not.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:54 AM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying he's a bad person at all, but of course he's going to blow through the money in a year or two. Poor guy.
posted by Unified Theory at 7:14 AM on July 27 [+] [!]


This is such a gross and condescending assumption. And I do think there is an at least classist base to the "they took this guy's stuff" commentary, if not explicitly racist.
posted by sweetkid at 9:21 AM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's sad because he's being lavished with attention due to his newfound "wealth," and almost certainly it will be gone in a short time and all the expectations of financial security voiced in the NYT article will be for naught and he'll be poor again. Do you not think that's sad? I do.

People who have never had money, and get a windfall, are prey not only to their own inability to manage their spending, but also to the entreaties of people around them who are also poor. It's just sad the way it evaporates in a spree of reckless spending and gifts.
posted by Unified Theory at 10:12 AM on July 27, 2013


I admit to side-eyeing the fur coat, not because of the extravagance but because I didn't think that anyone still actually wants to wear fur. I guess that's what I get for living in a Bay Area bubble!

The way I see it: Shunk died alone in the world. That's sad, but who knows the circumstances behind that. People die lonely recluses all the time. Most leave behind little of value. Some, like Shunk, leave behind hidden treasures. No-one stepped forward to claim that stuff, and it was all going to go in the trash if some savvy cleanup people hadn't recognized the value of what was being tossed. Again, it is Kelly who wants to see that Shunk gets a tombstone. If he wants a honeymoon in return, why not?

IMO Kelly didn't do anything wrong - he certainly wasn't embezzling from an estate willed to a deserving heir. He made some lucky finds out of what was going to the trash. He and his wife deserve to live it up a little. A honeymoon is as good an investment as anything - it won't earn interest, but it will be a happy memory to treasure. (WTF fur coat, but perhaps Mrs. Kelly always wanted one.)

On preview: Unified Theory, yes, many formerly-poor folks who come into a windfall are pressured to spend it on their still-needy family and friends, and I agree, that is a major reason why many fall back into poverty. And it's often maddening. But if the end result is "needy family member gets his teeth fixed" or "needy family member gets the laptop she needs for school" then splashing out on needy family is at least doing some good. Of course, we don't know the particulars in Kelly's case nor do we know if he's spending his windfall on needy family or not.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:15 AM on July 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's sad because he's being lavished with attention due to his newfound "wealth," and almost certainly it will be gone in a short time and all the expectations of financial security voiced in the NYT article will be for naught and he'll be poor again. Do you not think that's sad? I do.

What I think is sad is that someone is so broke that they have to wait for 35 years for a honeymoon and their decision to go on one and buy a fur coat for their wife is taken as evidence of their total fecklessness with money. This would be a much sadder story if this guy and his wife never got to take that holiday, in my opinion. Or if no one had bothered to put up a tombstone for Harry Shunk.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:47 AM on July 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


You know, there are many of us who live in elective contented solitude. I don't know if Shunk was one of us, but it's kind of weird to assume he wasn't or that it's [cue the violins] tragic if someone dies without someone else to inherit their shit. The fact that someone has a medical condition, whether a hoarding disorder, diabetes, athlete's foot, or whatever doesn't automatically mean they have a wretched, joyless life.

If I dropped dead right now, it really wouldn't matter if people took my (moderate amount of) stuff out of a dumpster and sold it because I'd be, you know, dead, so I wouldn't be using it anymore. As I look around my place now, the only things I really hope for if I unexpectedly croak tonight are that a) someone notices in time to rescue my dogs and cats and b) the friend or strangers who dispose of my stuff make sure that someone, somewhere gets to enjoy it or get use out of it or benefits from the proceeds of selling it. I'd prefer that the someone who benefits from the proceeds of my valuable minty vintage records and spendy hi-fi not be my obnoxious sister who always gave me grief about my weirdo interests, but hey, I'll be dead, so I won't care then.

If there were an afterlife, and if I looked down/up and saw the Kellys having fun or living a bit more easily or buying everyone on their block sno-cones with the money they got from selling my turntable, I'd be fucking delighted. Just another datapoint.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:49 PM on July 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I dropped dead right now, it really wouldn't matter if people took my (moderate amount of) stuff out of a dumpster and sold it because I'd be, you know, dead, so I wouldn't be using it anymore. As I look around my place now, the only things I really hope for if I unexpectedly croak tonight are that a) someone notices in time to rescue my dogs and cats and b) the friend or strangers who dispose of my stuff make sure that someone, somewhere gets to enjoy it or get use out of it or benefits from the proceeds of selling it. I'd prefer that the someone who benefits from the proceeds of my valuable minty vintage records and spendy hi-fi not be my obnoxious sister who always gave me grief about my weirdo interests, but hey, I'll be dead, so I won't care then.

Right. I think people who see the joy in this story are simply acknowledging that life is for the living.
posted by sweetkid at 6:08 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


FelliniBlank: "If there were an afterlife, and if I looked down/up and saw the Kellys having fun or living a bit more easily or buying everyone on their block sno-cones with the money they got from selling my turntable, I'd be fucking delighted. Just another datapoint."

Very well stated. I have a deposit box in a bank vault and most of the contents therein is birthday cards from throughout my life along with photographs. I giggle like a schoolgirl at the reaction that whoever opens it will have after I die.

I believe it will be something along the lines of, "Why the hell did the crazy bastard feel the need to protect these worthless things? And where is the gold that I was sure would be in here?"

We all have differing priorities. I prefer mementos from those few people who I know truly loved me. Gold is worthless to me in comparison.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:01 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unified Theory: People who have never had money, and get a windfall, are prey not only to their own inability to manage their spending, but also to the entreaties of people around them who are also poor. It's just sad the way it evaporates in a spree of reckless spending and gifts.

There's so much bitter condescension bound up in these two sentences. If you think that people with little money don't know how to manage their budget then I suspect you've never lived at a subsistence level of income, where you're literally counting pennies and constantly making decisions along the lines of "do I put money in the electricity meter, or buy a loaf of bread?" And obviously, if you're poor, then all your friends are grasping narcissists out to divest you of your newly-acquired wealth, and not, y'know, friends who you might want to help out, returning a favour from years back. Much like how youth is wasted on the young, money is obviously wasted on the poor, since they plainly can't be trusted to use it properly.
posted by Len at 12:49 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ha ha, okay, Len -- let's try this again, and please permit me to point out the fallacy of your thinking. The fact that a poor person has to carefully budget his money when he has extremely scarce resources has NOTHING to do with how he handles a windfall. For you to suggest that poor people are super-duper money managers when they come into a windfall is just silly and is contradicted by just about everything we know about poor people who suddenly find themselves wealthy.

You're mistaking what you wish were true, with what is true.
posted by Unified Theory at 6:17 PM on July 28, 2013


Well, I obviously disagree on that, but let's assume, for the sake of the discussion, that I do in fact agree with you that poor people do tend to spend windfalls quickly, and almost invariably find themselves a year or two down the line back to square one, with no savings.

Next question: what gives you the right to morally judge how this man spends his own money? So what if he bought his wife a fur coat and took a nice honeymoon, 35 years after he actually got married. It's his bloody money, and he can spend it as he sees fit. Just because his spending priorities don't match up with your theoretical "this is how the poor should behave when they come into money" demands, and just because he prioritises the use of his own money in a way that you disagree with, doesn't mean you get to snottily judge his character. It's a load of classist nonsense that's very much of a piece with the kind of sentiment that demands poor people should always be grateful, that they should never be allowed to spend on leisure or luxury – even if they've just had a six figure windfall.

The bottom line is: it's his fucking money. If he wants to pull a K Foundation trick and take it all to a remote Scottish island, and film himself setting it on fire, that's his right.
posted by Len at 11:03 AM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


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