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The Hoarding Hermits

Nebraska's history is littered with financial panics and disasters. Some Nebraskans
weathered these crises, scraped together what fiduciary resources they had left, and went on
with their lives. Others never recovered; their losses were emotional and social as well as
financial. Two such individuals were the brothers Strelow. They lost a fortune in Chicago,
not in Nebraska, but it was here, near Denton, that they lived out their bitter lives.

The peculiar turn their lives took was only revealed on the death of Theodore Strelow. A
1926 story in the Crete News gave this account:

"Losses in the Chicago real estate game when even that city was young changed the whole
outlook on life held by Charles and Theodore Strelow and sent them to the seclusion of a
Nebraska farm where they might hoard gold, count money, and live a life of seclusion. Such
is the story of their life as told by Robert Strelow, a nephew.

"As young men, the brothers came first to New York, then to Chicago. With what money
they had brought with them, they were soon able to amass a considerable fortune and started
loaning money on real estate. But losses as well as profits mounted and one fine day in 1876,
they found themselves holding the sack for $20,000.

"Gathering what remained of their capital, they moved to Nebraska. A farm cost but $4.50 an
acre then, good land too, and so they bought it. They bought horses, other stock and
equipment, and paid for it all in cash. Then was begun the fifty years of seclusion and
secrecy which ended this week with the announcement that $46,705 in gold, currency, silver,
and bonds had been found on their old homestead south of Denton.

"The land originally purchased for $4.50 an acre is now probably worth $125, and the
leavings of capital brought by the Strelows from Chicago has grown to tens of thousands of
dollars. Yet the brothers, until the death of Theodore and the placing of Charles in a Lincoln
sanitarium, lived in such squalor and filth that the neighbors complained and a Lincoln
humane officer, used to such scenes, gazed in wonder at the mess.

"The financial reverses which drove the brothers to hoard money also kept them from
spending more than a pittance. The two room shack they erected in 1876 was still used by
them in 1925. They ate common, coarse foods, part of which they purchased, usually at
Crete. They kept no equipage and drove to market once and a while with one of their few
friends. When the last pot of gold was found in a grain bin Wednesday night, several sides of
bacon were hanging from rafters above it.

"Theodore, until his death a few days ago, was the cook. He kept a little pathway round the
stove clear of litter, although the rest of the floors were covered several inches thick with
rags, dirt and filth of every description. How Charles managed in the few days between the
date of his brother's death and the time when he was sent to a Lincoln hospital has not been
told.

"Two great dogs, one of which is dead, and the other, like his master, confined on the order
of the authorities, aided the aged Strelow brothers in guarding the hidden wealth. Tied in one
spot until they had worn depressions in the earth, and confined until all their beastliness
broke out, the dogs menaced every visitor at the homestead. They tore a tire cover from a
deputy's car and were managed best with a baseball bat. Robert Strelow, together with
sheriffs and attorneys have ripped open possible hiding places on the farm, until they say the
are certain no more money was secreted."

 

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Last updated 14 September 2005

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