Abandoned Suitcases Reveal Private Lives of Insane Asylum Patients
2013 01 31

By Hunter Oatman-Stanford | Collectors Weekly



If you were committed to a psychiatric institution, unsure if you’d ever return to the life you knew before, what would you take with you?

That sobering question hovers like an apparition over each of the Willard Asylum suitcases. From the 1910s through the 1960s, many patients at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane left suitcases behind when they passed away, with nobody to claim them. Upon the center’s closure in 1995, employees found hundreds of these time capsules stored in a locked attic. Working with the New York State Museum, former Willard staffers were able to preserve the hidden cache of luggage as part of the museum’s permanent collection.

hotographer Jon Crispin has long been drawn to the ghostly remains of abandoned psychiatric institutions. After learning of the Willard suitcases, Crispin sought the museum’s permission to document each case and its contents. In 2011, Crispin completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund the first phase of the project, which he recently finished. Next spring, a selection of his photos will accompany the inaugural exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium’s new location.

Crispin’s photographs restore a bit of dignity to the individuals who spent their lives within Willard’s walls. Curiously, the identities of these patients are still concealed by the state of New York, denied even to living relatives. Each suitcase offers a glimpse into the life of a unique individual, living in an era when those with mental disorders and disabilities were not only stigmatized but also isolated from society.
(All photos by Jon Crispin.)

Collectors Weekly: How did you come across this collection?

Jon Crispin: I’ve worked as a freelance photographer my whole life. In addition to doing work for clients, I’ve always kept my eye out for projects that interest me. In the ’80s, I came across some abandoned insane asylums in New York State, and thought, wow, I’d really like to get in these buildings and photograph them.

So I applied for a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, got it, and spent a couple of years photographing the interiors and exteriors of these buildings. When the psychiatric programs moved out and shut things down, they basically just closed the doors and walked away. They left all kinds of amazing objects inside these buildings, including patient records in leather-bound volumes.

In the mid-’90s, I heard that at Willard—one of the asylums in which I spent a lot of time photographing—the employees had saved all the patient suitcases that belonged to people who came to Willard and died there. Starting around 1910, they never threw them out.


[...]


Thelma’s suitcase.



Anna’s suitcase.



Floyd’s empty suitcase.


Read the full article at: collectorsweekly.com






Related Articles
Sent to the asylum: Victorian women locked up because they were suffering from stress, post natal depression and anxiety
The Queen‘s hidden cousins: banished to an asylum in 1941
Mental health burden greater than all cancers combined: Report
Asperger’s, and the Media Narrative on Autism and the Mentally Ill
’I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America
Lucid Dreaming and Mental Illness
What’s So Funny About Mental Illness?
Mentally ill flood ER as states cut services


Latest News from our Front Page

Illegal Aliens Cleared For U.S. Military Service
2014 10 18
The Pentagon announced a new policy allowing illegal immigrants the opportunity to enlist in the armed forces, Thursday. USA Today reports that the new recruitment policies will focus on people with "high-demand skills" like foreign language acumen and health care training: "For the first time, the program — known as Military Accessions in the National Interest, or MAVNI — will ...
Bronze Age Sundial-Moondial Discovered in Russia
2014 10 16
A strange slab of rock discovered in Russia more than 20 years ago appears to be a combination sundial and moondial from the Bronze Age, a new study finds. The slab is marked with round divots arranged in a circle, and an astronomical analysis suggests that these markings coincide with heavenly events, including sunrises and moonrises. The sundial might be "evidence of ...
Humans may only survive 68 days on Mars
2014 10 15
Space enthusiasts planning a move to Mars may have to wait to relocate: conditions on the Red Planet are such that humans would likely begin dying within 68 days, a new study says. Oxygen levels would start to deplete after about two months and scientists said new technologies are required before humans can permanently settle on Mars, according to the study ...
Tom Sunic’s letter to the US Ambassador to Hungary
2014 10 14
October 11, 2014 Mr. André Goodfriend Chargé d’Affaires Embassy of the United States of America Szabadság tér 12 H-1054 Budapest Dear Mr. Goodfriend, As an American citizen I would hereby like to express my concern over the recent decision by the Hungarian government to ban the National Policy Institute (NPI) conference which had been scheduled to take place in Budapest from October 3 to October 5, 2014. ...
"Vampire grave" found in Bulgaria
2014 10 14
A "vampire grave" containing a skeleton with a stake driven through its chest has been unearthed by a man known as "Bulgaria’s Indiana Jones". Professor Nikolai Ovcharov – a crusading archaeologist who has dedicated his life to unearthing mysteries of ancient civilisations – said that he had made the discovery while excavating the ruins of Perperikon, an ancient Thracian city ...
More News »