Abandoned Suitcases Reveal Private Lives of Insane Asylum Patients
2013-01-31 0:00

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

Thousands of migrants dumped on Britain as French wriggle out of border promise
2015-03-30 19:56
Thousands of migrants could be dumped on Britain’s doorstep if France tears up a historic border agreement, it was claimed last night. Officials have vowed to do “everything in their power” to wriggle out of a treaty moving the UK border to Calais. The besieged town’s mayor Natacha Bouchart is prepared to spark a major diplomatic row by opening the frontier ...
Richard III laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral
2015-03-30 18:36
King Richard III was today laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral - more than 500 years after his death in battle. The monarch, who reigned from 1483 to 1485, was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. Actor Benedict Cumberbatch read a poem by Carol Ann Duffy during the service. Also in attendance was Robert Lindsay, who played Richard III in a version ...
Sweden - A new paradise for Romani beggars
2015-03-30 17:33
Thanks to the European Union and freedom of movement that follows with membership Sweden has been flooded with gypsies from Eastern Europe. Most member states have cracked down hard on the phenomenon of organized begging with legislation and forceful evictions so the Romani (colloquially known as Gypsies) who are engaged in this venture have moved their business to the country where ...
Increased tax subsidies for politically correct media
2015-03-29 22:08
On Dec 9 last year I translated a random snapshot of the biggest newspaper in Sweden. The headlines alone spoke for themselves. It was, simply put, an orgy of political correctness, obvious attempts at emotional manipulation and general national self-loathing. In other words, a typical Swedish newspaper on any given day. As more and more readers are waking up to the ...
When obeying the law and supporting yourself is racist
2015-03-29 22:56
There is a huge scandal in the municipality of Älmhult in Sweden. It has been revealed that there is a letter that may have been sent from the municipality offices to newly arrived immigrants informing them that the law applies to them and that they’re expected to eventually go off the dole and start pulling their own weight in society. In ...
More News »