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

The Jewish Roots of Leonard Nimoy and What the ‘Live Long and Prosper’ Hand Symbol Really Means
2015-02-28 0:20
Leonard Nimoy first saw what became the famous Vulcan salute, “live long and prosper,” as a child, long before “Star Trek” even existed. The placement of the hands comes from a childhood memory, of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston. The man who would play Spock saw the gesture as part of a blessing, and it never left him. “Something ...
Baby born still INSIDE his amniotic sac is hailed a ‘medical miracle’ by doctors [Video]
2015-02-27 22:46
What an incredible miracle… Not only was the little boy three months early – he was born inside his amniotic sac. I’ve never heard of this happening before. If you look at the picture, you can see him clearly with his little arms and legs curled up. He was still being given oxygen by his mom until the sac was ...
California Infant Dies after 8 Vaccines, Family Gets Him Back from Hospital Cremated
2015-02-27 21:55
Parents in California are distraught after losing their infant son after being vaccinated. He died in his sleep and was taken to the hospital already deceased. Hospital staff ruled his death as sudden infant death syndrome. The couple was told an autopsy was required to be performed on their son. After returning home, waiting to get an update, they never received ...
DNA: Data-storage for eternity
2015-02-27 20:57
How can we preserve our knowledge today for the next millennia? ETH researchers have found a way to store information in the form of DNA, preserving it for nearly an eternity. Scrolls thousands of years old provide us with a glimpse into long-forgotten cultures and the knowledge of our ancestors. In this digital era, in contrast, a large part of our ...
Hypercleanliness is making us sick - Children develop allergies and eczema
2015-02-27 20:31
Could using a dishwashing machine increase the chances your child will develop allergies? That's what some provocative new research suggests — but don't tear out your machine just yet. The study involved 1,029 Swedish children (ages 7 or 8) and found that those whose parents said they mostly wash the family's dishes by hand were significantly less likely to develop eczema, ...
More News »