12.27.2011

Willard Asylum Suitcases

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Browsing one of my favorite blogs Foxtail + Fern, I came across a post about a suitcase project by photographer Jon Crispin.

He has been photographing suitcases, and their contents from Willard Psychiatric Center in Willard, NY. 

"The cases were put into storage when their owners were admitted to Willard sometime between 1910 and the 1960s. And since the facility was set up to help people with chronic mental illness, these folks never left.  An exhibit of a small selection of the cases was produced by the Museum and was on display in Albany in 2003."

It's fascinating seeing the varied contents of these unassuming suitcases. And of course a bit sad, because these were some of the only personal possessions the psychiatric patients had. Some have delicate clothing, some have crafting supplies, one even has a fine perfume bottle. And unless I overlooked something, I don't see any personal photographs, which is kind of even more tragic.

But Mr. Crispin does so well capturing all the little details, it really must be thrilling to unwrap the tissue paper, pop the locks, and open up the musty old cases to see what might be inside. 

More photos of the project are being chronicled on the blog

More info on the project can be found here.

{Later edit}
A reader has brought another site to my attention about the asylum and it's patients here

21 comments:

Betty2Tone (Laura) said...

How sad :( it's a super interesting idea though

lilly said...

This is too interesting. Thanks for posting the link for the sources too. I love it.

Desiree said...

My God, this is sad, but an interesting project. It definitely helps put a face to mental illness and all the ways in which our approach to mental health care was really messed up.

So Yeah So said...

This is so fascinating. Thank you for sharing it.

alittlevintagestory said...

Such a hauntingly beautfiul project. So many personal mementos that were obviously never seen by their owners after their admission. I'd like to think there were no photos in these cases, as the patients were at least allowed to keep some kind of keepsake.

Annarack said...

very sad, but also very fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Alli said...

So interesting, but so sad at the same time. Makes you wonder how their lives panned out in the time they were there.

Hosanna said...

I came across this project a few months ago and found it quite sad; yet interesting.

art deco dame said...

I would love to be able to do that.Fascinating project.Hauntingly beautiful indeed!

The Witchery Vintage said...

Fascinating!

Sean MacKenzie said...

Maybe this is weird, but when I first saw these it reminded me of the mound of shoes and suitcases photographed at Auschwitz. I'm not trying to compare or anything, it was just the first thing that came to mind. This story is very sad.

Brittany_Va-VoomVintage said...

I used to work at an old asylum here in St Louis. Of course, it's not an asylum now- it's a community for the elderly, developmentally disabled. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, nurses, maids, groundskeepers and other folks could rent rooms out on the top floor of the building, living there amongst the patients. I wonder if that could be the case with some of the owners of these belongings? At any rate, it's such a fascinating project!

Ashley said...

These are so beautiful! I've been following the photographer's blog since I first saw these and get ridiculously excited when he posts a new one. I adored the last two, and the one with those gorgeous slippers! Gah! To die for! I think the fact that the story behind these is so sad just makes them more interesting. So very haunting.

Leslie R. said...

Thanks for posting this- so interesting!

Mrs. Jeffries said...

Thank you for introducing me to this compelling endeavor. I have spent the last 3 hours spellbound by these people of Willard and by the documentation of their belongings. No doubt I will go to sleep tonight thinking of the poor German immigrant nun, Theresa... a servant of the Lord, cast off as a lunatic, left to die institutionalized. Remarkable. Thank you.

Liz said...

So fascinating and so sad at the same time.

Kestrel said...

Thanks for this post - really interesting.

Marie @ Lemondrop Vintage said...

the novel White Oleander's main character did suitcase art! This reminds me of that...


Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge
I'm having a giveaway...

ladycaccon said...

This is such a fascinating project. I have always wanted to wonder threw those boxes they have in all those basements needing to be treasured again.

Emma-Lisa said...

This is absolutely amazing!

Tina said...

This was an AMAZING project (well worth going to see in person if you're ever in Albany, NY). I'm from Central NY and the Willard Asylum has been part of our local lore and psyche for as long as it has existed. There's a book that I'm not certain if it's a companion book or not (highly doubtful), but it's really interesting as well: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic, by Darby Penney, Peter Stastny, and Lisa Rinzler