The Willard Suitcases

In 1995 the Willard Psychiatric center in upstate New York closed it’s doors.  As rooms were being locked and closets cleaned out, a worker came across 400 suitcases. These suitcases contained the personal belongings of patients of the hospital. When the suitcases were carefully opened and the contents surveyed, it became apparent that these suitcases were time capsules of each patient’s life….old photos, old hairbrushes…relics from their lives amongst the “sane”.

via the NY times

A Bolt of Blue -  The Willard suitcases

The Willard Asylum was open from the 1800’s until 1995.  For those years lost souls entered through the gates, with suitcase in hand and many never managed to exit back out. To think that some of those people could have been helped with modern day analysis and drugs is SAD.  In the days before epilepsy was understood, or seizures or even depression, anything that wasn’t known or understood meant insanity. The Asylum officials contacted photographer Jon Crispin to carefully archive each suitcase’s content. Mr Crispin became so engrossed in the project that he started his own blog displaying his photography with commentary on the contents.

A Bolt of Blue -  The Willard suitcases

Pieces of a past life: This suitcase belonged to Anna. Inside was a letter that was not addressed to her, a pair of toothbrushes and several belts and sashes – as well as shoes and hats.

A Bolt of Blue -  The Willard suitcases

This case belonged to Frank C., a U.S. Army veteran from Brooklyn, New York. Here, a sewing kit, personal grooming kit, toy pistol and bread ration card are all visible. He also carried several photos of himself and his family

A Bolt of Blue -  The Willard suitcases

A moment in time: Peter L. bought a newspaper in Syracuse, New York, the day before he was committed. The date: March 22, 1941

A Bolt of Blue -  The Willard suitcases

There is no sign of mental illness is this well-ordered suitcase left behind by Frank C.

A Bolt of Blue - The Willard Suitcases

Flora T. was clearly a woman of class. The fine possessions, including a perfume bottle and silver napkin ring, reveal a woman with means. However, the kit of needles and injection drugs adds a dark element to this collection

I was particularly taken with the contents of Irma M’s suitcase. She was apparently a trained musician who was well traveled. In her photos she is smiling and her artifacts show a life of culture.  I can’t help but wonder how her life changed tracks. What sent her to Willard?

A Bolt of Blue -  The Willard suitcases

There was a large collection of family snapshots.

A Bolt of Blue -  The Willard suitcases

And it appears that she spent time taking the cure at Mont-Dore.

A Bolt of Blue - The WIllard SuitcasesAnd here she is in all her beauty.  Heart-breaking.  Note the sheet music in the photo on the left.

It is a slow process photographing all of the suitcases and they are constantly updating their site. To see more suitcases click here.

***Author Ellen Marie Wiseman was so fascinated by the Willard suitcases that she based her novel, What She Left Behind on a fictional story of patients from Willard. I couldn’t put the book down.

via The Dainty Dollshouse and a BIG thanks to Shannon Laskey!

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