Suitcases from the Willard Asylum for the Insane

The Willard Asylum for the Insane was an institution in Willard, New York designed help people with chronic mental illness, and was in operation from 1910 through the 1960s before being closed by the state. In 1995 New York State Museum staff were given access to the secrets left behind decades before when the doors were shuttered. After an initial investigation they became aware of an entire attic full of suitcases in the pathology lab building, the personal belongings of patients admitted to the asylum who supposedly never left. In an effort to archive and document the history of the institution photographer Jon Crispin has been given the rare opportunity to photograph the contents of each suitcase and has launched an extremely successful Kickstarter project to help fund the endeavor.

While I fully recognize the fascinating and historical nature of these very personal items, and applaud the museum staff and Crispin for their preservation work, I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness and unease for the circumstances under which these belongings became separated from their owners. To me they seem like the time capsules of lives arrested, their contents suggesting the hope of a continued life elsewhere: everyday objects for grooming, hobbies, fashion never to be used again. Eerie.

See more contents from the suitcases on Crispin’s blog.

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