Abandoned Suitcases Reveal Private Lives of Insane Asylum Patients
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. “There were many patients in these asylums who were probably not unlike friends you and I have now.” Photographer Jon Crispin has long been drawn to the ghostly remains of abandoned psychiatric institutions. Crispin’s photographs restore a bit of dignity to the individuals who spent their lives within Willard’s walls. Freda’s suitcase.