Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcase #18

Posted in Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 12/09/2012

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I have completed the initial shooting portion of the project.  These cases belonged to Frank C.

This foot locker was not wrapped in the usual way.  I am guessing it was a bit too large.

Frank was a pretty interesting guy.  I know a bit more about him than some of the others.

His two cases contained an interesting mix of practical items and remnants of his military life.

Again, I have had to obscure his surname for legal reasons.

Many items referenced  the fact that he lived in Brooklyn for much of his adult life.

I am always interested in the ephemeral aspects of the possessions of the Willard residents.  It is always a bit frustrating to have so little time to look through the printed materials.  I could easily get lost in the War Department’s Basic Field Manual.

So many cool shipping tags.

I wonder what sort of idea this sketch reflects.  It was the only drawing of this sort in the case.

The rubber stamp is interesting, and the blue box contained some kind of laxative.  I’m pretty sure it was Ex-Lax.

There were several layers to this trunk.  The above items were from a shelf that sat inside the case covering up the contents on the bottom.

I tend to not think much about the practical aspects of life during war time, like rationing.  It is good to reminded of such things.  It makes me realize how little we are asked to sacrifice in the face of what’s going on in our world.

This gun was a toy.  I have no idea what the plastic items above it are.  Someone out there must know.

Frank had a lot of these small photo booth pics.  There are more in his other case which you can see below.  He was a very handsome gentleman.

Ok, I am about to look up “catarrh”.

Frank’s military clothing was in amazing condition.  No moth holes; each item looked almost new.

The underwear was especially pristine.  So even though there is clear evidence that he served in the Army there isn’t much sign of wear on his uniform.

Clothing always presents the biggest challenge for me to shoot.  To the point where I really grumble a bit when a case contains lots of it (Ask Peg).  I always try to avoid over arranging the objects and the clothes present a problem that I am not too skilled at solving.  It is why I shoot lots of details.  This tie was tied when we came to this shirt.

Buttons.  (Is is obvious I’m running out of things to say?  It usually happens with these post with tons of pictures.  Sorry.

Here’s Frank’s other case from the collection.

Since I have been shooting some of the larger trunks that are not wrapped, I have been missing the materials used to preserve the smaller cases.  It was nice to see the cotton string again.

There were more clothes in this case including these bathing trunks and a brand new white cotton union suit that still had the label attached.

As well as several wooden coat hangars; this one from Max Moscowitz’s store.

Among my most favorite items are handkerchiefs, especially ones with art deco designs.

The remainder of the papers we found mostly relate to wartime issues.

The question of why all of these items were saved is mostly moot to me, as is the broader question of what was going on in his life before Willard.  It is just so interesting to look at his possessions and build up some idea of his world (that may or not be at all accurate).  And ultimately what I have figured out from this project is that each of us who views these remnants of his life can come to our own conclusions.  He was a real person and people are complicated, so even those who knew Frank well didn’t have the whole story.  Including the psychiatrists who treated him at Willard.

There were a couple of complete New York Daily News pages in his things.  They must have been at the bottom of the larger trunk since there are no folds.  I once spent a couple of days in Aachen and it is a beautiful little town

I’m runnin’ out of steam a bit, so I’ll wrap it up.  Not sure if it is possible to read the letter on the left with the blue ink but it is from Frank’s sister and obviously came after a visit to his home in West Virginia.

And finally, a few more pictures of some of the women in his life.  So evocative and so beautiful.

So thanks for following and staying with me on this.  I will no doubt post more as I work through the editing process, although probably not in as extensive a way as I have done here.  Most of my energy will be spent on figuring out how to display the photographs for the Exploratorium exhibit, and then figuring out some way to publish a book.  Cheers everyone, and thanks again for all your encouragement and support.

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46 Responses

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  1. Dave Clough said, on 12/09/2012 at 8:29 pm

    Wonderful captures from beginnning to end…Thank you

  2. ekroczek said, on 12/09/2012 at 8:32 pm

    It’s been an amazing trip through the random details of many lives. Thanks again!

  3. Dawn Bradbury, Perry Utah said, on 12/09/2012 at 9:16 pm

    Wow Jon. You have done a marvelous job. Thank you so much for making your blog available…I have enjoyed your photographs and perspective.

  4. jude said, on 12/09/2012 at 9:26 pm

    What a wonderful case to end on. I love how he kept so many photos. Seeing so much of his life is really amazing, but then, I feel like each new case along the way became a “favorite” in some way. Please keep exhibit information coming… I would love to try and get to one! Thanks for all your great care and respect of these people and their past. Such a treasure.

  5. notsofancynancy said, on 12/09/2012 at 9:32 pm

    OMGoodness this is amazing. I am going to have to spend some time here to figure out why you have the pleasure of looking into these treasures. What a handsome man. Thank you so much for sharing them as I was riveted and looked at every piece you photographed. Thank you once again!

  6. Christie Graber said, on 12/09/2012 at 9:33 pm

    Thank you for allowing us to savor the details of so many lives. I’ve looked forward to your posts and hope to see more in the future!

  7. Florence Hochman said, on 12/09/2012 at 10:13 pm

    Thank you for all of your work. It is fascinating and so well done! Must be hard to leave some of these people behind! I hope you will do some more!

  8. Kristin Jackson said, on 12/09/2012 at 10:27 pm

    Thank you for sharing these. I have also been riveted by these cases. Lives lost to an institution. I wonder looking at the suitcases, how many could have lived their lives outside if the understanding and treatment had been what it is today. I feel this last case very deeply. I wonder if he suffered from PTSD from his service in the war. Back then it wasn’t “named”. As you said, we all come to our own conclusions and it’s probably because of all of the young men and women that are coming home now and suffering that I feel this may have been his reality. My mother and father-in-law both worked at Willard in the early 60′s. It’s where they met. It’s hard to believe that it closed in 1995 and was open for 126 years.

  9. Kristin Jackson said, on 12/09/2012 at 10:51 pm

    http://www.suitcaseexhibit.org/flashSite.html
    Did you ever see this?

    • Patty Krysiak said, on 14/09/2012 at 11:52 am

      Absolutely fascinating!! Having been enraptured by Jon’s photos, to have more information about Willard is so enlightening regarding the patients lives there. Quite sad, really. Some folks who were there should not have been there in the first place.
      I googled Frank’s address in Bed-Stuy. Makes me wonder what his life was like there, too.
      Jon, thank you for your work—it was more than worthwhile.

  10. Kilian Metcalf said, on 12/09/2012 at 11:05 pm

    This has been a fascinating adventure into times past. Thank you for sharing it with us. One little niggling bit of curiosity – what was the word on the rubber stamp?

  11. John S. Hansen said, on 13/09/2012 at 2:28 am

    Great work! It’s been a priveledge and honor to follow Your updates. Thanks!

  12. Baz said, on 13/09/2012 at 4:41 am

    The plastic bits above the gun are from a stringed instrument, possible a guitar. They hold the strings in position on the bridge. Least that’s what they look like, I may be wrong but soon as I saw them, that first came to mind.

    • freddy said, on 09/11/2012 at 12:35 am

      I agree with Baz. They look just like the pegs you stick in an acoustic guitar to hold the strings in place near the bridge.

      • Caral said, on 19/03/2013 at 11:22 pm

        I was going to guess they were Cribbage Pegs.

    • Maggie said, on 10/06/2013 at 5:23 pm

      I am sorry to reply to this so long after this was posted, but I just learned about this blog. FASCINATING and sad.
      The plastic bits look too narrow to me to be guitar pegs. They look to me to be umbrella tips.

      • MJ said, on 17/07/2013 at 7:01 am

        Like Maggie I am late to the party, but also like Maggie I would say the plastic bits are umbrella tips. Guitar pegs usually have a more flared top, or little wings, so they are easier to turn (since they are not just for holding the string in place but also to tune the strings by turning the pegs). Now the question remains why dear Frank had these umbrella tips…

        I love this project! I am slacking off at work working my way back through all the posts :)

      • joncrispin said, on 17/07/2013 at 9:20 am

        MJ, thanks for having a look at my earlier posts and your input as to what the plastic bits are. Never thought of the umbrella angle. Cheers, jon

  13. Bonnie said, on 13/09/2012 at 6:19 am

    A very handsome gentleman indeed, and he probably had more than one “no good” woman in his life.

  14. Mark said, on 13/09/2012 at 7:03 am

    1910 – 1984
    Place of birth: Columbus, OH
    Date of Willard admission: 1946
    Length of stay: 3 years

    A Broken Plate
    On June 7, 1945, Mr. Frank #27967 went into the Virginia Restaurant on Fulton Street in Brooklyn and was served a meal on a broken plate.  He became upset and caused a disruption outside the restaurant, yelling and kicking garbage cans.  The police were called, and, instead of arresting him, brought him to the psychiatric ward at Kings County Hospital.  From there, he was transferred to Brooklyn State Hospital, and on April 9, 1946, he was admitted to Willard, one of a growing number of African American patients transferred to Willard from New York City in the 40s, due to over-crowding.

    • joncrispin said, on 13/09/2012 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks Mark, I appreciate the information. Did you get it from the Museum catalogue? Best, Jon

  15. leamuse said, on 13/09/2012 at 8:47 am

    Thank you so very much for all your efforts. If it could not be me, I am glad it was someone who was so willing to share what you learned. I must admit to being envious. While not a photographer, I know that each suitcase would have stories and/or poems waiting to be written.

  16. Mike said, on 13/09/2012 at 12:11 pm

    I am always interested in how others survived the war. It would be real neat to be able to talk to them, but their cases talk for them.

  17. gingerdavisallman said, on 13/09/2012 at 1:07 pm

    Cattarh is merely congestion, like from a cold or allergies. I always thought it was a Polish word because the only time I’ve heard it was from my old Polish mother-in-law, who spoke no English. Whenever the kids were sick she’s say it was “Cattarh” and she always rolled her “r” when she said it…very cool word. I love your suitcase posts and wish I could learn more about each of the items and the people in the pictures. It’s a fascinating piece of everyday history…the sort that gets lost because it’s too ordinary to seem worthy of recording at th time.

  18. Maggie said, on 13/09/2012 at 6:33 pm

    This is one of my favorite Willard suitcases. Thank you so much for sharing.

  19. Nicki said, on 13/09/2012 at 8:50 pm

    Please publish a book of these amazing treasures!

  20. [...] Jon Crispin is a photographer who has an amazing “Suitcase” project, here are the photos from one of the suitcases Share this:TwitterFacebookMoreEmailLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this. Filed under Uncategorized and tagged Alica Mckenna Johnson, Australian movies, blogs, Foreign Film Friday, musicals, updates, writing | Leave a comment [...]

  21. Marla said, on 16/09/2012 at 8:21 am

    I cannot wait for the book. Would love to be able to visit the exhibition, though I live in Ohio so not sure I can. Hoping this exhibit makes a tour thru major cities. I’ve enjoyed the photos SO much.

  22. Maddy said, on 17/09/2012 at 12:21 pm

    Won’t your traveling exhibit ever come to DC or VA? These are so special to me. I’d love to see them in person.

  23. Mrs. Lewis said, on 17/09/2012 at 11:57 pm

    This has been such a pleasure. I don’t want it to end! Thank you, Jon, for sharing your photos of the Willard suitcases. I’ve so enjoyed examining the personal, curious, and varied contents – and letting my imagination wander after viewing each post.

  24. obermoeller said, on 21/09/2012 at 8:37 am

    Really amazing.

  25. Cate said, on 11/10/2012 at 7:58 am

    Damn, Frank was a hottie.

    I do not mean to be flippant, this entire project is so beautiful and solemn, but he really was a remarkably handsome gentleman.

    • joncrispin said, on 11/10/2012 at 9:58 am

      Cate, I totally get what you are saying. As seriously as I take this whole project, there is always room for humor and alternate views of the cases and the people who owned them. Thanks for your comment and for following. Jon

  26. [...] to make it easier on people I will link to some of the earlier updates.  So here we go: Dmytre, Frank, Flora, and some earlier ones: Charles, and the first one I ever shot which explains the genesis of [...]

  27. Jari said, on 12/11/2012 at 9:29 am

    This is absolutely amazing. I have always been interested in history, especially when it tells something about ordinary people. In this case, it was nice to head up to Google Maps and see the building Frank lived in back then: http://goo.gl/UIUcv

    • joncrispin said, on 12/11/2012 at 9:37 am

      Jari, thanks so much for your comment and I hadn’t thought of the google map idea. So interesting. I am so pleased that you are interested in the project. Best, Jon

  28. [...] cepillos, una foto de boda, la pequeña estatuilla de madera de un perro, un termómetro…), Frank C. (El Evangelio según San Juan, una pistola de juguete, muchas fotos de carné de personas negras, [...]

  29. Roberta said, on 21/02/2013 at 3:07 pm

    According with data from the 1940 US Census, Frank C. lived at the given address as a lodger and apparently had been living there since 1935 or even earlier. By that time he was 27. It makes me think about the relationship he might have had with the household members – what was their reaction when Frank was admitted at Willard 6 years later? Besides his sister, did he have any other relatives? Why was he apparently so obsessed about war and what did he go through at his time serving in the army? Perhaps there lies the answer to why he had a psychotic episode precisely when the war was coming to an end. I’m glad to read he only stayed in Willard for 3 years though. This is my favorite suitcase so far! Jon Crispin, your work is absolutely fantastic!

    • joncrispin said, on 21/02/2013 at 3:34 pm

      Roberta, Amazing! I am so happy that you did this research. I always hope that when I publish a photo with an address that someone will check it out. I am so grateful to you for the time you spent on this, and I truly appreciate your interest in the project. All best. Jon

  30. Mariana said, on 26/02/2013 at 11:59 am

    the plastic things look like some kind of cigarette holder to me… great work, very very sensitive… don’t know if its my crazy hormones these days, but some of them actually made me cry, thinking about how each person is a particular, ephemeral, complex and poetic universe.
    best;

  31. Deborah said, on 28/02/2013 at 7:10 pm

    Wow… It’s amazing how much you can learn about a person’s life from the contents of a SUITcase! I agree with your statement: “He was a real person and people are complicated, so even those who knew Frank well didn’t have the whole story. Including the psychiatrists who treated him at Willard.” But from this display it is obvious that Frank had a full life, he loved order and discipline, was fastidious (to the point of OCD), liked expensive/high-end things, was very sentimental, and perhaps VERY sensitive ~ which is probably the reason for his undoing. Frank seemed to be a truly wonderful person… Thanks so much, Jon, for sharing this extremely interesting project with us!

  32. Daniela MacGregor Sevilla said, on 05/03/2013 at 10:21 am

    What a beautiful project. I believe the pins are from harp or guitar strings (the plug that goes into the instrument to hold the strings at the base of the bridge).

  33. [...] Willard Suitcase #14, Willard Suitcase #15, Willard Suitcase #16, Willard Suitcase #17, Willard Suitcase #18, Willard [...]

  34. Joseph said, on 15/08/2013 at 10:09 pm

    I believe the rubber stamp is his Military serial number. My dad had one when he was in the Army. He would stamp all his belongings.

  35. […] of sheet music and travel literature.  Irma would never leave Willard, dying there in 1971.  Frank was admitted after World War II, and his suitcase included a dense collection of wartime paperwork […]


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