Well, this seems to be it. This past Monday when we started our last day of shooting we expected to have just one remaining case with which to work. There were a few names on our master list that we didn’t photograph, but with a collection of over 400 suitcases, we figured that one or two were bound to be unaccounted for.
John M’s suitcase had just come back from the Exploratorium and we were eager to finish with his things. This woolen suit with two pair of trousers was unlike any other we had seen.
It was in pretty good shape, with the exception of this little hole. I don’t think it was a moth problem, but maybe he just caught it on a nail. Love the blue thread that runs through the weave.
We had shut off the strobes and were ready to pack up when we decided to look through the “institutional” items in the collection. (We are trying to decide whether or not to photograph these objects as well.) Peg spotted a box mixed in with the others that contained Lawrence R’s suitcase, so we fired everything up and got back to work.
Lawrence’s case was a really nice one. It contained quite a few letters, and some newspaper clippings. I like the headline here; “Cats Call Truce in War on Rats…” and there is a mention of goats underneath the photo. My friend Tania Werbizky is responsible for introducing me to Willard many years ago, and she loves both cats and goats. So this is a little thank you to her.
I also want to take a moment to give my heartfelt thanks the New York State Museum for allowing me access to the collection. But most of all I want to thank all of you who have been following along with me. I have learned so much from the comments you have posted, and from the very moving emails I have received from people who share with me their own struggles with mental health issues. And as I have said so many times before, I could not, and would not have been able to complete this work without the assistance and encouragement of Peggy Ross. She has added so much to all aspects of the project, and deserves the lion’s share of the credit.
Even though the shooting is finished, the work is far from over, and in some ways it is just the beginning. I will continuously be editing the photos and uploading them to the willardsuitcases.com site. I’ll continue to travel and speak about the suitcases and will be posting here where those talks are happening. There will undoubtedly be exhibits and I will be actively pursuing publishers. There has been so much call for a book, and am hopeful that a publisher will be found.
So, it is onward we go. Thank you all so much.
I have always liked the ephemeral aspects of this project. This would have been a Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit wrapper from the early part of the 20th Century. I am sure someone from Mars (owners of the brand) could date this one, but I couldn’t find a site that details the evolution of gum wrappers, so I would estimate somewhere between 1915 and 1925. Why he saved the chewed piece of gum in the silver paper next to the button is anyone’s guess.
Yesterday, we finished shooting Rodrigo’s things. In looking at our list, only one person remains. John M’s case is being sent back from The Exploratorium, and there is a good chance that it will be in Albany by next week. I went through a very emotional time some months ago while thinking about the shooting phase of the project ending. I think what I will miss most is the impact of opening the cases and feeling a very real connection to these people who were patients at Willard. The job of editing the photographs will be the next big push, and I am really looking forward to it. I am a bit behind on uploading to the willardsuitcases.com site, and am hoping to be able to devote several days a week to working on that.
Thanks for all the support and interest in the project, and especially to folks who are ordering prints from the site. Cheers.
Rodrigo had quite a few books. While shooting yesterday we came across several objects that he had pressed between pages. This feather is breathtakingly beautiful, and I love the discoloration on the opposite page.
This moth was quite intact.
But the dragonfly had lost one of its wings.
This is a classic oak leaf.
This is the book from which these came. Here is a link to some information about José Rizal.
Thanks for following.
My buddy Dhyan had some information about the insects. Here’s what she says. Thanks!
- That is a butterfly not a moth. Butterfly wings go up. Moth wings lay flat on the back.
- You have no idea how much time I “lose” because I get interested in things you publish. I think this butterfly may be a kind of fritillary. See attached pictures. The one in the book is pretty faded. I didn’t see anything “exactly” like it in google.
- Also, I think, looking at the picture that all the dragonfly wings are actually there. Dragonflies have two on each side and there are four wings in the picture.
I started the day very early driving west on the Mass Pike on my way to shoot suitcases.
We were able to learn quite a bit about Rodrigo from his papers. He came to Salt Lake City from the Philippines to attend high school.
He was always active in Filipino organizations in the US. After Salt Lake, he moved to Chicago for a time, then onto Buffalo before ending up at Willard.
I did a quick search for Herbert Ray Olmsted and found this on RootsWeb.
OLMSTEAD HERBERT R., Portrait enlargements and kindred lines of Art Work, studio and office 5 Delevan, h 11 Gaylord (See adv
Love Herbert’s stylish handwriting.
I am in an EconoLodge in Brockport, NY on my way to meet some Erie Canal folks to spend tomorrow shooting the autumn inspection of some of the locks east of Buffalo. Stopped in Rochester for a bite to eat just as the evening was arriving.
I am especially taken by the labels that we find in the suitcases. These small bits of paper and string give us quite a bit of information about the patient as they were brought to Willard. In this case, W (we only have an initial) S (not allowed to use her surname) came to the institution on 16 November 1938. This is a rare case where the label is ripped, but even so, I have had to obscure part of her name.
I am aware that there is an active debate about this, but I come down firmly on the side that would have me able to include the patient’s full names with their possessions. The reason I am forbidden from naming patients has to do with specific New York State law about the privacy of people who were wards of the state. This law supersedes even the Federal HIIPA regulations, which state that 50 years after death, records are available to the public. In fact, many other states use full names in talking about former patients at asylums and psychiatric centers. I won’t go into all the reasons why I feel it is respectful to name the suitcase owners, as I am not so good at putting this kind of argument in writing. But someone contacted me last week who is really good at it.
Here is a link to a post on her site. I am grateful for all the nice things she said about me, but I am especially pleased that she was able to put into words something that I think about often; which is how to show respect to people who at one time in their lives were patients at Willard. So Nelly, thank you so much for your openness about your own situation and the clarity with which you expressed your feelings. I really appreciate it.
I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few days working on Irma’s photographs in order to upload them to the willardsuitcases.com site. Included in her things were several professionally done portraits of her, as well as many indications of what her life was like before coming to Willard. If you would like to check out the collection, go to the site, then “The Cases”, scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will see her name. Make sure you click on “View: ALL”, so as to see all of the photos. It is well worth having a look.
I have set up the site so that you can order prints from the project. It is a fairly simple procedure. When you click on an image in a collection, you will see an “Add to Cart +” button. Click it and from there you will have 3 sizes from which to choose. Just follow the directions about payment, and I will be notified. I’ll then make the print in my studio, sign it, and ship it off. Couldn’t be easier, and it will help the project tremendously. Thanks so much.
On Thursday, I made the trip from Western Massachusetts to Ovid, NY for my talk about the suitcases. I arrived late in the afternoon and the light was nice on the front of this lovely early 1960s building.
It is so great to see a library from this era that hasn’t been messed up by continuous “updating”.
The crowd of about 50 people who attended the event was fantastic. At the beginning of my talk I asked how many in the audience had been employees at Willard, and up went at least 10 hands. I always learn so much by being able to talk to folks who were intimately connected with the place. In fact, two very important facts came out during the question and answer. The first was that while the patients were at Willard, their suitcases and possessions were kept in storage on the same floor as their rooms. And they absolutely had access to their things. I get asked about this regularly; I think most people who see the project assume that once they came to the institution they were stripped of their belongings, which I now know not to be the case.
The other bit of information that I had never understood has to do with why the suitcases were kept by the institution. When a patient died, the State of New York contacted the families and were given two options. Send money to cover shipping costs or come to Willard and pick up the suitcases. We now know that neither of these things happened to approximately 400 deceased patients, which is why the collection exists today. Amazing. Thanks so much to the wonderful Peggy Ellsworth for clearing this up.
Before the Friday noon brown bag lunch at the library, I had the chance to go to the cemetery and walk around for a bit. It is always something I do when in the area, and connects me to the place in a very real way.
Recently I have been in contact with a nice gentleman who expressed an interest in Frank C. He was concerned that as a veteran, Frank was not accorded the proper respect in his burial. This brought up the subject of the section of the cemetery that contains the headstones of veterans who were patients at Willard. As you can see by the flags, there is someone making sure that this section is well tended. What is most interesting is that this is the only part of the cemetery where the patients are named, and headstones placed over the graves.
I hope to be updating the willardsuitcases.com site quite a bit this week, so check it out if you get the chance. Thanks for following.
One of the cool things for me about Madeline’s collection is that she had the negatives for many of her photographs. The museum did a fantastic job in conserving and co-ordinating the negatives with the prints.
When I turned over this particular postcard, I was thrilled to see that she had stayed at the Prince George Hotel in New York City. I have overnighted there twice, and both were memorable. The first time I had just turned 16 and I, along with my friends Jeff, Jay, and Dennis drove to the city from Meadville and were there for a few nights. The other occasion was sometime in the early 1980s. That one got a bit weird.
Tomorrow I drive to Ovid for my talk at the public library. Edith B. Ford Library, 7pm. Hope to see you. I also expect to be there on Friday at noon for a brown bag lunch.
I drove to Ithaca on Friday in order to attend the annual Willard Psychiatric Center employee reunion. Saturday morning, Peter Carroll and I started our day in the usual way; breakfast at the Lincoln St. Diner and then a photo of him jumping. It is the best diner breakfast anywhere.
I seem to remember a time when the Happy Landing was open, although I never did eat there. It is on Route 96 between Trumansburg and Willard, and I have driven past it hundreds of times. Love the sign.
I have been to the employee reunion before, and it is an amazing event. Peter came along this time so that Peggy Ellsworth could introduce him to some of the retired staff. It looks like he and Deb Hoard will be making a documentary on the suitcases project that will include some interviews with former employees. It is something Peter and Deb have been talking to me about for a while, and is very exciting. It’s still early days, and funding is a big hurdle, but I really think it will happen.
After the event, we drove over to Ovid to look at the “three bears” buildings in the center of town. I noticed that the public library was still open, so I went in to say hi. Librarian Katie Fontana was just closing up but was happy to show me the room where I will be speaking on Thursday the 24th of this month. I would encourage any of you who are nearby to come. There also will be some sort of brown bag lunch the next day. Here’s is a link to the library web site. Hope to see you there. And this is the BEST sign ever.
On our way back to Ithaca, we had time for a quick stop at the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg for a beer with Craig Williams and Helen McLallen. Quite a place with lots of history.
On my way out on Friday, I had noticed more goldenrod than I’ve seen in ages. This shot was taken about 3 miles East of Bainbridge, just before I got back on Route 88 for the drive home. The hillsides are covered with it.
If any of you can make it to Ovid for the talk, shoot me an email. Maybe a bunch of us can meet at the Rongo for a beer afterwards. Cheers, y’all.