Early on in the suitcase project, people started sending me links to the Foundling Museum in London. Some saw an emotional connection between my project and the amazing stories that are a part of the museum’s collection. I was really flattered. This past Friday I finally got the chance to stop by and visit. It is really difficult to describe in words the impact of the exhibits, and of the building itself.
This is one of many tokens that mothers or fathers left behind to identify their children should they ever return to claim their abandoned child. It was a simple, but effective system. So much history here, and I would encourage going to their site to read about what an incredible institution Thomas Coram envisioned and successfully started.
I thought a lot about charity, art, and how brilliant Coram was in bringing in creative people to support the hospital. Both William Hogarth and George Frideric Handel were governors, and donated time and energy to the idea of saving abandoned children. The museum still utilizes this model in their temporary gallery space. I was really bummed to have just missed a Grayson Perry exhibit. (If you have a few hours to spare, please listen to this.)
Sometimes art can really have an impact.
I took a long bike ride around the island this morning with the intention of stopping at the Southeast lighthouse.
It is now owned by a private foundation, and they offer brief tours for $10.00.
A very nice young woman by the name of Winter showed me around.
The building was built in the 1870s and shows signs of wear, but it is still a functioning lighthouse.
The lens is amazing and beautiful.
There are two bulbs; Winter thought the one on the left was a backup. It cycles on and off every 3.7 seconds. It is interesting how such a small bulb can produce so much illumination.
The hexagonal shapes in the floor are small glass skylights.
I usually photograph Nineteenth Century buildings that are not in use and are abandoned. It is lovely to be in one that is still used for its original purpose.
I have spent the last two days on Tilghman Island shooting more artifacts and a bunch of really interesting artwork. It is a remarkable place, and I just love working there. The above shot is a detail from a very old linen map of oyster beds near the island. It was literally falling apart but is an amazing remnant of work life on the bay.
After 6 months of really hard work, it looks like Peter has found a job. It will be a few weeks before he starts, but we are so happy for him. I took a quick shower after the drive back to DC from Tilghman’s and we went right out to buy him some work clothes. There is a GAP practically next to Nando’s so we ate some chicken and then went to Larry’s for ice cream. It is a wonderful place on Connecticut Avenue. I had lavender, which was probably the most interesting flavor I’ve had in years.
There is a very interesting article in today’s Finger Lakes Times. Here is the link. It brings up the whole issue of names and honoring those who lived and worked at Willard, and is well worth the read.
I shot Theresa’s case recently and it contained some interesting articles. If anyone out there can tell me for what “Banana Liquid” was used, I’ll send you a postcard. Reply in comments and I will get in touch and ask for a mailing address.
Peggy and I had a very productive day shooting the suitcases yesterday. We are continuing to make great progress, and still have hopes that we can finish all the cases by the end of the year.
I have always been fascinated by the labels that are on some of the cases and this one is particularly interesting. The White Star Line has an interesting history and even though there is a bit of confusion about the name of the ship here, I am quite sure it is the Britannic. (On the label it seems to say Britanica, but when I did an online search only Britannic came up.) The “Sailing from” line is very difficult to read, but it looks to be Qu….town (Queenstown?) and the sailing date is “Sep 28″. The port of landing (such a quaint phrase) is definitely New York. You can see the U.S. Customs sticker in the shot below.
So, as usual, lots of questions come up and I am hoping that anyone who knows about ocean liners and travel might have some suggestions about what route this might have been for Agnes M. If any of you want to do some serious work on this, I can email a high res file of the label.
Karen Miller, my friend who is using the cases and their owners as a basis for writing amazing poems was in Rotterdam with us yesterday, and she and I realized that we were both passengers on the SS United States in 1957. She was on her way to the UK to live there for a year with her family, and I was returning from some months in Europe and the UK with my family. I posted about that trip here.
Today I finished printing all the smaller prints for the backers of my Kickstarter campaign. I posted an update on my KS page for backers, but I wanted to mention it here as well. I LOVE printing these images. There is something about how they look on paper, as opposed to the computer screen, that knocks me out. I have printed extras as I usually do, and for any of you who missed out on the campaign and would like to be a part of the project, I would be open to selling prints. Just shoot me an email or comment below and I will be happy to talk about pricing. I’ll start stuffing and addressing envelopes tomorrow. Thanks for all the interest in the project and have a great week.
I wasn’t sure I would go to the Willard tour this past weekend until I was recently contacted by Ken Paddock. When Ken told me the story of his aunt Helen who died at a very young age as a patient at Willard, I really wanted to meet him. His family had kept an amazing collection of documents and artifacts related to her death in 1928 at the age of 17. She had contracted a disease (possibly scarlet fever) at a young age which caused blindness and other problems, and she was sent by the family to The Syracuse State School for Mental Defectives. She was transferred to Willard when the State School could no longer control her. The collection contains letters written to the family about her situation, including a letter from the head of the State School advising the family why she would be moved. Ken’s mother rarely talked about her older sister, and it wasn’t until just before her death in 2001 that details about Helen’s institutionalization started to come out. It is amazing to me that these artifacts were saved by the family, especially since it seemed that no one spoke much about her for such a long time. I met Ken, his wife Kathy, and their cousin Carol at the Taughannock Falls overlook on Saturday morning and was shown a binder full of artifacts. They encouraged me to talk about her life, and are graciously allowing me to photograph the collection, which I hope to do later this summer. It is great to be able to use her full name as this collection is in private hands and does not come under the state’s control. So, here’s a kind thought for Helen W. Howden, and thanks to Ken’s family for sharing her story.
We got up to Willard at around 12.45 and were organized into groups for the tour. The first stop was Brookside, which is where the medical director and his family lived. It is a lovely early 20th Century house and situated right on the shore of Seneca Lake. As usual I was drawn to one of the three kitchens and took a few shots before I headed downstairs.
This device was used when the family wanted to request something from the staff. When Craig Williams and I were looking at it, the buzzer sounded when another member of the tour pushed a button in one of the upstairs rooms.
Next stop was the game room in the basement. I am not sure which director’s family would have used this foosball table, but it was most likely Dr. Anthony Mustille’s children.
Since I had already been in several of the buildings on the tour, Peggy Ellsworth suggested I come over to the morgue when it was between groups. She is one of the main boosters of Willard’s past, and spends a great deal of her energy keeping the spirit of the place alive. She told me an amazing story of her first day on the job after she had graduated from the nursing school. It involved her first autopsy when she was standing right where she is in this photograph.
It constantly astounds me that evidence of how these rooms were used is still in place decades after Willard’s closing.
The morgue building is a tiny little brick edifice that I had never been able to get into on my earlier visits.
So many interesting aspects to this room.
This is the faucet at the head of the autopsy table.
And who knows why this retractor was left behind?
It is really quite a space, and reminds me a bit of the autopsy room at Ellis Island that I photographed a few years ago. After I left the morgue I headed over to Elliot Hall which was built in 1931.
It reminds me of several of the other state hospitals I have visited; long corridors with day rooms at the end of hallways.
And the stairwells are very similar to ones I have photographed at other institutions.
Before leaving to head home, I stopped by the cemetery where the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project folks arranged this nice remembrance of Lawrence Marek (unfortunately not his real surname) who while a patient at Willard dug over 900 graves for those who died while living at the institution.
The next tour of Willard should take place again next May. It is a great opportunity to meet former staff and see first hand what an amazing place it was, and in many respects, still is.
After a bit of a break, we were back to shooting more of the suitcases yesterday. It was a productive day, and after the intensity of the Kickstarter appeal, it was nice to be back to doing what is the most important part of the project.
Anna’s case was in nice condition and the wicker pattern was lovely.
For those of you in the Albany area, I would love to see you at a presentation I will be giving at The University at Albany next Thursday the 10th. I will be talking about the suitcases and some of my other work to Katherine Van Acker’s class on documentary studies. Here are the details: Uptown Campus, Science Library Room SL G02, 5.45 pm. On our way back from Rotterdam yesterday, Peg drove me around the campus so I could get my bearings, and the first thing I noticed is that parking could be very difficult. There is a very small visitors lot (link to campus map), so if you plan on attending I would encourage you to get there early.
Well, it seems we made it. Late this afternoon we went over the $20,000 goal, with 324 backers. There is still just under 24 hours to go and I am hoping a few more folks will come in to be a part of the community.
I couldn’t find a date on this scan of a bird’s-eye view of Willard, but I am guessing late 19th Century. The main building in the foreground is Chapin House, which sadly, is now gone.
And this photograph is from a Hallowe’en party in Hadley Hall (also where movies were shown). I assume it was taken sometime in the 1950’s. The band almost certainly are not patients, but the dancers and the folks sitting around the dance floor would mostly be. This room still exists, in fact it is where Karen Miller and I spoke at the Romulus Historical Society event this past summer.
Every time I write up a post here, or update the Kickstarter page, I find myself wanting to over-use the word “amazing”. This whole project is that way for me. Amazing that I have access to the cases, amazing that the cases even exist, the amazing lives that are revealed by the contents of the cases, the amazing people that are working with me (thanks Peg, and everyone at the museum), and the amazing people that are supporting this work through Kickstarter and in so many other ways. There, I think I got it out of my system. But, you know, it is really something to be a part of all this. Cheers everyone, and thanks. I am back shooting the suitcases tomorrow, and hope to have an update in the evening when I get back.
Ethel S came to Willard with some beautiful quilts, which I have reason to believe she had made herself.
She also had some interesting photographs, and her Bible was a very nice edition.
And for some reason she arrived with a complete set of cutlery.
I especially liked this spoon, which was most likely hers as a child.
I often find myself wondering what impact her faith had in how she coped with life at the asylum.
As you can see, Ethel was admitted on 3 July, 1930.
Three days to go on the Kickstarter appeal. Thank you all for your support. I have every confidence we will make it. I especially want to thank those of you who have increased your pledges. I am a bit overwhelmed by all this. You all must know that this is not so much about me and my life as a photographer, but about the people who lived at Willard, those who took care of them, and all of you who are a part of the project. Have a great week everybody.