Jon Crispin's Notebook

Sunday Evening

Posted in Cemeteries, Food, Friends, Graveyards, History, Jon Crispin, Nature, Plants, woods by joncrispin on 16/11/2014

cornchowder

I made this corn chowder recipe tonight.  Perfect for a cold Sunday.  I always buy extra ears of sweet corn during the summer and freeze what we don’t eat for days like this.  Very nice; give it a try sometime.

One of the great things about the suitcases project is hearing from people who find other work that is related to institutionalization. Charlie Seton sent me this link today.  What an interesting project.  Thanks Charlie.  And my great buddy Hank who has been following the suitcases from the beginning sent this link about Letchworth Village in Rockland County.  It is interesting to me that surnames are used on the commemorative plaque.

I know some of you know a lot about plants.  I started seeing these guys in the early Autumn.  I don’t think they are plants that lost their leaves; I am quite sure that this is the whole deal.

And I have discovered some new trails above the house.  Before the snow last week I saw a few of these evergreen-like plants that I have never seen before.  If any of you can help identify them, I would love to know.

Sorry the top is out of focus.  I only had my phone with me and as this little guy was only a few inches long, there wasn’t much depth of field.

Wishing you all a great week, my dear online friends.

Berlin

Posted in Abandoned Buildings, Architecture, Buildings, Community, Government, History, Travel by joncrispin on 10/11/2014

I moved to Berlin in January of 1986.  I really needed to get away from Ithaca, and I had some issues which needed attention.  I spent mornings at the Goethe Institute studying German and the rest of the day photographing.  I was drawn to the city because of the division; one could see the extremes of Capitalism on the West side, then go through a checkpoint on the same day and see what the Commies were up to.  It was like stepping back forty years.

I like the phrase “wer mauert hat’s nötig” which I always took to mean “whoever builds walls needs them”.  Which is relevant here as the East Germans built the thing and then called it an “anti-facist barrier”.

In looking over my contact sheets this morning I realized that there are very few people in any of my wall photographs.  It always amazed me that even on the West side, people stayed away from it (except the graffiti folks who must have worked at odd hours, as I never saw anyone writing on the thing).

I used to like to take the bus to Steinstücken and wander around.  It was an odd little Western enclave almost totally surrounded by the East.  You can read about it here.  There was a rail line running straight through it and you could stick your head around a corner and be face to face with a guard tower.  It always seemed a likely place for a crossing, but I never heard of one. / I met a lot of Berliners and was always interested to hear stories of unique situations with the wall.  I was once told that at some locations there were gates where Westerners could use a key to access their gardens in the East.  Probably not true, but interesting to think about.

Here is Checkpoint Charlie at night.

The wall has been down for 25 years now.  I seriously doubt it was Reagan’s “Mr Gorbachev, bring down this wall” plea that had anything to do with it opening up.  More like the East Germans made some really stupid mistakes, which is not surprising as they were running a completely effed up and vile organization.

The Foundling Museum

Posted in Art, Asylums, History by joncrispin on 15/10/2014

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.

Block Island Southeast Light

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, History, Jon Crispin, Landscape by joncrispin on 01/07/2014

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.

Tilghman(‘s) Island/DuPont Circle

Posted in Architecture, Automobiles, Buildings, Cities, Fishing, Food, History, Maps, Rivers, Transportation, Travel, Water, Work by joncrispin on 26/06/2014

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.

Home tomorrow.

Willard Suitcases/Lawrence Mocha/Theresa L.

Posted in ephemera, History, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 23/06/2014

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.

Willard Suitcases / Agnes M / White Star Britannic

Posted in Boats, Family, History, Ocean Liners, Ships, Transportation, Travel, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 05/06/2014

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.

Kickstarter Rewards

Posted in History, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 02/06/2014

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.

Willard Tour

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.

Willard Suitcases / Anna H / Talk in Albany

Posted in History, Jon Crispin, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 03/04/2014

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.

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