Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Michael B

Posted in History, Jon Crispin, Mental Health, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 05/08/2015

Here is another example of a complication in one’s life that could possibly lead to time spent at Willard.  It has not been unusual to find evidence of language problems in the lives of people who were patients there.  Obviously, there must have been other factors in Michael’s situation that led him to Willard, but we have never seen such a direct link to language issues.  (Michael was born Michele B in Italy.)  The pink note should be readable, but if not, here is the text.  “Please give this man something for his ear as he can not talk much english [sic] to make you understand what he wants.”  Very sad, and I wonder what the writer meant by “something for his ear”.  My first thought upon reading this was a reference to the Babel Fish which is featured in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide series of books.

This is also the second case in which we found postcards having to do with the Lone Ranger.

Yesterday, we also photographed Lawrence Mocha’s suitcase.  I will do a longer post about him in the next few days.

Thanks for following.

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D. / Tour

Posted in History, Mental Health, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 29/04/2015

Yesterday Peg noticed some of Margaret D’s handiwork with a needle.  And here is one of those needles, still in place where she last used it.  I have no idea what this process is called, but it looks quite intricate.

The annual public tour of Willard is on for Saturday the 16th of May.  It is a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Children’s Center.  Here is a link to their Facebook page.  I would advise getting there very early, as this is a wildly popular event.  Tours are run at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm.  And if you have never experienced a central New York State chicken bbq, I would advise you to get some tickets for it.  Also that day, a memorial service will be held at the cemetery across the street honoring Lawrence Mocha, who as a patient dug many of the graves.  That event takes place at 11.00 am and should be interesting.

I will be there for much of the day, and would be most happy if those of you who follow this project would come up and say hello.  If  former Willard employee Peggy Ellsworth is in charge at the morgue again this year, I will probably hang out with her much of the time.

Willard Suitcases / Knots

Posted in History, Mental Health, Willard Asylum by joncrispin on 15/04/2015

I am often asked if I have a favorite suitcase or photo from the project.  I don’t, really.  But one recurring theme is the idea of knots.  It started initially with the string that the museum used to secure the archival paper that helps to preserve each case.  But soon I started to see them in the possessions of the patients, especially the clothing.  Peg and I worked on more of Margaret D’s things yesterday, and this shot of a beautiful camisole shows a lovely little knot tied near one of the straps.

Here is an example from the outside of Eleanor G’s case.

I have been uploading more case to the willardsuitcases.com site.  Check it out if you haven’t been there lately.

Willard Suitcases / Freda B / Margaret D

Posted in History, Mental Health, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 17/03/2015

I started shooting the Willard Suitcases project on 17 March 2011, which is exactly four years ago today.  I had no idea what I was doing, but knowing that I had access to one of the most unique collections of institutional artifacts anywhere, I figured something had to come of it.  Here is a link to a post I put up the next day.

Peg and I spent the day continuing to work our way through Margaret D’s possessions.

The list above seems to be a resumé of sorts.  And you can see Margaret’s will on the lower right.

A huge thank you goes out to everyone that has helped me with this work, and to those who have appreciated my efforts.  All best, Jon

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D / Post #3

Posted in History, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 03/03/2015

We have been learning quite a bit about Margaret’s life before she came to Willard.  She worked at Herman M. Biggs Memorial Hospital in Ithaca as a nurse, and at some point had some sort of surgery.  There were a large number of get well cards in the boxes we worked on yesterday, many of which had lovely personal notes on the inside.  It was clear that she was very well liked by her friends and co-workers.

As I have mentioned before, Margaret came to Willard with almost everything she had accumulated up to that point in her life.  Yesterday we came across her 1939 and 1940 1040A forms and quite a few photographs.  Inside of a photo envelope labeled “Easter Greetings” was a picture of the car that I mentioned in this post.

In the same envelope was a photograph of the hospital in Ithaca where she once worked. / Peggy Ross was especially helpful yesterday, and I wanted to thank her again for all her hard work on the project.  Her organizational skills are only outweighed by her cheerful spirit, which when shooting in a darkish and chilly storage facility is very much welcomed.

There has been quite a bit of attention to the project lately and with many new folks coming to this site, I wanted to remind everyone that I am continually uploading earlier shoots to the willardsuitcases.com site.  Check it out if you haven’t been there lately, and thanks for following.

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D / Car

Posted in Automobiles, History, Mental Health, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 24/02/2015

  Margaret D arrived at Willard with almost her entire household as well as her car.  Which in this case was a Dodge Brothers Coupe that she bought new in 1934.  Here is what Hemmings has to say about it.  An amazing automobile.

This is the first page of the notebook where she kept track of trips that she took in it.  I am quite familiar with the first legs of the journey, having grown up in Western Pennsylvania.  Especially the Salamanca, NY to Bradford, PA leg.  And my great friend and college roommate Gail grew up in Ridgeway, where I have spent quite a bit of time.

I am just blown away when I think about the stories contained in these suitcases.  Thanks for following along with me.

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D / Question * Update!

Posted in Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 18/02/2015

Yesterday we had a very productive day shooting more of Margaret D’s possessions.  Every once in a while, something completely unexpected pops up.  Among the many photographs in Margaret’s collection was this picture postcard.  It was so unlike everything else that she had that it was a bit of a shock.  There was no information on the back, but I thought I immediately knew the identity of the woman in the bathing suit.  Peg wasn’t so sure.  So I am opening it up for all of you to help us figure out who this is.  In a few days, I will post my guess, along with more images from the shoot.  As I mentioned before, Margaret came to Willard with almost an entire household.  It will take us months to get through it all, but is a remarkable look into her life.

Wow, my sister Karen nailed it.  Ann Miller.  Look in the comments to see the other responses.  Here is the original that she tracked down on the web.

Thanks Sis!  And I owe Peggy a beer.  My money was on Bess Myerson.

Willard Suitcases / William G

Posted in History, Mental Health, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 13/02/2015

I uploaded William G’s case to the willardsuitcases.com site today.  There is a lot of history here.  The Fort Randolph towels give a hint as to where his military service occurred.  And he must have had some connection to the Boy Scouts.

You can check out more of what he chose to bring to Willard with him here.  This is one of my favorite collections.

Willard Suitcases / Henry S / Prints

Posted in Asylums, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 11/02/2015

I keep moving along with uploading cases to the site.  This morning I was working on Henry S’s beautiful old leather case and was reminded that when we shot it, there was some confusion as to the contents.

At first it seemed possible that this was Henry’s collection of nuts (many of the patients were allowed to walk around the grounds at Willard). But on closer inspection we saw the small hole at the back left of the case which indicated that some small critter was using it as a cache for its nutritional needs.

I am often asked if prints of the project are for sale, and I have finally set up the system to be able to buy them.  Just go to the site and click on a case, then click the image, then click the blue button “Add to Cart”.  There are three sizes available, all on archival matte paper, printed and signed by me.  The images look great on a computer screen, but the prints are something else entirely.  Similar to the Kickstarter appeals, all proceeds go directly back into the project.  I would be grateful for the support.

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D

Posted in Asylums, Mental Health, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 05/02/2015

On Tuesday, Peg and I started in on Margaret D’s cases.  By all accounts she came to Willard with her entire household, which included a car.  There is so much of hers in the collection that we literally did not know where or how to start.  The first shot we took is of this remnant of a shipping label, and it seemed as good a place as any to begin.  She came to Willard from the Mount Morris TB Hospital, but I haven’t yet seen anything with a date on it to know for sure when she arrived.

It will take us weeks to get through her things, but now that we have started, I feel excited to proceed.  I will continue to post about her as we move ahead.

My son Peter sent me a link to an interesting article in Sunday’s Washington Post.  It is about a woman who struggles with a lot of the same issues that many Willard patients must have experienced.  Here is the link.

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