Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Over The Top

Posted in Architecture, Asylums, Dance, Hadley Hall, History, Landscape, Willard Asylum by joncrispin on 04/03/2014

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.

Willard Suitcases / Ethel S

Posted in Abandoned Buildings, History, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 02/03/2014

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.

Willard Cemetery / Thanks

Posted in History, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 28/02/2014

Last February, Craig Williams and I were at Willard shooting the attic where the suitcases were “rediscovered. (Here’s a link to an earlier post)  There aren’t many of these upright metal markers left.

After we were done, we walked across the road to the cemetery.  It is always very moving to see the field where many of the Willard patients are buried in numbered graves.  And interesting to note that starting in the late 1930s, and ending just before he died 1968, a patient named Lawrence M  was the primary gravedigger.  Amazing.

I have posted before about the cemetery and the people who are working diligently to honor the dead by attaching names to the numbers.  Click here and here to read those previous posts.

Thanks for all the tremendous response to my “appeal” post the other night. We are at $14,000 on the Kickstarter appeal, and I am feeling very positive.

Willard Suitcases / Alice M.

Posted in History, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 05/02/2014

When I am working with the suitcases, my biggest reaction comes when I open a case for the first time.  I just never know what to expect.

I have always like these wicker-like suitcases and this one is particularly interesting.

I just didn’t expect to see such an amazing lining when I opened Alice’s case.  It took my breath away.

 She was admitted to Willard on 6th October, 1941.

The second Kickstarter appeal has been up for less than 48 hours, and I am really excited.  Thanks for all the support.

Willard Suitcases / Agnes J

Posted in History, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 06/01/2014

Earlier today I uploaded Agnes J’s case to the willardsuitcases.com site.  (Go to “The Cases” and click the link on her name.)  She is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that her satchel contained a wealth of correspondence that revealed so much about her life.  Hers was the first case that I shot with so much personal information.

There is a line in the letter below that explains so much about her being sent to Willard.

“But don’t come back to the Y.W. and threaten to kill that girl again–that’s what put you where you are now.”  Chilling and so sad.

She started this letter to President Hover [sic] while she was a patient at Warren State Hospital which is very near to where I grew up.

So please check out her two cases on the suitcases site.  And I’d like to welcome all the new readers to this site.  Something was published somewhere on the net that linked to my project, and I have been getting lots of interesting emails from people in the past few days.  If you want to see all of my wordpress posts about the project, just click here, and welcome.

Willard Suitcase / Elizabeth M

Posted in Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 18/12/2013

At times I struggle a bit with most of the long-term projects on which I spend a great deal of time and energy.  I realize that it is a normal part of the process, and having questions about what I am trying to do actually gives me a chance to think and, I hope, eventually get some answers.

During the first phase of this work, most of the cases that I was shooting were quite full of items that folks brought with them to Willard.  Craig Williams rightly thought that since my time was limited, I should concentrate on the most “interesting” cases.  Once I became committed to a complete documentation of all of the roughly 430 suitcases, I realized that most of the ones that I hadn’t shot were empty.  But empty is a relative term here.  In addition to the paper tags that identify the owner of each case, there is a beauty in the suitcase itself, and in the fabric lining, and in the straps designed to hold people’s clothing secure during transit.  Occasionally there will be some other random object; a hair pin, a button, a luggage tag, a newspaper clipping.

On Monday I was beginning to think that my interest in these empty cases was somewhat misplaced.  The project had gotten so much attention early on, and I understand that it was due primarily to what the cases contain, and what those contents say about the individuals that own them.  While shooting, I was feeling that fewer people would be interested in the empty ones, and I was bothered by that.  I thought about it a lot during my drive home from Rotterdam, and I began to remember what I always talk about when speaking about art and creativity.  Ultimately, the only reason to create art is to please the person who is creating it.  If others are affected by it, that is a huge bonus.  All I know right now is that I look at the photographs I took of this case and I see a life.  I see that her name was Elizabeth and that she came to Willard on 30 November, 1951. I see that she had a beautiful leather suitcase, and that someone in her family had the name Mary.  And I am really moved by this and hope to be able to move others when they look at these pictures.

So I am really jazzed about continuing.  The video for the next Kickstarter appeal is done and I have to decide when to get it up and running.  Right now I am thinking that early to mid January is the time, and I will certainly post about it here.  In the meantime, thank you all for following the project.  I really appreciate the comments and emails that come my way.

Elmira Prison / South Church

Posted in Architecture, Asylums, Buildings, Cities, Government, History, Newspapers, Willard Asylum by joncrispin on 18/11/2013

Craig Williams sent me a link to an article that ran in the Trumansburg, NY weekly paper, and I wanted to pass it along.  It is a very well thought out editorial on the potential closing of two Southern Tier psych centers (Willard is also mentioned).  Here is the link.  I thought of the above photo when the writer spoke about how the alternative to folks getting help in psych centers is to house them in prisons.  The above photo is from a project I did in the 1980s photographing early 20th Century New York State prisons.  This particular shot was taken in the Elmira Correctional Facility which would undoubtedly end up hosting some of the very people who would not be able to get treatment in the psych centers that are meant to close.  I accept that it is all very complicated, but some logical planning on the State’s part should be encouraged.

On a somewhat connected note, yesterday I photographed a very moving interfaith service at the South Church in Springfield called “Creating a Peace-Full City”.  There has been an awful spate of gun-related violence in Springfield this year, and many have come together to see if something positive could be done about it.  I had never been in this church before and it is stunning.

Ithaca Suitcase Talk

Posted in Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 30/09/2013

I will be talking about the Willard Suitcases project at the Tompkins County Public Library  in Ithaca, NY on Thursday, 24th October.  Craig Williams will also be there and it should be a fun evening.  The event will take place in the Borg Warner room at 6.00 PM and is, of course, open to the public.  It would be a good chance to meet those of you who live in central New York and can attend.

I like this photograph from John C’s case as it shows how carefully the staff at the New York State museum worked to preserve these delicate objects.  I have just uploaded his suitcase to the willardsuitcases.com site, so you can now see what else John had with him at Willard.

Willard Suitcase #23

Posted in Jon Crispin, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 13/08/2013

Welcome to all of you who came here through the Boing Boing article (slight spelling error on my surname).  I usually know that an article was published somewhere on the web when I start to get lots of new people subscribing to this site.  I took me a few minutes to track down the source, but as always, I am grateful for the exposure.

Not all of the cases contain much in the way of objects, and this one felt quite empty when I set it on the background.

This was the first tartan case I have come across and it surprised me with its brightness.

There was only the tiniest scrap of paper inside, but for some reason it was very evocative.  You can just make it out on the front flap of the case.

I am always excited when a suitcase reveals a date.  And why this charred bit from the Elmira Star-Gazette is all that is left of Viola G.’s time at Willard is anyone’s guess.

I also want to mention an interesting podcast on Port Magazine’s site.  Barney Rowntree is a radio producer based in the UK and a few months ago, Karen Miller and I went into a studio in Boston to have a chat with him about the project.  Here is the link to the piece that he produced (another spelling error on my name, but they are working on it).  It is just under 15 minutes and worth a listen.

Again, a hearty welcome to all you folks who are new to the project.  Thanks for your interest.

Willard Suitcase #21 / Irma M.

Posted in Asylums, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 17/07/2013

I was back at the museum shooting suitcases yesterday.  Irma’s possessions were in several storage boxes and we weren’t able to finish up last week.  This time I concentrated on some of her travel memorabilia and a few pieces of fabric.

As I had mentioned in last week’s post, she seems to have travelled extensively before coming to Willard.  One of the boxes contained many items from Scandinavia including this beautiful collection of photographs from Norway.

She was quite a collector.

This interesting card was addressed to her when she was in New York City and I think it might have been from her sister.  Below is the reverse side.

And it appears that she spent time taking the cure at Mont-Dore.

This brochure is very cool.

For those of you fortunate enough to read French, you can get an idea about the treatments available.  I am totally diggin’ les “Costumes du Mont-Dore”.

Here is a small section of the map that opened up in the center of the brochure.

And here she is in all her beauty.  Heart-breaking.  Note the sheet music in the photo on the left.

There was a large collection of family snapshots.

And I believe that the gentleman on the bottom left is her brother or brother in law.

This is a detail of a bathrobe that was obviously hand sewn.

Above are two beautiful scarves with this small clutch purse.

And a nice detail of the beads on the clutch.

Yesterday I also shot a case of a woman named Josephine who came to Willard at the age of 25 in 1898 and died at the institution in 1973.  Her case is the oldest in the collection and I hope to post some shots next week.  Thanks for following, and thanks so much to the New York State Museum for allowing me access to this amazing collection.

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