Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Rodrigo L / Only One More

Posted in Candy, gum, gum wrappers, History, Institutions, Mental Health by joncrispin on 28/10/2015

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 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.

Willard Suitcases / Rodrigo L’s Books (Update)

Posted in History, Mental Health, philippine history, psychiatric centers, suitcases by joncrispin on 14/10/2015

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.

Mass Pike / Willard Suitcases / Rodrigo L / Rochester

Posted in Cities, driving, History, Mental Health, Rivers, Travel by joncrispin on 07/10/2015

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.

Willard Suitcases / Names

Posted in Asylums, History, institutionalization, Mental Health, patient's names, psych centers by joncrispin on 05/10/2015

 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.

Willard Suitcases / Irma M / Print Sales

Posted in Asylums, History, Institutions, Mental Health, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 30/09/2015

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 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.

Willard Suitcases / Ovid Talk / Willard Cemetery / Interesting Information

Posted in Asylums, Cemeteries, History, Institutions, libraries, Mental Health, veterans by joncrispin on 28/09/2015

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 site quite a bit this week, so check it out if you get the chance. Thanks for following.

Willard Suitcases / Madeline C. / Ovid talk

Posted in History, Mental Health, old hotels, old photographs by joncrispin on 23/09/2015

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.

Willard Suitcases / Madeline C (update)

Posted in History, Institutions, Mental Health, old recordings by joncrispin on 01/09/2015

I was just speaking with my friend (and the person behind getting me access to the suitcases) Craig Williams.  He thanked me for the post I recently did about Madeline C, and mentioned that this exact recording of You’re Driving Me Crazy was online.  Here it is.


Willard Suitcases / Madeline C

Peggy and I have been making great strides in shooting the cases that were returned from the Exploratorium.  Last week, we started in on Madeline C, and yesterday we worked on her books and papers.

Madeline’s life was very full before coming to Willard.

She was living in the New York City area, and taking classes at both Columbia and Hunter College.  You can see her Hunter ID card in the photograph above.

And here is a New York Public Library request form for a Sigmund Freud book.  Her studies seemed to be focused on philosophy and logic.

Madeline was quite a diarist and writer.

Somehow, she became a patient at Central Islip Psychiatric Center, and it was pretty clear that it wasn’t a great place for her.  We came across many letters that she wrote to doctors outside of the institution that were never mailed.  This is something that we rarely found at Willard.

Peg and I were both very moved by Madeline’s possessions. She was highly educated, completely bi-lingual in French and English (the original spelling of her name was Madeleine, so we assume she was born in France), and lived a very stimulating life before she was institutionalized.

This is just a tiny selection of her papers and books.  I could easily post 50 photographs of her things; something I will get to when I upload her to the site.  Which given the sheer volume of images, might be a while.

Thanks to all of you for hanging in there with me on this.  I really think that I will be done with shooting in the next few weeks, and will move to spending at least a few days a week editing and uploading.  I am hoping to find some sort of artist’s retreat where I could spend a month just working on the project.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

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.


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