Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcase #3

Posted in History, People, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 04/10/2011

I was in Albany last Monday to shoot some more of the Willard suitcases.  It was the day Peter Carroll was filming me for the Kickstarter video, so it was a bit different of an experience.  I was comfortable when Peter was shooting me work, but as soon as he started interviewing me, I lost the plot.  Sometimes it is hard to put into words what I am feeling about this project.  The photos seem to speak for themselves and I have always expressed myself best through pictures and not words.  Anyway, if you have seen the video here, you will understand what an amazing editor he is.  He took my jumbled thoughts and made sense of them.   Kickstarter emphasizes how important a short video is to getting funded, and I think it has really made a difference.

So here is Fred Butters’ case.  It is a beautiful design, and I especially love how the leather helps to define it.  The handle is also in really nice shape.

There wasn’t a lot in it when it was opened, but what was there was really interesting.

It is so touching to see what he brought with him to Willard.

I especially like the metal container of talc and the design of the Polident can.

The blank postcards say alot too.  One element of this project I need to have answered is whether or not the owners had access to the suitcases while they were at Willard.  If they didn’t, what would explain the envelope with the stamp on it that wasn’t ever mailed?  I’ll ask Craig; he will know.

The toothbrush container is glass.

Here is the talc container, and below a letter.  I really need to find out if he brought it with him or received it while living at Willard.

So, the project is now posted at Kickstarter.  I am really hoping I reach my goal so I can continue to do this work.  If you know anyone who might be interested, please feel free to forward it along.  Thanks to everyone who has already donated, and to all who have looked at the photos.

18 Responses

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  1. L.S. Stuhler said, on 05/10/2011 at 11:34 am

    Hello Jon,
    I added your blog link to my blog under “Links.” I hope this is ok with you. Thanks for your wonderful photos!
    Sincerely, Lin Stuhler

  2. Alison Gothard said, on 28/10/2011 at 5:57 pm

    Jon, I have to say your photos are beautiful and fascinating. I will follow this as you post more.

  3. lotusamarisvomiting said, on 01/11/2011 at 5:27 pm

    ‘Alot’ is not a word. Please correct this, it really detracts from your otherwise beautiful posts.

    • joncrispin said, on 01/11/2011 at 6:17 pm

      Lotus, thanks, I just learned this a few days ago when I googled it, but I guess it hasn’t sunk in. My mom was an English teacher and was a stickler for grammar. I try quite hard to speak and write clearly, and I appreciate your comment. And I am grateful for your interest in my work. Jon

      • Josh Douglas said, on 17/05/2012 at 3:12 pm

        Hello, Fred T. Butters is my Great Grandfather and my Grandmother was wondering if there was a way for her to get together with you or maybe call you so she could come see the cases if that is at all possible.

  4. Vanessa said, on 02/11/2011 at 7:04 pm

    Hi Jon,

    What did the letter say? Its hard to tell.

    PS: Great project/blog!

  5. Tom Hall said, on 03/11/2011 at 3:14 pm

    Jon – What I find fascinating is that the stamped envelope is not post-marked. And that Ida write her address both there and at the top of the letter. My guess and postcards were given to Fred as he left for Willard, and Ida wanted him to write. But who is Ida? And who is Bertha? I wish I could get a better look at that letter.

    I’m guessing they were either lifelong friends or relatives – perhaps cousins – from Elmira. Fred T Butters was born in Elmira in 1872. He married Rozella Smith in 1893 and moved to Penn Yan, where he was in the plumbing business or something along those lines. He and his brother Charles both enlisted in the Navy during World War I, even though they were both in their late 40s by then. In 1919, he broke his arm crank-starting his Model T (the crank got loose from him). In the mid-20s, he and his wife moved to Orlando, Florida. After he went to Willard (in 1938 or so), his wife returned to NY and lived in Oxford, passing away some time after 1955. He had two sons and a daughter – both sons went to Syracuse.

    He would have been 66 or so when he went to Willard – I’m swagging it here, but I’m guessing he probably had Alzheimers, a stroke or a related age-related dementia, rather than a chronic mental illness. Key to the year – the stamp on the envelope. The 3 cent purple Jefferson stamp was only issued in 1938 (3 cent postage for first class postage in the US was from 1932 to 1943).

    But who are Ida and Bertha? It’s killin’ me.

    • Tom Hall said, on 03/11/2011 at 3:17 pm

      ….”Ida wrote”, that is. Typing faster than I was thinking.

    • Tom Hall said, on 03/11/2011 at 7:51 pm

      Jon – Regarding the “naming” issue – IMHO, I think the “protected medical information” issue is more than a little specious. These cases aren’t medical records (which would be protected), but abandoned property. Kind of like when people buy the contents of a storage locker at auction – the person who abandoned the contents (or his kin) has no expectation of privacy, and the winning bidder at the auction can disseminate or post whatever he might desire on the internet or wherever. Understandably, this is different that a storage unit, but the principle is the same. Similarly, the rules concering medical confidentiality don’t carry forward to descendents or relatives – they apply only to the patient himself. And then the patient dies, the expectation of confidentiality dies with him. And we abandon a lot of things when we die. Might sound a little harsh, true – but the medical confidentiality issue is a total canard.

      Furthermore, these are now museum pieces. They are historical exhibits. Should the Holocaust Museum in DC, or the museum at Auchwitz go through all of their exhibits and redact any names that are visible? Even if the Jewish survivors are still alive? Hardly.

      I know you have no way of knowing what’s in the cases until the white covers are taken off, It *might* be advisable to only publish the names after you’ve determined there’s a reasonable assumption that they aren’t, somehow, still alive. The place did close in 1968, after all. One or two patients of the last generation of patients from the 60s might actually be alive out there somewhere. But Fred Butters, who was born in 1872? Clarissa Bennett, who was born in the 1890s? It might help to check before you post – either try to discern more about the patient through a simple record search (what I do, and I’m always available to help out) or work with the group that’s trying to preserve the cemetery to see if they are buried there.

      Personally, I would argue that the memories of these people argue for the exact opposite of suppressing their names. Hell, their entire lives were suppressed. They were locked away from the world, in the hope that they would disappear, and that they were ever here on earth forgotten. And, until you came along, they mostly were. I can’t think of any worse fate for anyone (the “forgotten” part, not your project). Everyone deserves a place in the eternity of history, no matter how miniscule, or unpleasant.

      Tom .

  6. Bill Jones said, on 10/12/2011 at 5:18 pm

    The tools in Maude K’s trunk are leather working tools. Some of these are modeling tools. You can see the bits of leather and lacing. The modeling tools and punches are by C.S Osborne. They are still in business. Perhaps she made small coin purses or bill holders. The small devices with the points and adjustment screws you erroneously call “tweezers” are dividers, they would be used to mark a border around the leather pieces or as a compass to mark circles.

    I am wondering if you found her tools as depicted in the first photo neatly organized or scattered as photographed outside the suitcase? I see the plastic bags so I am confused by this. I am also wondering about your decision to unwrap the linens and photograph them tossed and loose in the suitcase. It seems you insinuate yourself into some your photos in a very ham fisted way.

    Poignant photos.
    Bill Jones Dallas, TX

    • joncrispin said, on 11/12/2011 at 9:43 am

      To each his own. But ham fisted? My goodness.

      • Bill Jones said, on 11/12/2011 at 12:32 pm

        “To each his own”? Your reply doesn’t address the concern for how you pulled the articles out of the suitcases and arranged them. Was there not a museum conservator with you when you did this?
        I don’t even understand your reply. Seems dismissive and not well thought out.

  7. R. Bruce Allison said, on 03/06/2012 at 12:25 pm

    My grandfather was Fred T Butters. He and my grandmother, Rozelle Elizabeth Smith Butters had four children; Charles Lewis Butters b. May 19, 1895 d. December 29, 1984, My mother, Sarah Anna Butters, b. august 23, 1899, d. December 23, 1991, Florence Anna Butters, b.January 31. 1909 and Albert Theodore Butters, b. February 23, 1911, d. ?
    My grandparents are buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Penn Yan N.Y.
    Fred T. taught my Dad, Marvin E. Allison the plumbing trade. In the mid-late 20’s they moved to Deland, Florida for work. They moved back to Penn Yan prior to my arrival on January 12, 1930.
    Both families purchased houses on Stark Ave. in Penn Yan.
    Grandpa did not go to Willard until the mid ’50’s.

    • joncrispin said, on 04/06/2012 at 9:07 am

      Thank you so much for the information. I really wish that I could publish all of the names of the patients so that other family members could make a connection. I really appreciate your interest in the project. Jon

  8. […] Suitcase #1, Willard Suitcase #2, Willard Suitcase #3, Willard Suitcase #4, Willard Suitcase #5, Willard Suitcase #6, Willard Suitcase #7, Willard […]

  9. Ann Forster said, on 26/08/2019 at 7:38 pm

    Not to cause a belated flare, but Bill, I think your missing the point of the project, and the States dehumanization of these patients lives. They have intentionally been erased from history. I think Jon was being fairly kind, regarding the criticism of his work. All artists insert themselves into their work. Had the objects not been arranged, the power of what they communicate would be lessened.

    You have an idea of the journey’s course, and what was intimately important to their owners. Often, the complexity, hopefulness, and fragility of some of the objects makes you sad. Jon’s photos are always moving, and his compassion regarding the project is clearly evident. From what I gather, the process was respectful and carefully conducted to archival standards.

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