Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcase #4

Posted in History, People, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 07/10/2011

Here is another case from the Monday shoot.  This one belonged to Clarissa B.

The leather straps were in pretty rough shape.

The address label is quite faded, but it is clear that she was in another hospital before Willard.  I googled Rockland Hospital and it is in Orangeburg, NY.  The label underneath is obscured, but Worthington Place in New York City is pretty clear.

I like the details of this case; the metal bits are a bit rusty, but the some of the leather has a nice patina.

The museum has done such an amazing job stabilizing these objects.  After sitting unprotected in storage for so many years, it is incredible that they are as intact as they are.

Above is the opposite side of this suitcase with more labels.

  It is clear that this case has traveled around quite a bit.  Even the Railway Express labels have such a pleasing design.  I really wish the Date line had been filled in.

I was pretty sure there wasn’t much inside when I lifted it up.

Just a few items, and nothing particularly personal.

This little metal plate was inside one of the smaller cases.  Etched into it is her name and “Bldg 18” and  what looks like the date “5/2  36”.

I hope to get back to Albany next week to do some more work.  Thanks for looking.  You can see more about the project here.

15 Responses

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  1. Adrienne Brizzi said, on 28/10/2011 at 6:07 pm

    I believe the tag on Clarissa’s address probably reads “Washington Place. NY, NY”. If so, she was living just off Washington Square Park in the West Village. The area was a hotbed for art and literature back then, famous for it’s artists’ garrets. O. Henry, Oscar Wilde, Edna St. Vincent Millay, the list goes on and on…

  2. Tom Hall said, on 02/11/2011 at 3:56 pm

    Jon – Each of your photos is a mystery within a mystery. This series, with multiple names and addresses, is one indeed.

    53 Washington Square South was the Judson Hotel for the Poor, a transient hotel built by the Judson Church next door during the 1890s. While it was indeed in a big area for artists and writers (and several lived there at times), it was pretty much a flophouse. It was eventually bought up by NYU, and is still around as an academic building. The suitcase was shipped from there to 102 Chemung Place, Painted Post NY – apparently another hospital or facility along those lines. Today that location houses a hospital for patients with traumatic brain injuries. The April 10 1928 Corning “Evening Leader” has the following two pieces: “Miss Clarissa L Bennett, head of the Commercial Dept, Painted Post High School, returned from a vacation trip to Teawanda, Buffalo and Niagara Falls.” Directly below it is another note,”Mrs R.W. Shoemaker has been visiting Mrs Fred Smith at her home at 102 Chemung Place.” There is a truly sad story in there somewhere.

    • joncrispin said, on 02/11/2011 at 4:02 pm

      Tom, this is so amazing. Thanks so much for finding out about the Judson Hotel. I had no idea. Since I started shooting the cases, my main interest was getting as much of the photography done as possible. Now with the Kickstarter funding, I will be able to continue doing so, and eventually I really hope to be able to connect people to their suitcases. I am curious as to how you knew about that area of New York City. Thanks again for your insight. Jon

  3. Tom Hall said, on 02/11/2011 at 5:43 pm

    But wait. There’s more. Mr Raymond W Shoemaker from Painted Post (1893 – 1955) was married to, alas, Mary Bennett (b 1894). In 1928, she would have been about 36 years old. I’m taking a swag, but I’d guess that Clarissa was Mary’s sister. Clarissa was a notable person in the community – started teaching at the HS in 1926, PTA member, appointed to a state board on education, active on the faculty. She was also a local, with lots of family in the area. Then in 1934 she went to NY to attend Columbia – probably to work on a Master’s degree. Sometime between January 1935 and May 1936 something went, unfortunately, horribly wrong for her. And then she disappeared into Willard (which is only about 50 miles north of Painted Post). I’m sure that place was full of stories like that.

    Actually, I don’t know that much about New York – I’m originally from Chicago, and live in rural Kansas now. I do a lot of old document research for work. I found out about the Judson from a Google search. I’ve never been to that part of NYC.

    • joncrispin said, on 03/11/2011 at 10:35 am


      Your are so great for checking this out. I would very much like to stay in touch. Thanks for your support.

      Jon Jon Crispin Photography PO Box 958 Amherst, MA 01004 0958

      413 256 6453 413 237 4572

      “You can’t have everything; where would you put it?” Tim Vine

      If you want to see what I have been up to lately,

      My regular sites,

      • Tom Hall said, on 03/11/2011 at 11:45 am

        My pleasure. I’ve emailed you a newpaper article from 1929 that includes a picture of Ms Bennett. Sorry, I couldn’t figure out how to attach the .pdf file as to the blog comment block.



      • eddie said, on 08/12/2011 at 6:02 am

        Thought this was really awesome. Especially because rockland psych. Is 4 minutes from my house.

    • Tom Hall said, on 03/11/2011 at 12:08 pm

      Finally, this is pure supposition, but Clarissa is mentioned several times in the Corning newspaper over the years during the 20s and 30s – reported as receiving an operation in another town, or travelling. In 1934 she was reported as “atttending Columbia University”. It’s very probable that Miss Bennett had a lifetime of mental health issues, and the family reporting her absences as vacations to Niagara Falls, summer sessions at Columbia, and minor operations were simply cover stories for earlier, temporary visits to other asylums (like Rockland). This would have been normal for the period, where the comings and goings of residents in a small town were reported in the local newspaper, and knowledge of her condition would have been considered embarassing. I would guess (more pure supposition) that she deteriorated over time. The last time she was mentioned was Dec 31, 1934 (ostensibly, home for the holidays from Columbia). Then she disappeared. I think that’s what is so interesting about your photo series – each one of those suitcases contains someone’s life, and considering the circumstances of where the cases were, they were undoubedtly sad lives. I’ve seen a couple of blog responses asking why some effort isn’t being taken to locate relatives and return the cases to them. I think that misses the point entirely. It isn’t that Clarissa’s suitcase was lost for decades. Clarissa herself got lost – disappearing from society (and posterity) by having to live out the rest of her life forgotten by the world in a mental hospital.

  4. mambolica said, on 02/11/2011 at 10:44 pm

    I don’t have a membership to, but a quick search shows census records for 1930 of a Clarissa L. Bennett living in Painted Post, Steuben, New York. The record indicates she was born in 1888, so she’s the older sister of Mary. There’s also a record for another Clarissa Bennett, born about 1822, in the 1850 census also in Steuben, NY. Considering historical naming conventions, I think it’s a fair bet that this would be a close relative, likely a grandmother or great aunt.

    Actually, there are a bunch of Clarissa and Clara Bennetts from Steuben/Painted Post from the late 18th century through the 1930 census. I would not be surprised if they were all related. Frequently, in the 19th century, people went by their middle names to distinguish them from their namesakes.

  5. Nathan said, on 03/11/2011 at 9:29 am

    Rockland was the name of the hospital that Allen Ginsburg was at briefly. This was wear he met a man named Carl Soloman, who inspired him to write “Howl”

  6. Brittany said, on 03/11/2011 at 12:47 pm

    LOVE this project. I am so fascinated with things left untouched so long that they world they are from is gone. Also, so amazing to see what good condition these things are in, it’s really like a time machine. Amazing what lack of use, light and exposure will do to preserve things. Excellent idea to photograph these so lovingly!

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

  8. […] really great that happened as I was leaving to drive home.  Several weeks ago I was contacted by Clarissa B‘s niece Christine.  She was moved to get in touch after she stumbled across this site and […]

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