Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcase #7

Posted in History, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 31/10/2011

Not all of the suitcases have much in them.  Craig suggested that I make selections from the master list, but somehow I like the surprise of not knowing what they contain.  I did make some suggestions this time, but was still surprised by what I found.

I am still drawn to the archival paper and string that is used to preserve the cases.  There is something so beautiful about how the bows are tied.

This case belonged to Raymond H.  You can see the bird droppings from when it was stored in the attic before they were saved by the museum.

I don’t always find items that tell much of a story, but something about this one caught my fancy.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what these papers were.

Rolling papers!  I hadn’t noticed the orange wrapper when I took them out of the envelope.

May 4, 1923, such a long time ago. /  Many thanks to Peggy Ross who helped me rewrap the cases and pointed out a few things that  I had missed.  And as usual to Craig for all his help.

24 Responses

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  1. It silences me.

  2. sidwaters said, on 01/11/2011 at 6:35 am

    I am intrigued by the length of rope…

    • Michele said, on 01/11/2011 at 11:34 am

      Me too. It’s so functional and if so for what, and also ominous… was it used for work, harm?

    • N. Jeanne Burns said, on 02/11/2011 at 7:10 pm

      Me too. It was the first thing I saw. As if it had been sewn into the lining and torn out by someone.

  3. Carol Cappelletti said, on 01/11/2011 at 10:00 am

    So enjoying the discovery! And a beautiful tribute!!

  4. Joanna said, on 02/11/2011 at 10:59 am

    Just discovered this project today and have so enjoyed browsing your notebook! Thank you for sharing these beautiful bits of history with the world.

  5. nigelvalentine said, on 02/11/2011 at 2:27 pm

    I just discovered this project today, too (though different day from post above) and it stirs me a bit in many directions and prompts questions (such as those you pose as you post) about everything from who packed these cases to who stored them and what happened between their packing and this project. This project also encourages me to think more thoughtfully and carefully about what it means to institutionalize anyone, or anything. Thank you so much.

  6. Donna Catterick said, on 02/11/2011 at 2:28 pm

    I just learned of your project from NPR. I think it is touching and incredibly important. On one of your earlier posts you talk about using surnames. I vote on the side of giving these folks a place in history. Use their names!
    And the quality of your photographs reflect your caring. Beautifully done.

    • joncrispin said, on 02/11/2011 at 2:36 pm

      This is really important to me, and believe me, I am working on it. As it stands right now, I have been advised not to use surnames due to HIIPA laws that limit the distribution of medical records. But some very interesting things are happening. The Federal Government is about to release the 1940s census data, and every resident of Willard is named. So the names will be public. You should google Willard Cemetery (I think there is a wordpress site) and connect with the group that is trying to get names put on the markers in the graveyard. I did a post about it last year. It is all very interesting. I love your sentence about giving these folks a place in history. They were after all real human beings.

      • Kelley said, on 02/11/2011 at 7:35 pm

        This collection has emotionally affected me in a way that I’m not sure I can describe. Please forgive me if this has been answered in any previous comment, but will there be any effort to locate surviving family members of the owners of these suitcases in an attempt to return them to the families? It just seems like the right thing to do, although I’m not familiar with the laws that would govern this sort of chain of custody.

      • L.S. Stuhler said, on 11/11/2011 at 8:46 pm

        Jon, I have transcribed the Inmates of Willard from the U.S. Federal Census years 1870, 1880, 1900 and 1920. They are located on my “Names” page. You might also find the 1880 Defective, Delinquent and Dependent Census interesting. Sincerely, Lin

      • joncrispin said, on 14/11/2011 at 11:05 am


        I just posted an update on my Kickstarter page about your wordpress site. Let’s hope it generates lots of traffic.


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

        413 256 6453 413 237 4572

        Veni Vidi Dicessi

  7. Laura Hardy Ploenzke said, on 02/11/2011 at 7:07 pm

    I just learned of your project today and was absolutely stunned when I realized that a couple of the women I have researched in my family history were patients at Willard and I have letters written by them that contain references to their time there. Thank you so much for your time and interest in this project. Items such as you are preserving through photographs would be lost without people like you. Please continue your fascinating and invaluable work.

  8. Katie C. said, on 02/11/2011 at 7:09 pm

    I just came to your site through an NPR link on Facebook about the suitcases. I am absolutely enjoying the opening of each suitcase. What a fascinating documentary of these people’s lives. Did they know what they were packing for? I love history and seeing the contents is definately a walk through time. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Dawn Clement said, on 02/11/2011 at 7:22 pm

    i just read about your project via NPR as well. i’m fascinated by what you’re doing. can’t wait to see what’s next.

  10. Sarah B. said, on 02/11/2011 at 7:27 pm

    Mr. Crispin, these photographs moved me; I cannot explain why..I came across your blog (via an NPR post) on Facebook. This is incredible, important work you’re doing–good luck and thank you for documenting an important piece of the past.

  11. chambanachik said, on 02/11/2011 at 8:05 pm

    Such a fascinating, moving, meaningful project.

  12. scarina said, on 02/11/2011 at 10:05 pm

    I love this project. Your work is aesthetically pleasing but is a way of remembering people that were left behind. I think I read a book about Willard and the suitcases left behind, were you involved with that?

    • joncrispin said, on 03/11/2011 at 10:30 am

      Scarina, thanks. I am aware of the book, and posted a FAQ about it yesterday. Thanks for your interest and kind words. Jon

  13. JH said, on 03/11/2011 at 4:22 am

    Maybe Maud’s tools are for leather working?
    This would be my guess.

  14. jude said, on 07/11/2011 at 8:38 am

    I became a backer for this project when I stumbled upon it early one morning last week. Love that you are giving a chance for these people’s stories to be told through your photos. The photos themselves are stunning, and the project is so… reflective? somber? intriguing? I lack for the proper descriptive word, but I am guessing as a fellow lover of the photo, you would get that. 😉

  15. […] Willard Suitcase #3, Willard Suitcase #4, Willard Suitcase #5, Willard Suitcase #6, Willard Suitcase #7, Willard Suitcase #8, Willard Suitcase #9, Willard Suitcase #10, Willard Suitcase #11, Willard […]

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