Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcase #12

Posted in Uncategorized, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 06/02/2012

This is Eleanor G’s large trunk.  It is one of the few cases in the collection that is unwrapped.  I have posted some of her other cases before.  I have edited the photos in this post quite tightly; there are well over 20 that I will eventually use, but due to time and space limitations, I’ll show just a few.

This is a classic footlocker design with a removable top shelf.

I think she used this calendar notebook as a Christmas or birthday book.  You can read what seems like a list presents she either gave or wanted to give to people.

Eleanor sewed a lot.  Here is a section of a pattern.

Above is some of the wrapping of the items in the bottom of the case.

These two movie ticket stubs were the only things in this little red clutch purse.

I like the design of this little vanity.  The use of the stars is especially tasteful.

The little lavender fabric button below the pills is such a lovely color.  These items were inside the vanity.

This is a closeup of a huge roll of wrapping paper that really got to me.  I so wanted to take the outer seal off to look at a whole sheet, but it was taped on and I was worried about ruining it.

The bottom of the trunk was full of letters to Eleanor.  She clearly had saved these from her life outside of Willard.  At first I thought the address on the bottom right envelope said “White House”, but as I enlarged the writing, it looked more like “White Home”.  I’m not sure if it was a residential facility or just an apartment house. (Early on in this project, an interesting fellow from somewhere out west was researching some of the materials and came up with some really cool historical links.  Tom, if you are still following, I’d love to hear from you.)

I plan to be back at the museum on Thursday to shoot more cases.  An tomorrow I will be at the recently closed Hudson River Psychiatric Center shooting some interiors.  Thanks for following this project.

40 Responses

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  1. JohnL said, on 06/02/2012 at 10:52 am

    As usual Jon good job!

  2. L.S. Stuhler said, on 06/02/2012 at 11:03 am

    Were these letters written to her while she was at Willard? I see in one of the letters that it mentions the town of Elba which is located a few miles from Batavia in Genesee County, and the writer mentions that she went to Rochester (my home town), located in Monroe County, NY. In the early years at Willard, inmates were allowed to write letters but they were read by the staff before they were mailed. If a letter was written to the Governor or a Senator they were not to opened, but you have to wonder if this rule was really followed. By 1916, forty-seven years after Willard opened, letter writing was encouraged at all state hospitals with stationary provided.

    • joncrispin said, on 06/02/2012 at 12:09 pm

      Thanks Lin, I think the letters came from before her time at Willard. Did you see I mentioned your book in my Kickstarter update? Best, Jon

      • L.S. Stuhler said, on 06/02/2012 at 3:02 pm

        No, I’ll have to check that out. You are so kind to mention my book. Thank you, Jon!

  3. Erik said, on 06/02/2012 at 11:40 am

    looks like Emily had a nice figure. Or was sewing for someone who did!

  4. Erik said, on 06/02/2012 at 11:40 am

    ooops I meant Eleanor.

  5. Dawn Bradbury said, on 06/02/2012 at 11:44 am

    Poor Eleanor. We just get glimpses of her life. I want to know more! Notes “To My Sister,” wedding announcements, someone cared for her. I spent early years at the Larkin Children’s Home in Illinois. Of course it doesn’t look the same anymore. But the thought of institutions still gives me the willies.

    Two years ago…my husband and I rescued a puppy from the local dump. She came at a much needed time in my life. My daughter named her Marley (before the movie came out!) and she is family. Saturday we heard about another dog chasing horses and the owner had planned to shoot the dog. I went out yesterday with food and sat in the cold damp grass for an hour, trying to be as small as possible. So now, I have a little dog we have named Piper. We just got back from the vet. 18 months old, no previous pregnancies, not pregnant, no worms, no heartworms. She is a little dream. I would enclose a photo, but I don’t know how to do that.

    It seems there are orphans all over. Do you know if Eleanor went home? Are these cases from patients who have passed away?

    • joncrispin said, on 06/02/2012 at 12:18 pm

      Dawn, thanks so much for your touching note. What I really like about this project is that it brings out feelings and stories from people that are so intimate, and it makes me feel a part of the larger world to share in them. Like you, I mostly work at home (when I am not shooting) and the connection I am getting from readers is very welcome. And in response to your question about the cemetery, yes there is one at Willard. Here is a link. wordpress post .

  6. Dawn Bradbury said, on 06/02/2012 at 11:45 am

    PS…Jon – thanks so much for sharing your work. I work at home and these photographs remind me of humanity. The choice of being humane. You are a dear to share =O)

  7. Dawn Bradbury said, on 06/02/2012 at 11:52 am

    Since I have time, I have gone back to April 2011…so the residents never left. That makes me sad. Do they have a cemetery on the grounds?

    • L.S. Stuhler said, on 06/02/2012 at 3:10 pm

      Willard State Hospital Cemetery is located about half a mile down the road from the complex. It is 25 acres of overgrown grass up to your knees with unmarked, anonymous graves of 5,776 patients; the only graves with headstones are the veteran’s. I have been trying for over two years to get the names released to the public so that these people can be remembered in a dignified manner. New York won’t release the names because the burial ledger has been classified as a medical record; this is where HIPAA comes into the picture.

  8. Francis Salvatore said, on 06/02/2012 at 11:56 am

    What a plethora of wonderful things to look at. We are able to meditate over, and create happy, sad, smiling, and tearful stories in our heads about. A marvelous project. Thank you.

  9. luiz said, on 06/02/2012 at 1:17 pm

    I found a listing for the house in Bath NY in the 1930 census– it was the Whites’ family home but they also list nine elderly boarders at that address, so it seems like a sort of de facto senior-citizens’ home, don’t know how formal the arrangement was.

    • Jon Crispin said, on 06/02/2012 at 1:20 pm

      Luiz, thanks for the research. That helps to put it into context.

  10. Nikki Soppelsa said, on 06/02/2012 at 1:39 pm

    The Book of Eleanor G.

  11. Sarah said, on 06/02/2012 at 2:01 pm

    If you think about it, have Craig Williams call me. I would like to give you a hand while your hear.

  12. Sarah said, on 06/02/2012 at 2:02 pm

    I mean here

  13. David Serxner said, on 06/02/2012 at 3:03 pm

    I have a collection of patterns from the 20s-40s and they have the punched numbers like the one in your photo. The instructions were printed on the pattern envelope, and were very concise! I have used a couple of the patterns (I copied the pieces first) to make costumes for shows I have designed. This is a fascinating project!

    • joncrispin said, on 06/02/2012 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks David, it is fun to hear how people from different backgrounds are interested in the project. I have posted other shots from the suitcases on this site, and some of them are very fabric/clothing heavy. You might want to check it out. How did you hear about my project? (ps I shoot lots of theatre and dance and have always liked working with the costumers.) Thanks, Jon

      • ncdavid33 said, on 07/02/2012 at 3:12 am

        That is a good question. I really do not remember how I heard about it, but I have been following for a little while. I have seen some of your theatre work. I am glad you like working with the costumers! I like working with the photographers!

  14. Theanne said, on 06/02/2012 at 3:17 pm

    A life in a truck…I look at Eleanor’s truck and the possessions left therein…and I feel as I did when I when through my parent’s things after they were both dead and buried. Sadly my father’s truck was not kept in such pristine condition in the interior. He’d shown me his truck and it’s contents when I was a teen…I did not see them again till I was in my 60s. Very little remained of what he’d shown me. You’ve captured quite a lot of the bits and pieces of Eleanor’s life (trunk)…people saved cards and letters back then, and even broken combs…it’s fascinating sometimes to see what was saved! And to wonder what did she use this for…was she able to use it after she went to Willard. It’s strange to think about her mail being censored but she was allowed to keep a Rx from a doctor. And there are sharp (pointed) items and cords? I couldn’t be sure but are there matches? Certainly she or no one around her was suicidal or homicidal! Perhaps I should try to learn more about what Willard was and what Willard did and why people went to or were sent to Willard.

    Excellent photos and commentary! Thank you for sharing this!

    • Theanne said, on 06/02/2012 at 5:24 pm

      I have now read about the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane (Wikipedia) and visited this site: The Willard Suitcase Exhibit Online. And I have purchased the book “The Lives They Left Behind/Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic. I now understand more completely what happened to these suitcases and trunks…I apparently misunderstood that the patients/residents were given access to these suitcases and trunks after they were admitted to Willard, according to what I read they were not. Which explains why there are things in them that indicate that life halted at a moment in time and that same life was never resumed! To say it is disturbing about why many of the people at Willard ended up there would be an abominable misstatement (and ended up being there for decades). The same could be said about most (if not all) of the mental institutions in this country, a facility I worked at years ago had a deaf/blind young lady as a resident…no one had a clue about her mental ability and many could not understand why she would “go off”! Think Helen Keller…locked in visual and auditory darkness would not rage follow? I applaud what you’re doing…by simply showing, excellently I might add, what these peoples lives were…before institutional incarceration…it gives all of us a wake up call to be sure this does not continue to happen.

  15. Michelle Decker said, on 06/02/2012 at 8:13 pm


    I followed a link over to you from a blogger I follow from California. My mother is a registered nurse who trained as a very young nurse at Wiilard. It was the part of her training that impressed her the most. Her genuine care and love for her patients impressed me the most as she recalls often her time there.
    I live in Bath, NY, one street over from East Morris Street. My heart is so touched by your work and also, by Eleanor. I am leaving to go out for my walk now; I will head over to East Morris Street to see if #67 is still there. Many of the houses on that street have burned, leaving empty lots. I’ll think of her. Maybe see the same night sky she saw.
    The Babcock Theatre….I was there. It was magic, really. I understand why she kept her tickets.

    • joncrispin said, on 06/02/2012 at 8:21 pm

      Michelle, what an amazing comment. Thanks so much for sharing your story. What an wild coincidence that you live near East Morris Street. Please let us all know what it looks like now. There is a beautiful full moon tonight, it should really light things up. / And I’ll say it again; Willard was an incredible place filled with caring, loving employees. I have met and photographed many of them and they cared so much for the place and the residents. Thank you, thank you for finding the project. jon

    • Barbara S. said, on 07/02/2012 at 10:14 am

      To Michelle Decker: How fascinating! Please post more about your visit to East Morris Street. I wonder if any of the old “neighborhood” of Eleanor’s era are still around or at least their children…What type of shows were at the theatre (music, comedians, plays, opera????)

  16. Pamela & Jordy said, on 07/02/2012 at 12:22 am

    Still following your project. Still touched by what you are doing. I “unwrap” your email updates slowly, the way I imagine you explore the cases you photograph. Thank you again for this powerful and sensitive work. Jordy

  17. Kathleen Evans said, on 07/02/2012 at 9:14 am

    I googled Good Luck Recipes and it turns out that it was a margarine company that published recipe booklets. Duke University has this one in the archive:

    It is an earlier version but interesting to look at nonetheless.

    • Barbara S. said, on 07/02/2012 at 8:42 pm

      Kathleen…that is so fascinating. I will check it out. So much of Eleanor’s life is being unfolded.

  18. Barbara S. said, on 07/02/2012 at 10:24 am

    Once again, Jon, I have to say that this project of yours is so unique! You are touching the lives of so many people. One has to wonder what Eleanor would be thinking about all this. At last, her precious items are being shared and enjoyed perhaps as much as she enjoyed sharing them herself. The letters and cards fascinate me! I love to keep old cards and letters. I am 62 and I still have letters my mom wrote to me when I was 17 and went to live with a missionary family to help in the summer outreach. I cherish them, but wonder who will read them when I am passed? What will they find out about who I really was at 17? Same with Eleanor..such an opportunity to have a glance of her life before Willard. What did she think about while she was in Willard? Did she ever get to run her hand over her precious memories? Did she ever get to finger the threads she so carefully packed perhaps thinking she might be able to use them on a rainy day at the her new living arrangements at Willard? I wonder so many things about Eleanor G. Thanks for posting!

    • joncrispin said, on 08/02/2012 at 9:42 am

      Barbara, thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate the feedback. I’ll think of you tomorrow when I am shooting in Albany. Best, jon

  19. lyndarwh said, on 07/02/2012 at 3:05 pm

    Jon, My friend the artist, Venice Shone, sent me the link to your blog last week . Your photgraphs are very moving and the project is fascinating. I will be mentioning this project in a blog post I am writing for tomorrow. I am blogging about a game I played as a child called The Suitcase Game. I hope it is ok to use a photo from your blog
    Kind Regards, Lynda Waterhouse, author, UK

    • joncrispin said, on 07/02/2012 at 8:00 pm

      Lynda. Fine by me. If you don’t mind though could you please link to in your post. Thanks. Jon

      • Barbara S. said, on 07/02/2012 at 8:47 pm

        Jon, I was also wondering about the Recipe booklet. I read the post from Kathleen concerning that the book was published from a margarine company. I was wondering, if you get to handle the items and just wanted to know if any recipes had been “marked” or if any comments on particular recipes had been added. I enjoy collecting “old recipes” and I will certainly check out the site that Kathleen mentioned.

  20. Jon Crispin said, on 08/02/2012 at 9:35 am

    Barbara, I didn’t have time to look through the book, although I do handle the items. It is mostly a question of time…I could spend all day just looking at all these amazing items and not get any work done! Thanks, jon

  21. Michelle Decker said, on 08/02/2012 at 7:41 pm

    Hi Jon,

    I did indeed find house number 67 on East Morris Street – I can see the back of the house and the roof from my bedroom window. It is close to a ladder factory and a pipe factory and it is very close (through the back yard and across the street) to the building that was then the local hospital. There are 2 churches nearby on East Morris Street.
    It is an old boarding house with a new addition on the back. The house looks circa late 1800’s – big, flat, and rectangular from the front. It is painted gray; it is in disrepair. Bare bulbs shine through windows, some broken, that are partially covered by tangled blinds, or blankets, or no covering at all.
    My understanding is that the rooms are all occupied and that the residents are elderly and/or ill men, most without family support, often discharged from the Bath VA hospital.
    It feels sad to be near it – my impression and opinion only. I pass it many, many times a year I don’t often really *look* at it.
    I hope it was a different place for Eleanor – bright, happy. It’s hard to imagine it that way, but maybe.
    I can email you a picture if you are interested.



  22. […] Willard Suitcase #8, Willard Suitcase #9, Willard Suitcase #10, Willard Suitcase #11, Willard Suitcase #12, Willard Suitcase #13, Willard Suitcase #14, Willard Suitcase #15, Willard Suitcase #16, […]

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