Jon Crispin's Notebook

Pieper and Sarah

Posted in Family, Friends, People, Travel by joncrispin on 11/03/2012

Every weekday morning Pieper walks his daughter Sarah to the subway for her trip to school.  He then heads uptown to his office to begin his work day.  /  It was great to stay with him and Merrill and to see them interact with Aidan and Sarah.  They are a great family.

Ellis Island Autopsy Room

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, History by joncrispin on 09/03/2012

I spent a lot of time in the Contagious Disease Hospital wing at Ellis Island on Wednesday.  The wards were set up much like a lot of the Kirkbride asylums in which I have photographed.  Some large ward rooms and some smaller single patient rooms.  This photo is from the autopsy room.  I took a shot from the lower angle which you can see below.

It is quite an evocative space.

Ellis Island

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Construction, History by joncrispin on 08/03/2012

I had the rarest of opportunities yesterday.  Pieper is giving a presentation on Ellis Island about the construction of the original buildings and he had me come out with him to take photographs to illustrate his talk.  It was an incredible day, and I was mostly in a state of near rapture.  I have always wanted to photograph the unrestored buildings on the island and am so grateful to Pieper and  Darcy Hartman of Save Ellis Island for the chance.  This photograph was taken in what I believe is called the Doctor’s (or Surgeon’s) residence.  I’ll post more in the days to come.  Here is some information on the talk: “The Actual Bricks and Mortar Story; Building Ellis Island’s Hospitals”.  10.30 to 12.30 on 15 April, 2012.  It is open to the public but limited to 50 participants.  For information, email    For anyone interested in these buildings this is a unique chance to don a hardhat and take a tour of the usually off limits parts of the island.

Willard Suitcase #13

Posted in Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 03/03/2012

I have been spending a lot of time in Albany photographing the cases.  I have been a bit overwhelmed lately and have had a hard time deciding what to post as an update.  There is so much material and most of it is fascinating.  I have been averaging at least one shoot a week, and it still feels that I have a long way to go.

Just as a case this one is nice.  Very well made and quite stylish.

It belonged to Steffan K. (although his first name was spelled differently on some items.  On one envelope from a druggest it was written as Steve.)

I especially appreciated the way that the staff wrapped and preserved the items.

My interest in the wrappings and the bows has actually increased.  The three women that did most of the work each had a different style.  Sarah Jastremsky, Christine Allen, and Karen Chambers worked for months going through the cases cataloguing and then stabilizing each item.  At some point I’ll get try to get together with them and find out who did what.

These items seem so personal to me.  The calendar was from 1929.

I never intend to fetishize the items in the cases, but this clock just blew me away.

It is a very early example of a Westclox Big Ben.  Steffan clearly brought it with him when he arrived at Willard, and my guess is that it never left the box.  Both the box and the clock are in perfect condition.  It just made me sad to think that it was packed to go to along with him and he might have never used it there.

As I spend more time with the suitcases and talk to people who worked at Willard, I am becoming quite convinced that the reason the cases were never thrown away is due to the fact that the employees developed close and lasting relationships to the patients.  When they were discharged or died, the personal connection was so strong that it made it impossible to just toss them out.  Anyway, that’s just my theory, and I know the whole issue of how the state chose to treat the mentally ill is a complicated one.

Thanks as usual to The New York State Museum, and especially Craig Williams for allowing me access to the cases and facilitating this project.  And to Peggy Ross for her great help with the process of shooting and re-wrapping each case.

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