Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcase #19, Dmytre

Posted in Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 04/10/2012

I happen to know more about Dmytre than most of the other suitcase owners as he was one of the featured folks in the original exhibition at the New York State Museum.  This photo shows him at the institution with one of his paintings.  He was quite an artist.  In the early 1950s he was committed to Syracuse Psychopathic Hospital and in 1953 was sent to Willard.  He was there until 1977 and was discharged to a county home.  Dmytre died in 2000.  Many of his paintings hung on office walls at Willard until it closed in the 1990s.

I like the looks of this case.

It has a solid feel to it even though it is a bit beat up.

As usual, I have had to obscure the last part of his surname, but you can see by the tags that he arrived at Willard in May of 1953.  I’m not sure why there are two dates on the tags.

It was an interesting case to photograph, as the contents seemed so personal.

Dmytre was from Ukraine and spoke English with a heavy accent, which made his life difficult at times.

If you look closely you will note that the flower piece in the case is the same one that the woman in the photograph is holding.

I have always had a thing for small lapel pins, and this little Red Cross one is beautiful.

The above photo should be familiar to my Kickstarter backers as it was one of the reward options.

The Washington, DC thermometer is touching as Dmytre’s problems started in that city when on a visit there in 1952 he claimed to be married to Margaret Truman and was detained by the Secret Service.

This postcard is amazing.  Somewhere I made a note as to what it said on the back, but I’ll need to dig up that information.

Here’s another of the many small wooden dogs that are in the collection.  I wonder if he carved it.

There were a lot of hand-written notebooks and science related texts in the case.  He was clearly a very bright and creative fellow.

And one large manilla envelope contained these cutouts which look to be plans for building models and other small craft objects.

And lastly, here are some personal correspondences and a brochure on Social Security.

I hadn’t planned on doing a post just now, but I wanted to mention that this case is on it way to Baltimore to the American Visionary Art Museum for some sort of exhibit.  I went to their website, but was not able to figure out when it will be featured.  Anyone in the mid-Atlantic who is interested in seeing one of the actual cases and its contents should check with them.

Thanks for all your interest and continued support.  I also wanted to mention that Peg Ross, who has helped me so much on this project came over to my studio today to help out with editing the photos for the Exploratorium exhibit.  I really appreciate all her insight and encouragement.

26 Responses

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  1. Susan Park said, on 04/10/2012 at 8:08 pm

    You are right…This case is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!
    I know about that little red pin because I have one just like it. Blood Donors used to get them when they reached 5 gallons of donation. The one for 10 was designed as a golden droplet with a tiny number on it indicating 10 or 20 gallons, etc.
    It was a little reward to people who consistantly donated. I think I’m at 37 donations now, but the Red Cross doesn’t hand them out anymore. (Too bad!)
    I thought you might appreciate that Dmytre was a good citizen donor.
    Thanks for these suitcases. I have really enjoyed viewing them since the beginning when I learned about you on NPR.

  2. Maureen Pulignano said, on 04/10/2012 at 8:51 pm

    Hi Jon, this is a marvelous case, treated with your typical respect. Thank you again for documenting these in this way.

    You may want to note that the country of Dmytre’s origin is Ukraine, not The Ukraine. The latter is a throwback to the time when Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire – the Borderland, specifically, what Ukraine means. I hope you don’t mind me pointing this out. I still have relatives there and I’m a bit sensitive to it.

    Maureen Mckovich Pulignano

    • joncrispin said, on 04/10/2012 at 9:00 pm

      Maureen, thank you for the correct information about Ukraine. These things are important and I will change the wording in the post right away. Incidently I was in Kiev in the early 1980s when it was still called “The Ukraine” which is probably why I made the mistake. I was almost arrested for photographing in the central market. Best and thanks. Jon

  3. L.S. Stuhler said, on 04/10/2012 at 9:14 pm

    Hi Jon, I have asked you before but you probably have forgotten my question which is: have you come across any suitcases from the nineteenth century? Thank you. -Lin

    • joncrispin said, on 05/10/2012 at 9:59 am

      Lin, I haven’t seen any cases that date before 1900. I was wondering whether any exist. Craig Williams would surely know. Cheers, Jon

  4. Leah Cabral said, on 04/10/2012 at 9:19 pm

    Thank you very much for sharing. I came accross your suitcase project and I felt the loneliness of the owners of the suitcases and at the same time the intrigue and interest to know them more through your photographs. I enjoy every posts.

  5. Theresa Kaualoku said, on 05/10/2012 at 8:52 am

    As always thank you for doing this. your kindness and thoughtfulness always come through in your photographs reminding us that these were people that were on the planet and here is what was important to them . Again i thank your for doing these. I also thank you for reminding us that you are not doing this alone and that you would give credit to those that help you. Having been an assistant, It’s a big deal.

  6. Connie Frisbee Houde said, on 05/10/2012 at 9:05 am

    The women in the photograph was his wife and the wedding gown was also in the case that probably she had hand embroidered. The photo of the wedding came from the photo album in the case

  7. globalphotographer said, on 05/10/2012 at 9:10 am


    I just wanted you to know that I won’t be at the photo club meeting that you will be speaking at. I have a photoshop class that I signed up for that I didn’t realize until recently that it meets on Wednesday nights. Darn I wish I could be in two places at once.

    I am so excited to see the progress that you have made. You must be trilled at the Exploratorim exhibit as well.

    I just got back in the wee hours of wen night Thur morning. Had a fantastic trip and now I have the job of editing. Wasn’t able to do the blog as I went along so I will do it now that I am home and edit day by day and do an entry as if I was traveling. will take me a while but a good way to get through all the photos. Connie

    Connie Frisbee Houde

  8. David said, on 05/10/2012 at 12:12 pm

    Another sad but wonderful view into a life. For your West Coast readers, the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health is having their grand opening this weekend. You can see info at
    They’ve gotten some good press, and it looks like they’ve done a nice job of telling the story of mental health care.

  9. Kim Campbell said, on 06/10/2012 at 1:37 pm

    I remember him from your book. Your site and book are amazing.

  10. This is gorgeous. I don’t know about your project yet but wow, we appear to be kindred spirits. Lovely.

  11. […] but to make it easier on people I will link to some of the earlier updates.  So here we go: Dmytre, Frank, Flora, and some earlier ones: Charles, and the first one I ever shot which explains the […]

  12. Ken Mayer said, on 12/11/2012 at 11:48 am

    The cover of Bezimlag struck up my curiosity. What is it? I did a search on the author and title and came upon in on a webpage listing bibliography for concentration camps in soviet republics. Apparently published in Augsburrg, Germany, but written in Russian or Ukrainian. What is it and do you have any idea what connection it had to Dmytre?
    Thanks. Beautiful pictures.

    Savchenko V. Bezimlag – Naris iz jittya v sovets’komu kontstabori, Vidannya filii Ligi Ukrains’kih politv’yazniv v Augsburge, Augsburg, 1948.

  13. […] interior de las maletas decomisadas por los responsables del psiquiátrico asoman las historias de Dmitry Zach (dos cucharillas y un tenedor de alpaca, varios cepillos, una foto de boda, la pequeña estatuilla […]

  14. Dr.Wells said, on 26/02/2013 at 7:01 pm

    I respect your work immensely. I admit that this case brought me to tears. There is clear evidence that this man was highly intelligent, creative and compassionate. What other adjectives could one hope of one’s neighbor? The idea that he spent half a century in a ward strikes me deeply. Each of us walks the thin line between normal and abnormal in his or her own way. I have multiple higher degrees; however, I am terrified at the idea that 60 years ago I might have been assigned to an asylum as easily as I hold a university position. In the end analysis, I hope Dmytre felt a sense of intellectual fulfillment. If not, our society is guilty of yet another crime against a person’s right to life, liberty and happiness.

    • joncrispin said, on 26/02/2013 at 9:02 pm

      Dr. Wells, thank you so much for your comment. I understand completely when you talk about that thin line. I hope that by documenting the cases and their contents that we all think a bit more about the idea of how we as a society deal with people who are different.

  15. darleneolivo said, on 03/03/2013 at 10:11 pm

    Jon, I am touched on so many levels by your work. As a former RN who worked in psych hospitals in the mid-’60s and 70s, and, having my consciousness raised in the Second Wave of Feminism, I came to understand how women, in particular, were often committed for reasons far-removed from actual mental illness, but more as a means of controlling spirited behavior and creativity. Seeing the suitcases of women, with tokens of the dailiness of their lives, is deeply moving. This does not diminish the importance of the men’s memorabilia in any way, but speaks more to my interest in women’s history. Moreover, as a mixed-media visual artist/photographer/writer, I read the stories inherent in what are truly one-of-a-kind artists’ books, made into such beautiful compositions by your sensitive eye and lens. Without knowing the conditions these people lived in, whether they were treated with kindness and progressive methods or Cukoo’s Nest cruelty, the fact that they spent the largest portion of their lives locked away is very sad. Thank you for your very important work.

  16. […] Willard Suitcase #1, Willard Suitcase #2, 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 Suitcase #12, Willard Suitcase #13, Willard Suitcase #14, Willard Suitcase #15, Willard Suitcase #16, Willard Suitcase #17, Willard Suitcase #18, Willard Suitcase #19 […]

  17. […] interior de las maletas decomisadas por los responsables del psiquiátrico asoman las historias de Dmitry Zach (dos cucharillas y un tenedor de alpaca, varios cepillos, una foto de boda, la pequeña estatuilla […]

  18. Pavel Grigoriev said, on 18/04/2015 at 5:24 pm

    It’s very interesting. A bit of life of a small person in a big cruel world. In one suitcase.
    On last picture there is a hand written letter in german. There mentioned a time period from 25.11.41-15.05.45. It may be an autobiography or some report. The book “Безимлаг” (Bezimlag) suggests on his relation to the Ukrainian nationalists.

    Possible course of events: … Dmitry Zacharuk lived in West Ukraina, Poland. As Second World War in 1939 started, this region was connected to USSR. In 1941 German army invaded in USSR and Dmitry was drafted in Red Army. Then he was captured by germans and until 1945 was in a POW camp in Germany. After his release, he refused to return to their homeland. He lived some time in West Germany, later moved to USA …

    Other possibility: service in the Ukrainian nationalist military formations during WWII. Some of the acts of these troops could really disrupt the human psyche. And bring to a persecution complex. See for example [Babi Yar] on Wikipedia.

  19. Carolyn Rogers said, on 27/12/2017 at 5:51 am

    Thank you, Jon, for the interesting and touching photos of Dimitri’s suitcase.
    The Red Cross pin looks like ones I received at their drives for blood donors. I did that for years and have them somewhere among my belongings–had forgotten about them.
    Carolyn R.

    • joncrispin said, on 29/12/2017 at 11:43 am

      Thanks Carolyn! So glad you are still following the project. All best for a happy 2018. Jon

  20. Sind said, on 13/07/2022 at 4:41 pm

    Apparently, Dmytro was fluent in German too.

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