Jon Crispin's Notebook

The Amazing Beverly Courtwright

Posted in Asylums, Buildings, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 06/02/2013

I have always given primary credit to Craig Williams for saving the Willard suitcases, and his contribution to the preservation of these objects was enormous.  But if it wasn’t for Beverly Courtwright’s connection to Willard and her tremendous respect for the patients and their lives, the cases would have been lost forever.  On Saturday I got the chance to meet her for the first time, and thanks to the corrections folks who now control the site, we were allowed to go into the attic for a few minutes.  It is behind this door that in May of 1995 Bev “rediscovered” the cases.  She had become one of the Willard employees heavily involved with the transition team responsible for shutting down the psych center.  As a storehouse clerk, part of her task was to go through all the buildings to determine what should be saved and what could be thrown out.  She described the first time she opened this door and saw the cases stacked up as a surreal experience, and told me that she felt a “whoosh of energy” sweep over her.

She grew up in the area, and as a child remembers Willard patients coming to her home through the Family Care program that allowed for patients not in need of direct care to live temporarily in private homes.

This is what the attic now looks like when you walk through the door.  The racks are on either side of the attic with men’s cases on one side and women’s on the other.  When Bev was talking about being up here for the first time it literally gave me chills.

You can see the letters on the racks representing the first initial of the  surname of each patient.  Whomever set up the system did an amazing job.  I find it so interesting that as in the residential parts of the buildings, men and women were segregated up here as well.

There were a very few items left behind that could not be linked to a specific patient.  This coat was one of them. / As my work on this project continues, I am constantly overwhelmed by the people I meet and the stories that they have to tell.  Late last night I got an email letting me know of a new comment on this post.  Scroll down toward the bottom of the comments section and read what Stephanie had to say. /  Getting into the attic and meeting Bev really tied together everything that I have been trying to say with my work on this project.  She is a truly remarkable person with a huge heart and the ability to convey a great sense of connection to the people who were at Willard, and I just want to thank her for all she has done.

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  1. Sarah said, on 07/02/2013 at 8:43 am

    Jon,
    I expereinced the same sense of aw when I saw the attic and the rest of the grounds at Willard. It is a shame that some of the buildings are left to fallin on themselves because they are to expensive to fix or to demolish.

  2. […] Williams and I were at Willard shooting the attic where the suitcases were “rediscovered. (Here’s a link to an earlier post)  There aren’t many of these upright metal markers […]


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