Jon Crispin's Notebook

Very Good News

I just received word from the New York State Museum that I have permission to start shooting more suitcases.  I’ll call them next week to set up a schedule.  This is a huge relief to me and I would like to publicly thank them for allowing this to happen. / This photograph was taken on 22 May, 1984 on the very first day that I was allowed into Chapin House.  It was a wild day.  My dear friend Richard Pieper was with me and basically ran interference as I was assigned two security guards to follow me around.  He would stop in the middle of doorways and turn around to ask a question thus holding them up so I could be left on my own a bit.  I remember feeling that I might not have much more access than on this day, so I shot 35 mm black and white film with my Leica rangefinders (these two shots), 35mm slide film with my Nikons, and 120 color negative film with my Pentax 6×7.  Almost everything great that I got out of this building came from this day. / I was so thrilled last evening to get an email from Michael Labate who was director of facilities planning for OMH at the time I was trying to access the buildings.  He single-handedly got me access to Willard and I will be forever grateful. He had heard about the suitcase project and was so complimentary about my work.

These broom-like devices weighed a ton and were used by the patients as they walked the corridors.  As it was explained to me, the  wooden floors were in constant need of maintenance, and paraffin would be put on chamois cloths attached to the bottom of these polishers.  I only ever shot this scene in black and white, but it is so very evocative to me.

11 Responses

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  1. lsstuhler said, on 14/06/2013 at 4:32 pm

    Wow, someone from OMH was helpful. Good for you, Jon! I wish they would help with my project.

  2. Mark said, on 14/06/2013 at 5:08 pm

    I was able to attend the open house at Willard and I’m totally hooked. I’d love to be able to explore more than what the tour allowed us to do. I captured approximately 600 photographs of where the tour took us. When we visited the morgue the tour guide pointed out the window in which the suitcases were found. I thought of you and this blog 🙂 Thank you for all you do to preserve this history!

  3. Katie H said, on 14/06/2013 at 5:27 pm

    I literally just got back from the Exploratorium where I had spent quite a bit of time in the “What is Normal?” show and saw this post. I am so glad to learn there will be more suitcase photos. The show was quite busy and was generating lots of discuss between people and the large photographs were getting good long viewing by many people.

  4. Mary Beaudry said, on 14/06/2013 at 6:37 pm

    Jon, this is great news indeed. Let your Kickstarter community know if you need more funds for the next phase, please.

  5. naia s hickey said, on 14/06/2013 at 10:01 pm

    my Great Grandfather Clinton O’dell resided at Willard Asylum he died there in 1920. my Grandfather Leo burton Hickey became a resident around 1958 and died outside of Willard in 1969 I think he was on a weekend visit when he passed. I do wonder if any of those suitcases belonged to my loved ones.i don’t remember my g granddad but I do my Grandpa Leo b Hickey.to this day I still like the saltines in milk that he liked to eat and I remember his heartbeat and his talking to things that no one else could see.Naia S.Hickey.

  6. Lisa Gordon said, on 15/06/2013 at 7:07 am

    This is wonderful news! Congratulations!

  7. charlotte cooperstein said, on 15/06/2013 at 1:32 pm

    I enjoy and respect what you are doing to bring this place and its patients to the future so people can understand mental illness and the places people lived .

  8. Desiree said, on 17/06/2013 at 8:08 pm

    Congratulations Jon! So the new lot of suitcases will be from Chapin House? What an exciting development for you. What a good friend you had in Richard to distract the security guards so you could be left alone to do your job all those years ago. The pic of the dusters covered in thick dust, is a wonderful image. In the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I recall seeing “patients” pushing those contraptions around and wondered what they were for. Thank you so much for all the work you have done so far Jon. The more the world knows about how mentally ill people were treated in the past and how they are held in society today, the better. Regards, Desiree

  9. settleandchase said, on 19/06/2013 at 11:05 am

    Incredibly moving. I can feel the hands around these brooms and can only imagine the feelings of the people using them. Such sadness comes from this room..

  10. Hank. said, on 20/06/2013 at 3:36 pm

    Great news and yes–truly evocative photos. Wow.

  11. blSwinney said, on 03/07/2013 at 10:55 am

    This will be so great … I will follow the posts. Such a wonderful opportunity to return dignity to the lives of the forgotten ones. Very interesting to me and I know you will enjoy your next suitcase adventure. The owners of the suitcases seem to become a part of my life now..I have my favourites…Eleanor for one..I would love to know more about them and their stories, Thank you for sharing!


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