Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcase #22

Posted in Uncategorized, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 29/07/2013

This appears to be the oldest case in the collection.

Josephine S. was 25 years old when she was admitted to Willard in 1898.


There weren’t a whole lot of her possessions in this case, but what was there was pretty amazing.

A few photographs, 3 books, and not much more.

The hairbrush is quite lovely as is the small piece of fabric with her name and some numbers written on it (by I presume the staff at Willard).  The plate is hand painted.

What was most interesting and touching was this wedding invitation postmarked “1906”.  Since she was from Canandaigua, it is possible that the Lapham family thought she could attend.

I was also interested in this copy of “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  I looked and it is a first edition (at least of this printing).  Dust jacket and all.

Josephine died at Willard in 1973 at the age of 100.

I will be back shooting tomorrow and will post something later in the week.  Thanks for following.

13 Responses

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  1. lisa said, on 29/07/2013 at 6:19 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these here.

  2. Susan said, on 29/07/2013 at 6:27 pm

    She lived there for 75 years! OH My Theses stories are so sad.

  3. Carole Muncy said, on 29/07/2013 at 7:44 pm

    This one hits home – my great grandmothers name was Josephine, and she was committed to a Virginia mental asylum in 1898 – I wonder what happened to her things, or if she was allowed to take anything with her.

    • Colleen O'Brien said, on 30/07/2013 at 2:21 am

      Hi Carole – I too had a grandmother (add a few greats) committed to an asylum here in NSW Australia in the late 1890’s. She had just had her 10th child & probably got what we would call post-natal depression. They just put her in there & she died a year later…starvation but most likely from the horror of being in one of those places. I supported this Kickstarter project in honour of my great, great, great, great grandmother – I guess you did too 🙂 I love the way Jon brings us these people’s stories with dignity & empathy.

  4. Tania M said, on 29/07/2013 at 7:58 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these. It is so sad to learn about the people, but I also think it is so important.

  5. Monique Ciofu said, on 29/07/2013 at 8:25 pm

    I am really enjoying your Williard series. Thank you for taking the time to document the artifacts of these people’s lives. I am reading a book entitled, “Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret” by Steve Luxenberg. It is an amazing story and one you might be interested in.

    “Part memoir, part mystery, part history of the mental-health movement, Annie’s Ghosts is a fascinating account of a life lived in the shadows.”
    –Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

    I look forward to more of your photographs and captions. They are truly wonderful!

    • joncrispin said, on 05/08/2013 at 10:12 am

      Monique, thank you for your comment and the book recommendation. I’ll check it out. Jon

  6. Sylvia Poole said, on 29/07/2013 at 9:00 pm

    This is awesome:) And she lived to be 100. Wow!!!! Can’t wait to see more. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Janet Shingleton said, on 30/07/2013 at 1:11 am

    I think that is actually a wedding announcement, not an invitation. Announcements are sent after the wedding has taken place, and it would make sense that Josephine would be sent an announcement vs. an invitation.
    I am thoroughly enjoying your Willard photographs and find them deeply moving and interesting. Thank you!

    • joncrispin said, on 30/07/2013 at 5:34 am

      Janet. Well spotted. It is funny when we see things and make assumptions. I am so pleased you saw this and commented. Best, jon

  8. verenahartmann said, on 30/07/2013 at 1:47 am

    Thank you for sharing this!
    This post got me thinking … you wrote in several posts that you assume or know (?) that the owners had access to their suitcases, right?
    Do you have some evidence for this? Did the staff of Willard tell you anything about this?
    Frank – the boxer – had all these photos, his uniform and lots of really personal stuff … and if I remember correctly, he was moved to a different facility, but his suitcase with his photos was left behind …
    Were they allowed to keep some of their stuff with them? Could Frank have had his favourite photos with him when he was moved?
    Josephine was in Willard for 75 years, I really wonder if she had some photos of her loved ones with her and the rest is still in the suitcase, maybe? Or maybe she had the photos with her and staff put them in the suitcase when she died?

    • joncrispin said, on 05/08/2013 at 10:11 am

      Verena, I must apologize for the delay in responding to your comment. Yes, I am sure that the residents at Willard had access to their cases. I met a staff member whose responsibility was to help the patients get to the storage area so that they could access their possessions and take them back to their room. / I don’t remember specifically about Frank. There are a lot of anecdotal stories about the folks who owned the cases, and I get easily confused remembering details about each one. / And finally, I am quite sure that the patients had personal items with them and when they died, the items were put back into the cases. Thanks so much for your interest in the project, and all best, Jon

  9. drawandshoot said, on 01/08/2013 at 12:55 pm

    You photograph these so tenderly. Beautiful.


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