Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D / Update

Posted in crochet, embroidery, History, Mental Health, needle work, tatting by joncrispin on 29/04/2015

One of the loveliest aspects of my work on the suitcases is connecting with wonderful, smart, and knowledgable people.  After this morning’s post, I received a comment from Dhyan about the photograph.  You can read her comment here. (Scroll down to see it.)  She seemed to know so much about the subject that I emailed her a full resolution image of this wider shot.  Here is her response.  I am sure she won’t mind me reprinting it.

Jon, Thanks!!!

I enlarged the picture to 500% and took a really close look at it. Here are some other things I notice.

Top Right: I believe that band was probably done as “draw work” Some of the threads are selectively pulled out and the rest are used to make the patterns using an embroidery thread to hold them in place.

Did you notice how beautifully woven the folded fabric on the right is? You don’t see THAT any more. My grandmothers had some table cloths that looked like that. How they could ever bring themselves to put them on the table with grandkids around is a mystery to me! I do believe they were heavier handed with Clorox in those days!

I noticed at the bottom there is a line that says “Royal Society No 5….” That probably means that she bought this piece of fabric from an embroidery fabric company. Probably the zig zag line was already on the fabric when she bought it but the pattern she would have filled in is above it and probably on other parts of the fabric as well.

The blue edging is crochet. Because the pattern is penciled in or stamped on, I wonder if that was already on the piece when she bought it but maybe not. Still I think I would have done the pattern first and the edging last so maybe it was on there already. She may have been bringing pieces of uncompleted work to do at the asylum.

One more thing. The piece between the blue edging and the left edge piece, that looks like a lace border, maybe the top of a camisole, is tatting. I have actually never seen tatting done but I know you have a kind of spindle that looks a bit like a guitar pick and by going over and under and around the through you make those edgings. Look at the VERY edge that is not crochet which is why I think it is tatting.

The only thing that is a bit bothersome if the green embroidery with the colored flowers. That is not up to the quality of the rest of her work. Wonder what the story is with that?

Anyway, thank you so much for showing it to me. I loved looking at it. People don’t know much about embroidery these days. I once had the opportunity to look at a very, several-hundreds-of-years old embroidered Chinese jacket and spend about an hour pointing out details to the owners. It was silk, Jon, with tinier stitches than I had ever seen.

Anyway, thank you again for a lovely half hour of procrastination! J


Dhyan, I am not sure if you were aware of her history, but Margaret was Scottish by birth and didn’t come to the States until she was a young adult.  I would guess that she acquired her skills with the needle before arriving here.

It is a good time for me to thank all of you who are following this project. I really do feel close to those of you who comment, and pay so much attention to this unique collection.  Cheers, Jon

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D. / Tour

Posted in History, Mental Health, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 29/04/2015

Yesterday Peg noticed some of Margaret D’s handiwork with a needle.  And here is one of those needles, still in place where she last used it.  I have no idea what this process is called, but it looks quite intricate.

The annual public tour of Willard is on for Saturday the 16th of May.  It is a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Children’s Center.  Here is a link to their Facebook page.  I would advise getting there very early, as this is a wildly popular event.  Tours are run at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm.  And if you have never experienced a central New York State chicken bbq, I would advise you to get some tickets for it.  Also that day, a memorial service will be held at the cemetery across the street honoring Lawrence Mocha, who as a patient dug many of the graves.  That event takes place at 11.00 am and should be interesting.

I will be there for much of the day, and would be most happy if those of you who follow this project would come up and say hello.  If  former Willard employee Peggy Ellsworth is in charge at the morgue again this year, I will probably hang out with her much of the time.

Portable Toilets / Diner

Posted in Abandoned Buildings, Diners, History, Portable Toilets by joncrispin on 26/04/2015

I drove back home from Ithaca yesterday and stopped a few times to take some photographs.  / I first noticed this collection of portable toilets in Lisle, NY back when I lived in Ithaca and my friend Alex and I would drive around while he “looked for color”.  What began as a mild interest turned into a decades long obsession with these practical objects.  I even had a long mostly one-sided correspondence with the Portable Sanitation Association.  After they moved their offices from Washington, DC to Minnesota I sort of lost interest in sending them postcards.

I always assumed that the company that owned these went out of business, but when I stopped in the antique shop next door, the woman working there said that it was still a going concern.

I often notice this abandoned diner when I am on my way to shoot the suitcases.  Yesterday I finally stopped to photograph it.  It is in the village of Coeymans and while searching for information about it on the web, I came across this post.  (I spent a little time reading this fellow’s blog and it is worth checking out if you live in the Albany area.)

It is always sad for me to see once useful buildings like this be left to rot.  I find myself imagining what it would have been like to sit down for breakfast during the time that it was a busy operation.  But I suppose the point is that it eventually stopped being busy, and the owners couldn’t afford to keep it going.  The Thruway killed the diner.

Peter Carroll

Posted in Friends by joncrispin on 24/04/2015

I am in Ithaca to shoot part of the big Cornell 150th celebration and am staying with my pal Peter Carroll.  I like this photograph of him. / It was snowing yesterday when I arrived, and is cold and cloudy today. C,mon Spring!

Willard Suitcases / Knots

Posted in History, Mental Health, Willard Asylum by joncrispin on 15/04/2015

I am often asked if I have a favorite suitcase or photo from the project.  I don’t, really.  But one recurring theme is the idea of knots.  It started initially with the string that the museum used to secure the archival paper that helps to preserve each case.  But soon I started to see them in the possessions of the patients, especially the clothing.  Peg and I worked on more of Margaret D’s things yesterday, and this shot of a beautiful camisole shows a lovely little knot tied near one of the straps.

Here is an example from the outside of Eleanor G’s case.

I have been uploading more case to the site.  Check it out if you haven’t been there lately.

DC Tidal Basin

Posted in cherry blossoms, History, Plants, scandals by joncrispin on 05/04/2015

Peter and I were hoping for some cherry blossom action today, but it was about a week too early.  It was a beautiful day for a stroll, and the crowds were out.  As we were starting to walk around the Tidal Basin I asked him if he knew anything about Fanne Fox and Wilbur Mills and the famous incident that happened in 1974. I was hoping for a “History Happened Here” plaque, but no such luck so we sat on a bench overlooking the water and read about it on my phone.  What a great story, and the amazing thing is that Mills won his next reelection campaign in spite of it all.

As I mentioned, the blossoms were just about ready to pop.

The only ones that were out were on this tree, and there was a queue to get the shot.

When I was a kid, I used to love playing around with cherry tree sap.  I haven’t thought about doing that for ages.

We were thrilled to stumble across the new Martin Luther King Jr. monument.  It is really powerful, with lots of King quotes sprinkled about.

We kept on walking around the tidal basin and soon came to the FDR Memorial, which we had also never seen.  I love this sign for the restrooms.  Kind of surprising that they didn’t include an ideogram of someone in a wheelchair.

Peter is fascinated by World War II, and we always stop by the memorial.  What a lovely day.  DC is fantastic.

Nationals v Yankees Exhibition Game

Posted in Baseball, Spring, Spring Training by joncrispin on 04/04/2015

The Nationals held their last exhibition game of the Spring today at Nats Park.  Peter and I got a couple of $15.00 seats (row X, section 234) and had a great time.  It was quite cool and very windy, but hey…baseball!  Nationals fans got the chance to boo A-Rod and see him strike out three times, which seemed to make them happy.  The Yankees were down early,  came back in the 8th, and ended up winning 4-3.  The crowd was listed at over 36,000, which for a pre-season game was great.  Red Sox open on Monday in Philadelphia and the first game at Fenway is against the Nationals on the 13th (if all the snow has melted).

Elli Carroll

Posted in Friends by joncrispin on 04/04/2015

I am in DC for a few days.  Yesterday I hung out with my friend Peter Carroll and his brother Alan while they sorted through their late mom Elli’s photographs.  Peter is doing a bit of an imitation of Elli’s friend Giancarlo, who featured in quite a few of the photos.  Here is a link from the Holocaust Museum that talks about Elli’s life.  She was a wonderful and fascinating person and I always enjoyed seeing her, and from time to time going to lunch at The Pines of Rome in Bethesda.

In recent years, Elli lived at the Westchester.  It is a beautiful pre-war complex not far from the Cathedral, with amazing details like this peep hole in the door.

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