Jon Crispin's Notebook

California Bounty

Posted in brunch, California plants, Flowers by joncrispin on 31/05/2015

I always feel a bit of an East Coast rube when I come to California.  Even though I am here quite a lot, I’m always blown away by what grows out here.  This lemon tree is in front of Lynne’s house. (I think I’ve posted about it before.)  Last night I went out and picked about 30, came in and squeezed ’em and put the juice in 5 different ice cube trays.  She now has lemon juice for the next few months.  We’ll try to carry on as many as we can on the flight home.

This morning we went down to San Juan Capistrano for brunch at The Ramos House Cafe.  Amazing.

The Jacaranda trees are at the tail end of blooming, and the flowers are all over the place.

And I think this comes from what is called a fried egg plant.  The white part of the flower is so delicate.  And huge!

Huntington Beach

Posted in Beaches, dog competitions, surfing, walking by joncrispin on 30/05/2015

We went to Huntington Beach today.  Lots of reasons to go, including the Purina Proplan Incredible Dog Challenge Western Regional competition.  Yesterday was the dog surfing, which I am really sorry we missed, but today was the “dogs leaping into water competition”, which I have always wanted to see live.  It was great, and there were tons of dogs there just hanging out.

Including this guy just chillin’ in the bleachers.

I got a chocolate milkshake at the Ruby’s at the end of the pier.

It is always nice to look down at the surfers.

It was nice and cool in the shade of the pier.

We then walked down the beach for a couple of miles.  Lots of people, very diverse and interesting, and the water was so clear and refreshing.  I haven’t taken my shoes off and walked in the Pacific for a very long time.

Angles v Tigers

Posted in Uncategorized by joncrispin on 29/05/2015

We went to a great baseball game tonight.  The Angels beat the Tigers 12-2, and there was more great action in one game than I have seen in a long time.  In addition to Chris Iannetta’s 7th inning grand slam (above; love the giant flames in center field), there was a triple (kind of rare), a run scored on a passed ball, a run scored on a walk, a successful suicide squeeze play, and a rundown with two players on third base for a time before the lead runner was thrown out returning to third. Great fun.

Long Beach (LGB)

Posted in airlines, airports, Transportation, Travel by joncrispin on 28/05/2015

Flew to California last night.  I love the Long Beach airport.  You can disembark through the front or the back of the plane and walk to the terminal on the tarmac. Very old school.

Pelham, MA Town Hall

I have volunteered to do some work for the Pelham Historical Commission in documenting the Pelham Town Hall.  This is the second floor of the building, which was originally built in 1743 (this floor was added later).  Pelham is historically significant as it was the home of Daniel Shays, leader of Shays Rebellion.

I was in the building for a short visit last week, and will plan on spending a lot more time there over the next month.  Should be fun.

Pink Lady’s Slipper

Posted in Flowers, Orchids, rare plants by joncrispin on 24/05/2015

This springs’s batch of orchids is a bit smaller than in previous years.  I haven’t done an extensive survey, but I am guessing that there are probably about 50 of them within 100 feet of our deck.  It still amazes me that they return year after year.  I am up in the woods quite a lot, and haven’t seen any other concentrations of them.  For some reason the conditions near to the house are perfect.

Any Botanists Out There?

Posted in biology, Science by joncrispin on 22/05/2015

This will be quick as I am off to Rotterdam to work on the suitcases.  I was walking the dog in the woods this morning and saw this beautiful object.  Looks to me that the little black dots might be eggs of some sort.  But oh, that green!  Could any of you with botanist friends send this around?  I’d love to know what it is.

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Willard Tour / Cemetery / Names / Thoughts – Part 2

Posted in History, mental illness, psychiatric centers by joncrispin on 19/05/2015

(See part 1 here.)

It was interesting to me to find out that it was OMH itself that tracked down Lawrence Mocha’s distant relatives.  According to Mr. Allen, his office used every means possible to locate Lawrence’s family in order to get permission to release his surname, which in turn allowed his full name to be used on the plaque on the cemetery grounds.  In my conversation with Mr Allen, he explicitly said that surnames could be released if a representative of the family could vouch that there was no objection to releasing that name.  OMH would send documents that would need to be signed in order to guarantee family acceptance, but as in the case of Lawrence’s family, it would not need to be a direct descendent who signs those papers. (Lawrence did not appear to have any children.)  This is a huge development for any family members who seek information about relatives that lived in state Psychiatric Centers.  Again, massive credit goes to Colleen Spellecy and her group for getting OMH to move on this.  It would be naive for anyone to think that any of this would have ever happened without her hard work.  What was especially amazing to me was that towards the end of the ceremony, members of the committee read the actual names of over 100 patients who were buried at Willard.  And Colleen has a list of 500 more families that have agreed to the release of names.

After the ceremony I had a very nice chat with Anna Kern, whose father’s mother’s maiden name was Mocha, and if I am correct ,was a cousin of Lawrence.  She and her husband travelled from Minnesota to be at the ceremony, and  Anna was genuinely moved by the fact that people were acknowledging her long forgotten family member.  I was also able to introduce myself to Darby Penny whose work on the suitcases preceded my own access to the collection.  It was an interesting conversation, as our goals differ greatly, and I believe we have a fundamental disagreement about the role the state played in the treatment of people with conditions that led them to a life at Willard.  I think it is very obvious to anyone who views my work vis a vis hers what those differences are.  Darby’s book and site are worth checking out if you want to get an idea of her approach to the suitcases.

I was going to write a bit about my feelings of seeing so much attention focused on Willard, but I think I’ll save it for later, as I am still sorting it all out.  But I did want to mention something really great that happened as I was leaving to drive home.  Several weeks ago I was contacted by Clarissa B‘s niece Christine.  She was moved to get in touch after she stumbled across this site and realized that Clarissa was actually her aunt.  Somewhere in the comments on that post, someone wrote that it was a shame that people like Clarissa were forgotten.  Chris wanted to correct that idea.  What she told me was that even as a patient at Willard, Aunt Clarissa spent quite a lot of time visiting her family, especially during holidays.  As a child, Chris enjoyed seeing her, and it was important to her to let people know that she was decidedly not forgotten.  So just before getting into my car to head home, I read an email from Chris that she had taken the tour and was herself about to leave.  We managed to meet on the side of route 132A and have a lovely conversation.

One last thing I want to mention.  I am just a photographer who has been given an incredible opportunity to document the Willard Suitcases.  Though I have developed strong opinions about what Willard was all about, I work very hard to separate those feelings from my work as a photographer.  Mental illness is a hugely complex issue, and ultimately I have no interest in using my work to make a point about what the state did or didn’t do in regards to the people who lived at Willard.  I just hope that my photographs can give a little bit of life back to those folks, and allow them to be defined as something more than just people with a mental illness.  Thanks to all of you for following along, and giving me such incredible motivation and support.

Willard Tour / Cemetery / Names / Thoughts – Part 1

Posted in Asylums, History, Mental Health, suitcases by joncrispin on 19/05/2015

This year’s tour of the former Willard Psychiatric Center was overwhelming in many ways. (See my post about 2014.) It was clear that the crowds would be large when, about a mile from the site, traffic was completely stopped on Route 96A. I ended up parking in the Grandview lot. Those of you who are familiar with Willard will know where that is in relation to the facility. Someone mentioned that social media might have had something to do with the crowds as there were a lot of Facebook posts going around. There has never been this kind of turnout for a tour.
I had hoped to meet up with some folks who follow this site, but the crowds made it nearly impossible.

My main reason for being there was to attend the ceremony honoring the gravedigger and former patient Lawrence Mocha.

Colleen Spellecy’s group has done an amazing job, not just in pressuring the New York State Office of Mental Health to allow Lawrence’s surname to be used, but in cleaning up the site and uncovering the markers placed in lieu of headstones.  Here is a link to her group’s site.  I can’t stress enough how her drive and dedication to honor the folks buried at the cemetery made this happen.  There is currently a bill before the legislature (S840 / A6386) to allow the release of names of patients, and if you live in New York State, Colleen has made it easy to contact your local representative.  Here is a link to the page on her site where you can click to send a message to your rep.

I also want to mention Lin Stuhler’s hard work in pressuring legislators to introduce a bill that would release the names of patients buried in psych center cemeteries.  Here is a link to Lin’s site.  Anyone interested in her work should buy her book, The Inmates of Willard, which you can order through her site or on Amazon.  She could really use your support, as dealing with the state bureaucracy can be a draining experience, and she has really hung in there to move this ahead.

Lawrence’s grave marker was identified by someone who knew its location, so the committee was able to have an exact location of his burial.  It was lovely to see groups of people standing near the spot and honoring his memory.  Just how this all happened is still amazing, really.  I won’t go into a long summary here, as I am not familiar with all the ins and outs.  But in a nutshell, Colleen had been working for years to get Lawrence’s name made public.  It wasn’t until an article appeared in The New York Times last November that OMH felt compelled to cooperate with her.

This whole naming thing is something that has been frustrating to me and others.  I am able to see both sides of the argument, but I am still strongly favor being able to use surnames when talking about the patients.  I understand the idea that some shame is attached to those who have suffered from a mental illness, but I feel it is dehumanizing to not identify them.  And for families that want to learn more about their ancestors, it is important to be able to access records.  I get contacted almost daily by relatives asking if I have photographed a suitcase belonging to a family member.

That being said, it seems that OMH is apparently now more open to providing information about former patients.  John B. Allen, Jr, who is Special Assistant to the Commissioner, told me explicitly to post his name and contact information so that family members can learn more about their relatives.  The telephone number is  518 473 6579 and his email is

I want to write so much more about this, but I have to run out to check out the historic Pelham Town Hall building, which I will be photographing soon.  So I will post this now, and continue with part two in a few hours.  I haven’t had time to proof read this, so pardon any typos.  I will catch them later.

See part 2 here.


Posted in Birds, hummingbirds by joncrispin on 14/05/2015

The hummingbirds are back in full force.  This fellow with the beautiful red throat was the first one I’d seen this year, and he showed up about a week ago.  All the feeders are going strong and there are now a (collective noun?) of them around.  We once read that you should have at least 2 feeders as they are quite territorial.  We now have 3 and they chase each other around chirping like mad.  They are not shy at all; I was basically standing right next to the feeder to get this shot.

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