Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Herman G

Peg and I started in on the returned Exploratorium cases yesterday, and it was great to get back to shooting.

Herman’s case was particularly interesting to me as most of his things related to photography.  It will be somewhat difficult to read this label on a computer monitor, but it reveals quite a bit about him.  He had been living in Sonyea, NY at the Craig Colony for Epileptics.  Lin Stuhler’s site has a good description of Craig here.  There is a note on this label stating “List of ??? [artifacts, contents?, I can’t quite read it] on reverse side of this cover”.

And here is that list.  You can see Herman’s signature on the top sheet that acknowledges receipt.

There were three lenses in the case, including this lovely Bausch and Lomb Tessar.

This was the 1930s idea of a light meter.

The collection includes quite a bit of correspondence from The American School of Photography in Chicago.  It seemed to be a well organized “learn at home” way of becoming a photographer.  Since all of the envelopes that contained the promotional materials were addressed to Herman in Sonyea, NY, I have to assume that he was learning to be a photographer while living at the Craig Colony.

For me, Herman’s story is particularly touching, and not just because of the photography connection.  I purposely don’t include too much of myself on this site, but sometimes I feel the need to open up a bit about the emotional impact of shooting these cases.  Our son Peter is an amazing guy.  He was a preemie, and spent months in the hospital after he was born.  He has cerebral palsy and a history of epilepsy.  He lives independently in DC and is a truly remarkable and inspirational person. I simply can’t imagine what his life would have been like had he been born in the 1920s, and when I think of Herman and his life in institutions, it breaks my heart.

4 Responses

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  1. Wanda said, on 22/07/2015 at 6:10 pm

    Thank you for sharing about Peter….it is hard to imagine the lives of those like Herman and so grateful that Peter is living his life on his own terms.

  2. marketing4introverts said, on 22/07/2015 at 6:37 pm

    As you go suitcase by suitcase, I can’t help wondering what happened that people never saw their possessions again. What did “Willard” tell people who brought something like camera equipment? It looks as if Herman was studying photography at his other institution. Don’t you wonder if he asked and asked again to have his equipment at Willard? I am also thinking of the woman with all the needlework samples and half finished projects. Did anything, I wonder, replace the interests they had BEFORE Willard once they were inside the walls. I hope so… but think probably not since the suitcases containing their treasures seem to never have been opened again. Very sad….. Dhyan

    Thanks for sharing about Peter. I felt that same openess to share the day I shared here about my mother’s mental illness.

    • Manon said, on 23/07/2015 at 6:36 am

      I was wondering exactly the same thing. Is it possible to know what really happened to these people once the came at the Willard?
      Thanks for sharing all of this. Great work!

  3. […] he was a patient at the “Craig Colony for Epileptics” before he came to Willard.  I had posted about him around the time we photographed his box of photo gear and correspondence in […]

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