Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Ovid Talk / Willard Cemetery / Interesting Information

Posted in Asylums, Cemeteries, History, Institutions, libraries, Mental Health, veterans by joncrispin on 28/09/2015

On Thursday, I made the trip from Western Massachusetts to Ovid, NY for my talk about the suitcases.  I arrived late in the afternoon and the light was nice on the front of this lovely early 1960s building.

It is so great to see a library from this era that hasn’t been messed up by continuous “updating”.

The crowd of about 50 people who attended the event was fantastic.  At the beginning of my talk I asked how many in the audience had been employees at Willard, and up went at least 10 hands.  I always learn so much by being able to talk to folks who were intimately connected with the place.  In fact, two very important facts came out during the question and answer.  The first was that while the patients were at Willard, their suitcases and possessions were kept in storage on the same floor as their rooms.  And they absolutely had access to their things.  I get asked about this regularly; I think most people who see the project assume that once they came to the institution they were stripped of their belongings, which I now know not to be the case.

The other bit of information that I had never understood has to do with why the suitcases were kept by the institution.  When a patient died, the State of New York contacted the families and were given two options.  Send money to cover shipping costs or come to Willard and pick up the suitcases.  We now know that neither of these things happened to approximately 400 deceased patients, which is why the collection exists today.  Amazing.  Thanks so much to the wonderful Peggy Ellsworth for clearing this up.

Before the Friday noon brown bag lunch at the library, I had the chance to go to the cemetery and walk around for a bit.  It is always something I do when in the area, and connects me to the place in a very real way.

Recently I have been in contact with a nice gentleman who expressed an interest in Frank C.  He was concerned that as a veteran, Frank was not accorded the proper respect in his burial.  This brought up the subject of the section of the cemetery that contains the headstones of veterans who were patients at Willard. As you can see by the flags, there is someone making sure that this section is well tended.  What is most interesting is that this is the only part of the cemetery where the patients are named, and headstones placed over the graves.

I hope to be updating the willardsuitcases.com site quite a bit this week, so check it out if you get the chance. Thanks for following.

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