Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Names

9-9-10 03-23+ PM wp

I just got word that the governor of New York State has signed Senate Bill S840A.  Here is the summary of the bill;  “(Senate Bill S840A ) relates to patients interred at state mental health hospital cemeteries; directs the release of the name, birthdate and date of death of certain patients 50 years after the date of death”.  I am not totally clear about what “certain patients” means, and to whom this information may be released, but this is certainly good news.  Here is a link to two earlier posts I did about the cemetery and the whole issue of names.  Click on Coleen Spellecy’s and Lin Stuhler’s links to read about the two people who did the most to get this bill through the legislature.  And thanks to Joe Robach for being persistent in getting the bill passed and signed into law.

Willard Suitcases Project  ©2013 Jon Crispin All Rights Reserved

The issue of not being allowed to name the owners of the suitcases has always bothered me.  I have been expressly told by both the New York State Museum and the New York Office of Mental Health that due to state law, I am forbidden to use the surnames of the patients when I publish the photographs, even though some of those names have already been mentioned in local newspapers and in other sources.  I feel that not using surnames continues to dehumanize the folks who were already stigmatized just by being patients at Willard.  Due to this new law, it might be possible, in some instances, to begin using full names.  All in all, this is a pretty exciting development.

Thanks for following and check out the suitcases site to see the latest.

12 Responses

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  1. Tania M said, on 26/08/2016 at 11:56 am

    What a great step in the right direction. 😀

  2. Karen Miller said, on 26/08/2016 at 11:58 am

    This is great news!

  3. Wanda Meade said, on 26/08/2016 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks, Jon. Your work is important.

  4. Marge Fisher Laxson said, on 26/08/2016 at 3:12 pm

    I do want to communicate with you. I am 87 yrs old and want to find more info on my grandfather. Can you help! He was the son of a priest and nun in Italy!!!! Marge

  5. Julie said, on 26/08/2016 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks Jon, for sharing this update. Your work with the suitcases has really touched my heart and you have treated each one with great respect. I hope this new development will allow these individuals’ stories to come out of the shadows

    • joncrispin said, on 29/08/2016 at 1:49 pm

      Julie, thanks so much for the encouragement. It really helps to hear from folks like you when the project sometimes moves ahead at such a slow pace. Best, Jon

  6. lsstuhler said, on 27/08/2016 at 10:07 am

    Unfortunately, after reading this new law, it looks nothing like the original and only releases the names, dates of birth and death, to “CEMETERY ORGANIZATION OR FUNERAL ESTABLISHMENT.” I am happy for The Willard Cemetery Memorial Project but I am also sick to my stomach. This means that the names of all the thousands of patients that died in other NYS Hospitals of the past, will NOT be released to the public; they will remain anonymous unless EACH hospital has a “CEMETERY ORGANIZATION” and even then they will be released “ONLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF INSCRIBING THE NAME OR DATE ON A GRAVE MARKER.” I feel like I have wasted six years of my life writing letters, calling representatives, and writing my blog. I really feel sick. I’m really having a hard time here! I’m very upset! -Lin Stuhler

  7. Brenda L. Struthers said, on 27/08/2016 at 10:33 am

    How do I learn which mental hospital my great uncle was in? NO one in the family knows.

    • joncrispin said, on 29/08/2016 at 1:30 pm

      Dear Brenda, if your Great Uncle was in a hospital in New York State, you should contact the NY State Office of Mental Health. Here is a link to a post I did some time ago with the name of the person there who might be able to help you. I would advise though that they are usually not very helpful about these types of requests. Be persistent and it will pay off. Best, Jon

  8. Susan Hadler said, on 05/10/2016 at 12:24 pm

    After seeing an exhibit of the suitcases in NYC, I mentioned them in my book, THE BEAUTY OF WHAT REMAINS, which is about my search for the grave of my aunt. To my great surprise
    I found her alive and well after 72 years of institutionalization in Ohio for what turns out to have been an episode of postpartum psychosis and then I found her children.

    • joncrispin said, on 06/10/2016 at 2:55 pm

      Thanks Susan, your story sounds amazing. I’ll look for your book. Best, Jon

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