I had a great meeting at the Edith B. Ford Library in Ovid, NY to talk about the possibility of working on an oral history project with former Willard employees. Peter Carroll and I drove up from Ithaca this morning and met with Shannon O’Connor and Monica Kelly who both are doing amazing things at the library. Monica is building an archive of Willard materials, and if anyone who reads this has any records or photographs related to the asylum, you should really contact her.
Afterwards Pete and I drove to the Holy Cross Cemetery on Gilbert Road.
Recently, a local group raised funds and erected a monument to Willard folks who died at the institution and are buried at Holy Cross. I am not exactly sure what the problem is, but some people have objected to it, and so the monument has been covered up since just after it was unveiled. The issue of naming former patients and staff continues to come up, and is still a problem on many levels. I’ll be eager to find out what really happened here.
After leaving Holy Cross, we drove over to the Willard Cemetery which is down the road and across the street from the asylum. This is such an indescribably moving place for me. It was a really beautiful late Winter day and the idea that 5,776 former patients are buried here in unmarked graves always touches me deeply.
The site is very well looked after, and the area around some of the few remaining numbered cast iron markers has recently been cleared of brush.
And it is always nice to see the monument to Lawrence Mocha, who as a patient, dug by hand over 1500 of the graves.
I found out today that I have been invited to Waco, Texas to be the keynote speaker at the annual NAMI Waco dinner and gala. The event is the evening of Thursday, 18th May and if you live anywhere nearby, I would love to meet you.
The visit to WUNC went really well. Frank Stasio was a great interviewer and it was fun to chat with him and Rose Hoban, whose interest in the suitcases brought me to Raleigh for the Lives on the Hill event. Here is a link to the broadcast.
I am staying with my friends Eric and Gail Vaughn and yesterday they drove me over the Dix grounds so I could get my bearings. I saw this marker for the cemetery and we stopped to walk around.
I was actually shocked to see that the grave markers used names instead of numbers as New York State does. And it made me both sad and angry that New York still refuses to allow former patients to be identified.
It would seem such an easy thing to change, but New York State OMH has no interest in doing so.
Please go to Lin Stuhler’s site and read her goodbye post. She has said it much better than I ever could.
Tonight is the reception at The Mahler Fine Art gallery in Raleigh and tomorrow is the big public event. If you are in the area please come by. Thanks for following.
I made this corn chowder recipe tonight. Perfect for a cold Sunday. I always buy extra ears of sweet corn during the summer and freeze what we don’t eat for days like this. Very nice; give it a try sometime.
One of the great things about the suitcases project is hearing from people who find other work that is related to institutionalization. Charlie Seton sent me this link today. What an interesting project. Thanks Charlie. And my great buddy Hank who has been following the suitcases from the beginning sent this link about Letchworth Village in Rockland County. It is interesting to me that surnames are used on the commemorative plaque.
I know some of you know a lot about plants. I started seeing these guys in the early Autumn. I don’t think they are plants that lost their leaves; I am quite sure that this is the whole deal.
And I have discovered some new trails above the house. Before the snow last week I saw a few of these evergreen-like plants that I have never seen before. If any of you can help identify them, I would love to know.
Sorry the top is out of focus. I only had my phone with me and as this little guy was only a few inches long, there wasn’t much depth of field.
Wishing you all a great week, my dear online friends.
My father died in August of 2007 and my brother, sister, and I have been trying to figure out when we could all meet in Colorado to spread his ashes.
Robert LeRoy Crispin (he hated the LeRoy part) was born in Central City, Colorado on 19 August 1917. He was a man completely formed by his difficult early life. At the age of 6 his father died (probably from black lung due to his working in the mines), and as his mother was often poorly, he was largely raised by grandparents.
My family; Bob, Karen, I at Richard Crispin’s grave in the Knights of Pythias cemetery.
Dad’s other side of the family were buried nearby in the IOOF (Odd Fellows) Cemetery. Both sides of the family were Cornish, whose men worked in the lead mines there and came to Colorado to work the silver mines.
We spread some of dad’s ashes near his Wilkinson grandparents. This watch belonged to his grandfather. I usually keep it on my desk at home, but really wanted to bring it along for the trip.
The house he was born in on The Casey (now Casey Street) has been torn down, but this is the entry to his grandparent’s house next door. Dad would have walked through this door countless times.
And seen this view across the valley every day.
And often would have walked up this path at the end of the street.
I have been meaning to do a long post about my father for a very long time, and I know I will get to it some day. We had a somewhat complicated relationship, but he was an amazing guy whose life was remarkably full and interesting.
I wasn’t sure I would go to the Willard tour this past weekend until I was recently contacted by Ken Paddock. When Ken told me the story of his aunt Helen who died at a very young age as a patient at Willard, I really wanted to meet him. His family had kept an amazing collection of documents and artifacts related to her death in 1928 at the age of 17. She had contracted a disease (possibly scarlet fever) at a young age which caused blindness and other problems, and she was sent by the family to The Syracuse State School for Mental Defectives. She was transferred to Willard when the State School could no longer control her. The collection contains letters written to the family about her situation, including a letter from the head of the State School advising the family why she would be moved. Ken’s mother rarely talked about her older sister, and it wasn’t until just before her death in 2001 that details about Helen’s institutionalization started to come out. It is amazing to me that these artifacts were saved by the family, especially since it seemed that no one spoke much about her for such a long time. I met Ken, his wife Kathy, and their cousin Carol at the Taughannock Falls overlook on Saturday morning and was shown a binder full of artifacts. They encouraged me to talk about her life, and are graciously allowing me to photograph the collection, which I hope to do later this summer. It is great to be able to use her full name as this collection is in private hands and does not come under the state’s control. So, here’s a kind thought for Helen W. Howden, and thanks to Ken’s family for sharing her story.
We got up to Willard at around 12.45 and were organized into groups for the tour. The first stop was Brookside, which is where the medical director and his family lived. It is a lovely early 20th Century house and situated right on the shore of Seneca Lake. As usual I was drawn to one of the three kitchens and took a few shots before I headed downstairs.
This device was used when the family wanted to request something from the staff. When Craig Williams and I were looking at it, the buzzer sounded when another member of the tour pushed a button in one of the upstairs rooms.
Next stop was the game room in the basement. I am not sure which director’s family would have used this foosball table, but it was most likely Dr. Anthony Mustille’s children.
Since I had already been in several of the buildings on the tour, Peggy Ellsworth suggested I come over to the morgue when it was between groups. She is one of the main boosters of Willard’s past, and spends a great deal of her energy keeping the spirit of the place alive. She told me an amazing story of her first day on the job after she had graduated from the nursing school. It involved her first autopsy when she was standing right where she is in this photograph.
It constantly astounds me that evidence of how these rooms were used is still in place decades after Willard’s closing.
The morgue building is a tiny little brick edifice that I had never been able to get into on my earlier visits.
So many interesting aspects to this room.
This is the faucet at the head of the autopsy table.
And who knows why this retractor was left behind?
It is really quite a space, and reminds me a bit of the autopsy room at Ellis Island that I photographed a few years ago. After I left the morgue I headed over to Elliot Hall which was built in 1931.
It reminds me of several of the other state hospitals I have visited; long corridors with day rooms at the end of hallways.
And the stairwells are very similar to ones I have photographed at other institutions.
Before leaving to head home, I stopped by the cemetery where the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project folks arranged this nice remembrance of Lawrence Marek (unfortunately not his real surname) who while a patient at Willard dug over 900 graves for those who died while living at the institution.
The next tour of Willard should take place again next May. It is a great opportunity to meet former staff and see first hand what an amazing place it was, and in many respects, still is.
Here’s a bunch of random stuff.
On our last day in New Orleans we took the trolley out to the Garden District. I was very happy to walk under The Pearl neon sign and see that it was turned on this time.
I have always liked wandering around graveyards and the Lafayette Cemetery was near to the trolley.
There is a great bookstore nearby and I was finally able to find a copy of Maira Kalman’s “And The Pursuit of Happiness”. I have been looking for a while now, and was so happy to find it. She sent me the nicest email about the Willard Suitcases and I was eager to see this book, as I really like her work. I especially like that she mentions the numbered graves at Gettysburg since they are so much like the ones at the Willard cemetery.
We flew back very late into BWI and this is what I saw out the window as we flew over DC.
I had a great shoot on Wednesday with another amazing writer. Poets & Writers asked me to photograph Neil Gaiman and he is the nicest guy. I can not post any shots until the story runs sometime this summer, but I will as soon as I can.
And finally, we drive Peter to DC tomorrow to help him find a place to live and get him settled. The usual melancholy has been creeping in and so I have been listening to a lot of Percy Grainger. I have always been so taken with his music. I seem to recall as a boy listening to a CBC program with my dad that used this piece as a theme. Here’s another that I especially like. The thing for me about Grainger is that there is an element of sadness in his music in spite of the light-hearted feeling of the tunes. He was a pretty out there fellow and the one quote of his that I think of often is him talking about his work. When speaking of his use of harmony, he said “My efforts even in those young days, were to wrench the listener’s heart with my chords. It is the contrast between the sweet and the harsh…that is heart-rending…And the worth of my music will never be guessed, or its value to mankind felt, until the approach to my music is consciously undertaken as a ‘pilgrimage to sorrows.'”
Every time I go to Willard, NY to do some work relating to the Psych Center, I go to the cemetery and walk around. The setting is really beautiful; a huge rolling field with a view of Seneca Lake. It is also a very moving place. For reasons I have never completely understood (or agreed with), the only names on headstones are in the veteran’s section. All other graves are marked with a number. I spent all day Friday photographing the wonderful people who worked at Willard before it was closed, and then Brad Edmondson and I walked across the road to have a look. I was struck by the fact that it was late Friday afternoon on the 10th of September, the last day of Rosh Hashanah.
I was in Farmington, CT yesterday driving down Main Street when these two words caught my eye. I knew that the phrase had something to do with death, and after doing a little reading, I learned a bit more. The literal translation is “remember you must die” or “remember you will die”. In classical times, it was said to victorious soldiers by their slaves to remind them that their good fortune could change at any moment. In other words, we are all mortal and sooner or later…..pfffft. It still seems like a good idea to think about this from time to time. For me, the only consolation in losing people close to me has been to let the loss reinforce the idea that being alive is amazing and I should feel very grateful for my wonderful life and all of my lovely friends and family.