Jon Crispin's Notebook

The Willard Suitcases at The American Shakespeare Center

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(That’s me in the middle with the actors.)

I have written before about Julianne Wick Davis’ song cycle based on my Willard Suitcases Project photographs.  The piece recently had its premier at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA and I was lucky enough to be in the area on Saturday evening to catch a performance.  Here is a link to Broadway World’s piece on the production.  Here is another write up in DC Metro’s Theatre Arts section.  I am sure there will be more reviews coming in the next weeks, and if you are interested just do a search for “Willard Suitcases Julianne Wick Davis”.

I was totally blown away by Julianne’s music and by the ASC’s production.  Ethan McSweenys’s direction was perfectly respectful of my work on the project, and of the patients featured in Julianne’s songs.  It was a really emotional evening for me, and if any of you live in the area (including DC, which is only a few hours away) please make every effort to see this before it closes on the 1st of December.  Staunton is a lovely town, and the ASC is remarkable.

I am so proud to have been an inspiration to Julianne and Ethan, and I am grateful for their sensitivity to the Willard patients whose suitcases make up the collection.

A Tale of Two Cemeteries / New School Talk Announcement

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Last week when Peter and I were driving back from Cleveland/Meadville we decided to take back roads up to the Thruway.  I had especially wanted to go through North Warren,   PA to see the  Warren State Hospital.  It is only about an hour from Meadville and is a really amazing facility.

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It is still an active psychiatric hospital so I wasn’t allowed to photograph, but I was actually more interested in the cemetery.

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I have written often about the issue of names in relation to my suitcases project.  Especially how the State of New York prohibits the use of full names of the patients in respect to my work and in regards to the hospital cemeteries.

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Here in Pennsylvania patient’s names are on the grave stones.

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If you were to drive north about 60 miles into New York State and go to the cemetery at the Gowanda Psychiatric Center, you will find an entirely different story.

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While there are a few graves marked with names, the vast majority only have numbers.  This is mostly due to New York State’s primitive privacy laws, which supposedly protect families from the “shame” of having a relative who was institutionalized.

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There are groups throughout New York that are working very hard to memorialize patients who are buried in hospital cemeteries.  There is a lovely Helen Keller quote on the memorial stone above, and this cemetery is very well maintained.

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It just seems so wrong to me that New York State continues to stigmatize folks who were patients at state hospitals by basically denying anyone (including families) the knowledge that they existed.  Here is a link to another post I did that gives a bit more background on the issue of names.  Just don’t try to contact John B. Allen at NYS OMH.  He no longer works there.

Thanks for following.  I’ll be presenting the suitcases project at the New School on Thursday the 12th of September at 6:00 PM.  Here is a link to the announcement, but as of today, the time listed is off.  I start speaking at 6:00 and it ends at 8:00.  I really hope to see some of you there.  It will be interesting.

 

California

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I’m sitting at the outside bar at the Long Beach Airport drinking a beer and waiting for my flight back home.

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It has been a pretty quick but lovely trip.

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The above photos are from a nice trip to Olvera Street that we took to eat some great Mexican food and walk around a bit.  Frida Kahlo is everywhere!

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Cris and I always try to go to Huntington Beach.  This day was cool, grey, and rainy.  Lovely.

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I really like wandering on and under the pier.

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It wasn’t very crowded due to the weather.

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A Ruby’s chocolate shake always hits the spot.

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I don’t remember Zoltar from previous years.  He will tell your fortune though.

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I am kind of attracted to photographing weird stuff.

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I wonder how many times the Life Ring has been used.

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The nearest In n Out is about a 30 minute walk from Lynne’s house.  So much to see along the way!

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My brother-in-law John knows so much about LA and it is amazing to spend a day with him cruising around.  This is the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Brentwood.  It is referred to as the Sturges House but is most famous for the fact that Jack Larson the actor who played Jimmy Olsen on the Superman TV show, lived here for many years.  It was to be auctioned a few years ago, but didn’t sell.  It is now abandoned and in rough shape.  Shocking.

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It is in a very quaint and beautiful neighborhood.

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Check out this deck from below.  It is nearly the size of the house which is only 1400 square feet.  I am always saddened and amazed that such an important house can sit abandoned and empty.  Especially in Brentwood!

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John grew up in Palos Verdes, which is to me the most amazing community in the LA area.  It was nice to go there for a coffee before driving back to Tustin.  This fountain is in the center of the little commercial area.

Thanks for following!

 

Willard Suitcases / Charles F. Grave / Ithaca

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I have known for a long time now that Charles F. was buried in Ithaca.

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The photo of his grave is the last image that I need for the book Ilan Stavans and I are doing for SUNY Press.

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Ilan’s essay is beyond amazing, and I am really happy with the section of the book that has the two of us talking about our feelings about Charles and to the contents of his suitcase.  / Searching online I was able to find the location of his grave, but I had no map of the cemetery by which to determine the exact location.  This morning I went to the Ithaca Town Hall where a very nice and helpful person gave me the information that I needed.

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There are two sections of the cemetery that are reserved for the burial of Jewish folks.  When I saw these graves I knew I was getting close.

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Charles is buried at the most Southeastern corner of the cemetery.

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The fact that (by New York State law) I have to obscure the surnames of the patients is really pissing me off these days.  Charles died in 1950 and I think it continues to stigmatize patients to deny who they were.  I hear so regularly from family members seeking information about relatives who lived at Willard, and I feel terrible that I can’t help out.  New York State law supercedes Federal HIPAA laws about what can be revealed to families and other interested parties.  This can only be changed through the legislature, and I am really interested in finding a legislator in Albany to introduce a bill to bring New York State in line with Federal law (the Feds put the cap at 50 years after death, and for New York State the cap is forever).   To cover myself here I put these leaves over his name but IT JUST FEELS SO WRONG.

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Here’s a view from another angle.  Much more pleasing that the previous one showing the buildings in the background.

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Peter Carroll came along to shoot some B-Roll as I worked today.  We are slowly moving ahead with the documentary on the project.  It’s still very early stages, but we are hoping to put up a Kickstarter appeal sometime in the late Summer in order to be able to produce a short piece which we can then preview to funders.

Thanks for following along everyone.  I am posting almost daily to the @willardsuitcases Instagram account, so if you haven’t checked it out, please do.

Willard Suitcases/Charles F/News

 

Willard Suitcases Project

 

Happy New Year everyone.  And as usual, thanks so much for following along.  I wish you all a happy and productive 2019.  For many of us 2018 turned out to be a difficult year, but let’s all be positive and look forward.

I first met Ilan Stavans in the late 90’s when the New York Times hired me to photograph him for this article.  He and I have kept in touch over the years.  I found myself thinking of him while I was photographing Charles F.’s possessions for the Willard Suitcase Project.  There seemed to be a connection and so I was able to help Ilan get access to the New York State Museum storage facility to have a look at what Charles brought with him to Willard.  Ilan was very moved by what he saw and felt, and on the drive home we spoke about a collaboration, although at the time we had no clear idea as to what would develop.

 

Willard Suitcases Project

 

Several months ago we started talking in earnest about what we could each bring to a project about Charles, and it is exciting to be able to say that we have signed a contract with SUNY Press to produce a book.  I’ll have more details soon, but we are both really excited about this.  We are looking at an early 2020 publication date, which will coincide with an exhibit that will travel.

 

Willard Suitcases Project

 

This is just one of many collaborative efforts that has come out of my work with the suitcases, and it is one aspect of the project that makes me especially happy.  It is so nice to have been an inspiration to creative and interesting people and to be a part of their art.

For those of you who are on instagram, I am starting to post suitcase photos @willardsuitcases on what I hope will be a regular basis.  You can also still see my goofy side @jonkcrispin.

Trip to Central New York

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This past Wednesday my pal Craig Williams hired me to take some photographs of the old Lock 52 in Port Byron, NY.  It is now an historic site with a great visitor center (open seasonally).

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The entrance to the site is off the New York State Thruway and is really interesting and well worth a stop if you are driving East.

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These limestone blocks are enormous.

Craig had me photographing some views to match historic photographs of the lock when it was still in use.  We worked for a bit before lunch which was at a really great diner in Port Byron.  I sat facing this flag, which I had seen before but never understood.

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Here is the text from the card above the stars. “This is a police flag.  Each strip on the emblem represents certain respective figures.  The blue center line represents law enforcement, the top black stripes represents the public, the bottom black stripes represents the criminals.”  I hesitate to be negative here, but as someone who is really interested in design as a way of conveying ideas, this seems completely wacky to me. / Great lunch though, fine diner with nice people.

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I am really digging this fish display on the wall above our table.  Award winning!

At lunch Craig mentioned that Brigham Young lived in Port Byron before heading west and that his house was still standing but in rough shape.  Some work was started on a restoration, but due to poor health of the two contractors, it was stopped.

Port Byron Historic Lock #52

The plaque on the door reads “This wood frame house built by James Pine circa 1818 and later occupied by Brigham Young and family.  Young’s first child a girl named Elizabeth, born here September 1825.”  Given the Mormon’s interest in history and genealogy, I was shocked to see this property is such a state of neglect and apparent disinterest by the church.

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A restored tavern is on part of the historic canal site.  These bottles sit atop the bar, which is partly original.  It seems rye whiskey was seriously popular in the 19th century. / After Port Byron I drove down to Ithaca to spend the night with my friends Brad and Tania.

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Their house is filled with great things including tons of Fiestaware.

A trip to Ithaca is never complete without a visit to the Lincoln Street Diner.

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Peter had just received the latest OSMO camera and we got the chance to goof around with it.

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Very cool.

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Lookin’ good Sport!

Thanks for following.  Happy Holidays.

 

 

 

Travel / Willard Suitcases Documentary / St Crispin’s Day

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Yesterday morning I drove out to Ithaca to begin work on the suitcases documentary that I am working on with Peter Carroll and Deborah Hoard.

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After a quick lunch at the Lincoln Street Diner, Peter and I drove up to Willard to shoot some B-roll in the Cemetery.

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It is a special place to visit in so many ways.  When I took this photograph, the smell of mint was intense.  It seemed odd that it was so healthy this late in the year.

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We are in the beginning stages of figuring out how to document my work with the suitcases.  The point of this early filming is to to create a short piece that will help us raise funds.  We will probably run another Kickstarter campaign, which I expect will be up in the early part of next year.

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It was a beautiful day on the lake.  Chilly and breezy, which is to be expected in late October.  I can’t emphasize enough what an amazing spot this is.  The fact that 5,776 former Willard patients are buried here makes for an emotional experience.

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With the help and encouragement of  the wonderful Peggy Ellsworth and Craig Williams, we were given access to the Romulus Historical Society to film the interview today.  It worked out really well (even though the heat is currently off in the building).

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Peter is a genius in setting up lighting for interviews.  This is a frame grab from the video.  I am looking a bit stern in this shot, but I do smile from time to time.  It was a really productive day and I was reminded of how great it is to work with Peter and Deb.

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The historical society has a few suitcases that for some reason never made it into the main collection in Albany.  It was nice to be able to use them in the setup.

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I have driven past this winterized travel trailer on Route 96 repeatedly and finally stopped to take a few photos.  I love how the little wheels are covered too!

Today is St. Crispin’s Day.  I usually try to drink a load of Cognac to assist me in feeling a connection to the French and English soldiers who died at the battle of Agincourt.  If this post is a bit wordy, I’ll blame it on the bottle of Hennessy that seems to be emptying at a rather steady pace.  Check out the amazing Olivier in the 1944 version of  Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Thanks for following. Be well.

 

Symbols

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  Whenever I am here in Nepal I always keep an eye out for bricks, as seeing them makes me think of my good friend Richard Pieper.  Most buildings are adorned with them, and the walls surrounding the Royal Palace are all brick.  On our daily walk to the World Education office we pass by a large section of the Palace wall which is undergoing a post earthquake renovation.  I saw this pile and noticed the markings and didn’t think much of it at the time, but the next day I stopped and took this picture.  It is not at all uncommon to see the swastika used as a symbol in various ways around Nepal.  It got me thinking about how we in the West are so conditioned to see the obvious negative aspects of it.  I went to the wiki page and learned a lot of interesting facts about its history and usage.  I would encourage anyone interested to check it out.  What got to me especially was that under the section of the wiki that showed the varieties of swastikas, the Hakenkreuz (second row, bottom left) gave me a visceral reaction.

We head back to the US on Sunday.  I have managed to pick up a bothersome cold and have been a bit less active than I would like, but Cris’ work ends today and we will have some time to goof around tomorrow and Sunday morning.  Thanks for following.

Boudhanath / Full Moon

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Last night was the full moon and Cris thought it might be a nice idea to go to Boudhanath Stupa and have a stroll around.  We have come here quite often, but always during the day.

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It was a beautiful evening, the temperature was perfect, and the feeling was very peaceful and relaxing.

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This giant prayer wheel spins constantly and is just inside the doors of the little temple on the site.

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The area is really interesting.  One enters the main gate at 6 on a clock face and everyone strolls quietly around in a clockwise direction.  The stupa is on the inside of the clock and  is surrounded on the outside by restaurants, guesthouses, and smaller business enterprises.  Dogs and pigeons are everywhere.

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Nepal is so interesting in terms of religion.  The culture here blends Hinduism and Buddhism in what seems to me a beautiful way.  I have talked to Nepali friends about this and it seems quite natural to them.  If you think about religion in the West, there isn’t so much crossover.  The closest I can think of to this is Unitarianism, which is how I was raised, and seems to encourage people to take the best of all religions and build a personal philosophy around what you find useful.  One year my Sunday School was called “The Church Across the Street” and we spent the entire time visiting just about every church and denomination in Meadville.  I loved the Holy Rollers.

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Because one walks in a circle around the stupa it is easy to just keep going without realizing where you entered, which I eventually figured out is one reason for the visit.  I just had the feeling that it would be possible to walk all evening and not feel the time passing.  It was a lovely experience.

 

Willard / Meadville Trip / Conneaut Lake Park

AMeadville Trip with Peter September 2018

After living in D.C. for the past 5 years, our son Peter has moved home for a bit to take some classes and do GRE prep.  It is nice to have him around.  Soon after he returned to Massachusetts we planned a quick trip to Meadville and Pittsburgh to catch a Pirates game.

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The Willard employee reunion dish-to-pass event was happening on the Saturday that we drove out, so he and I stopped to say hi to old friends.  We had time afterwards to go to the cemetery which is always a very moving experience.

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The sign at the Jewish part of the cemetery is looking a bit run down and could use some help.

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The little stone marker is still there.

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Here is one of the numbered graves in that part of the cemetery.  It makes me so sad that #43 has no name.  The state of New York could remedy this if they cared enough to publish the names of the patients who are buried here.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

Before Peter and I continued on to Meadville, we stopped by the Romulus Historical Society building to see the recent exhibit updates.  It was nice to see Craig Williams and Debbie Nichols who had been a nursing student and then a nurse at Willard.

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Here is Debbie sitting next to her actual uniform.  It is a great little museum and well worth a visit.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

I’ve been stopping at the Angola Rest Area on the New York Thruway for as long as I can remember.  It is so nice to walk over the highway to get to the main building.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

The first stop was a visit to Eddie’s Footlongs on the lake road outside of Meadville.  I had 2 with the works.

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Next stop Hank’s Frozen Custard.  I had 2 here as well.  Chocolate.

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On Sunday morning we got word that the Pirate’s game was cancelled due to rain, so we checked out of the motel and drove to Allegheny College to see the tree we planted in honor of my Dad.

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My sister Karen chose a lovely Winter King, and it is thriving.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

It was a rainy Sunday morning and after breakfast at the Meadville Market House Grill, we drove out  for a last Hank’s and then around Conneaut Lake.  The amusement park was not surprisingly deserted, but it was strange that country music was playing through the loudspeakers.

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There was no one there to yell at us to stay off the rides, so we wandered and took some pictures.

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Ugh, clowns.

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On the left above is the Blue Streak roller coaster.  I was never keen on riding it, but once Judy Jacoby who was my girlfriend for a short time convinced me to go on it.  It was fine.

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It is difficult to know for sure, but I think the park is still open.  But it was a bit eerie to walk around with the music blaring and nobody else there.

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The coaster car is pretty classic.

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A Century Flyer made in Dayton, Ohio.

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Here’s the entry into the first tunnel.

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The master controls. ↑

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

Peter and I actually rode the Devil’s Den many years ago.  The “Infamous Gum Wall!! is just that.  People started sticking chewing gum on the wall when the ride slowed down and it became….well infamous.

Cristine and I are off to Nepal on Friday.  I hope to post regularly from Kathmandu.

Cheers everyone and thanks for following.

 

 

 

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