Jon Crispin's Notebook

Dix Hospital Cemetery / Willard Suitcases

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.

Dix Hospital Cemetery, Raleigh, NC

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.

Dix Hospital Cemetery, Raleigh, NC

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.

Dix Hospital Cemetery, Raleigh, NC

It would seem such an easy thing to change, but New York State OMH has no interest in doing so.

Dix Hospital Cemetery, Raleigh, NC

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.

Willard Suitcases /Karen Miller / Archives

Willard Suitcases Project
New York State Archives records shoot

When I started photographing the suitcases, I really had no idea what I was doing, or where the project would go.  Very early on, Craig Williams introduced me to poet and psychiatrist  Dr. Karen Miller, and it has been amazing to “share” the suitcases with her over the five plus years that we have had access to the collection.  Because of her, I was included in the Exploratorium Exhibit in San Francisco, and because of her, I gained so much insight into the lives of the patients at Willard.  She has illuminated the human side of the folks who, in many cases, lived their entire lives at the institution.

Willard Suitcases Project
New York State Archives records shoot

I have always seen the suitcases and their contents as a reflection of who the patients were before, and during their time at Willard.  Because Karen went through the lengthly and difficult process of gaining access to the medical records of the suitcase owners, she was able to explore the clinical and bureaucratic side of their lives.  On many occasions, we worked side by side at the museum storage facility in Rotterdam and were able to talk about what inspired us about the collection.

Willard Suitcases Project
New York State Archives records shoot

In many ways, I didn’t want to learn too much about the reason these folks ended up at Willard, since it was important to me to feel a connection to them through their possessions.

Willard Suitcases Project
New York State Archives records shoot

So it was with some trepidation that Peg Ross and I made arrangements to spend the day in the New York State Archives photographing some of the massive case files of the suitcases owners.  Karen spent quite a bit of time getting Peg and me access to this otherwise closed collection, and I want to thank her so much for her efforts.  It was a remarkable day, and so nice to be working close to Karen again.

I am still not sure what I will do with these photos, but I do know that they’ll eventually be a part of whatever happens with my work on the suitcases.

As I was profusely thanking Karen for all that she has contributed to my work on the collection, she remarked on something that really resonated with me.  I’ll paraphrase here, but she said something to the effect that the most important things she has done in her life have been in collaboration with others.  I feel that so deeply.  Without Craig Williams, I would never had been able to begin the project.  Without Peggy Ross I would never have photographed the entire collection, and without Karen I wouldn’t have anywhere near the insight as to what life as a patient at Willard would have been like.  It is so fulfilling to be part of a team of such creative, smart, and great people, and I am so grateful to each for their help and support.

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D / Journal of Contemporary Archeology

Willard Suitcases
Margaret D
©2015 Jon Crispin

This case belongs to Margaret D, and she clearly liked beautiful underthings.  It is difficult to describe just how wonderful the fabric in these garments felt to the touch.

Willard Suitcases
Margaret D
©2015 Jon Crispin

Margaret was a nurse before she came to Willard, and she also brought along a massive collection of highly starched nurses uniforms.

Willard Suitcases
Margaret D
©2015 Jon Crispin

There had to have been at least 50 of these uniforms, and they were all folded nicely.

I first met Zoë Crossland shortly after she backed the first suitcases Kickstarter campaign.  She is an anthropology professor at Columbia University and has invited me on two different occasions to speak to her department about the suitcases.  Both visits were amazing, and I learned so much about the project from hearing what the faculty and staff had to say.  Over a year ago we started a dialogue about the project with hopes of getting it published.  Six months ago the Journal of Contemporary Archeology agreed to do so, and the online version was released late last week.  Here is a link to see a pdf of the article.  Scroll down to  “Download Media”  and click on the little icon next to “PDF”.  I am so proud to be a part of this as I think Zoë did a fantastic job of connecting my photographs with her interests as an archeologist/anthropologist.  There will be a print version available soon which can be ordered through the JCA.

Thanks for following.  I have been getting quite a few new subscribers to this site, so as a reminder, you can check out The Willard Suitcases site here.

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.

Willard Suitcases / Theresa F / Events

Willard Suitcases Project 
©2013 Jon Crispin
All Rights Reserved

Even though my summer has been scattered location-wise, I have been able to work regularly on editing the suitcases, and have been able to upload a good number of them to the Willard Suitcases site.  Click on “The Cases” to see the latest.  Theresa F was admitted to Willard on 3 April 1935.

It might be a good time to mention  a couple of upcoming events where I will be talking about the project.  In early October I will be traveling to Galveston to speak at NAMIFEST 2016.  NAMI is a national organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families dealing with issues of mental illness.  I’ll be speaking at the dinner event on Friday (the 7th).  If you have been following the project and live in the Gulf Coast area, please think about attending.

The following week, I will be speaking at a very interesting event in Raleigh, NC.  The “Lives on the Hill” project is being organized by the North Carolina Health News folks, and  will be highlighting the shuttered Dix Hospital property in downtown Raleigh.  I will be speaking at the Sunday (the 16th) event taking place at the Student Center on the NC State Campus.  There will also be an exhibit of the photographs up for the entire month of October.  I’ll update about the location once those details are finalized.

It is very exciting to be involved in both of these events, and I am really looking forward to being a part of them.

Willard Suitcases / L W M

Willard Suitcases LWM

L. W.’s case was largely empty save for this purple piece of rope and a half-smoked cigar.  It stikes me as a pretty good metaphor for a life interrupted.  You can check out the other photographs on the suitcases site.  Thanks for following, and I wish you all a lovely weekend.

Willard Suitcases / Charles F

Willard Suitcases Project

I mentioned earlier this week that I was hoping to get Charles F’s photographs uploaded by the end of the week, and here is a sample.  To see the rest of the collection, please go to the Willard Suitcases site.

Willard Suitcases Project

From the little I know about Charles, he came to Willard somewhat later in his life. I have no way of knowing if the portrait in the above photograph is he, or someone near to him, but whenever I think about his life, this image comes to mind.

Willard Suitcases Project

The tassels on his tallit are especially evocative to me.

Willard Suitcases Project

I believe that this is the publisher of some of his books.  I did a search for it but came up empty.  Any help would be welcome.

Willard Suitcases Project

His starched collars were still in quite good condition.

Willard Suitcases Project

I have no way of knowing if he was in the military, but I would guess that this canteen was army surplus.

Willard Suitcases Project

Here is a close up of his naturalization papers, which date to October of 1896.

Willard Suitcases Project

Many of the suitcases in the collection contain scraps of paper with hand-written notes on them.  I find that these can be especially interesting.

Willard Suitcases Project

 One of Charles’ cases had this selection tools (and a razor).

Willard Suitcases Project

  Please check out the rest of my photographs of Charles’ possessions on the suitcases site, and thanks for following.

Willard Suitcases / George C / Charles F

Willard Suitcases

I am attempting to make a push to upload as many new cases as I can over the next few months.

George C’s case is really blue!  It was empty save for a label.  You can see the other photos at the willardsuitcases.com site.  I am uploading the cases chronologically, and this is the beginning of a run of empty cases.  I ran the second kickstarted appeal specifically to document the entire collection, and even the empty ones are important to me.  (By the way, thanks to Peggy Ross for convincing me how important it was to photograph every case. I wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it without her help and support.)

Charles F / 5 May, 1946

One case stands out in this sequence though, especially as it was anything but empty.  Charles F’s possessions were amazing.  It  will take me days to go through it all, but I hope to have it up by the end of next week.  Above is his certificate of naturalization.  On the left you can see the list of clothing that came with him to Willard.  More soon.

Thanks for following.

Willard Suitcases / Virginia W

Willard Suitcases Projecty

©2013 Jon Crispin
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Virginia’s case is pretty great.  I can’t quite make out the date of her admittance, but it is sometime in the early 1950’s.  It is interesting that these were the only two books she brought with her to Willard.

Good news about the willardsuitcases.com site.  Steve Fox was able to troubleshoot the problem, and it is back up and looking good.  I just added Virginia’s case, so you might want to check it out.

I am looking forward to seeing some of you in New York next week.

Willard Suitcases/Margaret D./NYC Talk

Willard Suitcases ©2015 Jon Crispin

Margaret D. came to Willard with almost all of her household, including her car.  I posted here and here about her before. / The cutlery in the La Lure box is very cool.

On Tuesday the 9th of February I will be giving a presentation about the suitcases sponsored by the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.  It will take place at the New York Public Library branch, 524 Main Street on the island.  The start time is 6.30 pm and I would encourage anyone coming to get there a bit early, as the branch closes at 7.45 and we will need to start on time.

 There is very little on-street parking, I would encourage everyone to come by public transport.  (Hey, it’s New York City!)  Here is a link for travel directions.  If you are coming by tram, the station is at Second Avenue and 60th Street.  You will need to pay with a Metrocard ($2.75).  When you arrive on the island, take red bus (free) to the second stop and walk forward about 50 yards to the library.  If coming by subway, take the F train from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island.  Then the red bus to the first stop and walk 50 yards to the library.  If you follow the project online or have been in touch directly, please come up and introduce yourself.  I will be in the building by 5.00, I hope, and will have time to chat once everything is set up.  Hope to see you there.

 I noticed today that the willardsuitcases.com site is acting up a bit.  All of the information below the photograph on the splash page seems to have disappeared.  Fortunately everything else seems to be working, including access to the cases page.  I have a call in to Steve Fox who did a beautiful job designing the site, and I hope we can get it cleared up soon.

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