Jon Crispin's Notebook

Willard Suitcases / Margaret D / 2 March 2015


I just uploaded another batch of photos to Margaret’s page.  Check it out if you get the chance.  (Make sure you click on the “view all” button; the default view is 25 per page.)


I think this little Devon Violets vase is beautiful.


This lone pill was wrapped in the paper on which it is placed.  It is difficult to read the pencil writing but it looks like amid(something) barbital.


Having seen other photographs of her, I am quite certain that it is Margaret in these shots.

Have a great weekend everyone, and thanks for following.

Willard Suitcases / John R / Talks

willard suitcases

When I talk about the project I am often asked if I have a favorite suitcase.  My answer is always the same; from the start, I have seen the collection as a whole and no case stands out to me. But I do have some favorite photographs from the project, and this is one of them.

willard suitcases

 The dark glasses are pretty cool.

willard suitcases

This was the first time I had ever seen an actual Shinola tin.

willard suitcases

We saw several of these Yardley Talc containers.

willard suitcases

I have uploaded the rest of the photos from John’s case at the suitcases site.  Check it out!

There are two upcoming events near to me where I will be talking about the suitcases.  I’ll have copies of the second Kickstarter reward book for sale at the Hadley, MA Barnes & Noble this Saturday the 18th.  I’ll be there from 2.00 – 5.00 PM.  Come by and say hi.  And on Monday I will be giving a talk at the Amherst Woman’s Club.  I expect to start at 1.00 PM.

Thanks for following!

Willard Suitcases / Labels / Books

Willard Suitcases Project  ©2013 Jon Crispin All Rights Reserved

I have been spending a lot of time editing the suitcases in the past few weeks, and have set  a goal to finish all of that work by early April.  Over the 5+ years of shooting, the amount of images generated is quite massive.  So check out the site if you haven’t been there lately.  All of the recent folks are at the bottom of “The Cases” page.  I am uploading on a regular basis.  Most of the cases that I have been working on are not very full, but the labels are so evocative.  Bertha S was clearly at the Newark State School (The New York State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women) before she came to Willard.

Willard Suitcases Project  ©2013 Jon Crispin All Rights Reserved

Florence G. arrived at Willard in 1936 and lived in Eliott Hall.  Her two cases contained little more than some coat hangars, a key, and a label.

Willard Suitcases Project  ©2013 Jon Crispin All Rights Reserved

On Ida’s label, the “returned from family” line is interesting and a bit sad.  One always wonders what kind of connection the patients at Willard had with their families.

Willard Suitcases Project

Ellen H. arrived in March of 1967.  This type of tie down ribbon was common in many of the suitcases.  The green is such a beautiful color.


When I ran the second Kickstarter appeal, the top reward was a limited edition book that was for backers at the $500.00 level.  I had 40 printed and still have a few left that are numbered and signed.  If you would like to help the project in a big way, I would be most grateful for the support.

 Many of you have asked about a book, and I realize that $500.00 is beyone the budget of a lot of the followers of this project. So I have had another run of the reward book printed.  It is a slim volume that contains 32 suitcase photos and a picture of the attic where the cases were stored, along with a bit of text.  I am selling these for $60.00 + $10.00 shipping and they are really beautifully designed and printed.  If you are interested, send me an email at  You will then get an invoice through Square, which processes my transactions, and once payment is made, I will ship it right out. Paypal also works for me, and if you email me, I’ll give you the details. If you want one for yourself and one as a gift, I’ll send along two for $100.00 (plus the $10.00 shipping).

Thanks again for following and for all the 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 / 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 / Dorrit Harazim Book

O instante certo

Several months ago I was contacted by the Brazilian publisher Compania Das Letras about the suitcases project being included in a book by Dorrit Harazim.  They have been really great to deal with, but I wasn’t entirely clear about the nature of the project.  When I got back from Nepal, a copy was waiting for me in my post office box.  It seems to be a collection of essays about photographs (it is in Portuguese so I am not sure), and I was amazed to see the other photographers that were included.  Several Magnum photographers are involved along with Gordon Parks and Vivian Maier and some other illustrious names.  I am thrilled an honored to be a part of it.  “O instante certo” translated roughly to “the right moment”.  It is available through Amazon, so if you read Portuguese it might be nice to get a copy.

viagens sem volta

The article on the suitcases translates to “travel without return”.  I would be happy if the book  was translated into English at some point, but in the meantime, I’ll ask for a pdf and plug it into google translate.

Willard Suitcases / Harry M

Willard Suitcases
Harry M 
© 2013 Jon Crispin

Harry M’s case wasn’t technically a suitcase, but it contained some interesting things.

Willard Suitcases
Harry M 
© 2013 Jon Crispin

I’m not sure what the wooden object on the left is, but the Latimer White Petroleum Jelly label is quite nice.  And the Prell shampoo bottle is classic.  The label had fallen off, but it has the “Rinse, Lather, Repeat” admonition that got consumers to use twice as much as they probably needed.

I have been editing and uploading more of the suitcases, and you can see the latest here.  Just click on “The Cases” at the top of the page.  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 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.

Design Observer / Jessica Helfand


design observer

Very shortly after the first Willard Suitcases kickstarter went up I received an email from Jessica Helfand expressing her interest in the project.  She soon invited me down to New Haven to speak to her Yale freshman seminar class, “Studies in Visual Biography”.  Here is a post I did just after that first visit.  I have subsequently been to her class on several other occasions and it is always very stimulating and fun.

As well as teaching at Yale, Jessica and her late husband Bill Drenttel created Design Observer, which is a fantastic website devoted to creativity and design.  That description doesn’t do it justice though, as it is so much more than that.  It is really worth checking out on a regular basis.  In addition to the site, Design Observer recently started publishing a quarterly magazine.  The second issue is just out, and they included a huge spread on the suitcases.  I am just so honored to be a part of the issue, and it looks great.  Here is a link to purchase it, and I would really recommend all of you interested in the project to do so.  It includes many suitcase photographs that haven’t been published before.  Special thanks go to  Eugenia Bell, who did a great job selecting the images, and making sure it all came together.  She was a joy to work with.

As we were saying goodbye after that first class at Yale, Jessica reached out, hugged me and said “We’re friends now!”  It was a most touching gesture and I have rarely felt so quickly welcomed into someone’s life.  She has been a massive supporter of the project who has helped me in so many ways, and I am very fortunate to be her friend.

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 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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