Jon Crispin's Notebook

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.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

The little stone marker is still there.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

Ugh, clowns.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

The coaster car is pretty classic.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

A Century Flyer made in Dayton, Ohio.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

Here’s the entry into the first tunnel.

Meadville Trip with Peter September 2018

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.

 

 

 

Lock 12, Erie Canal / “Ward’s Island” Derrick Boat Decomissioned (EDITED)

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I got a call yesterday from my friend and sometimes patron Craig Williams.  Craig worked at the New York State Museum and was responsible for getting me access to the Willard Suitcases, as well as work photographing the panels and artifacts from the World Trade Center 9-11 attack, and a ton of other interesting photography projects.

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Craig has been really concerned with a plan that the NY State Canal Corporation has to scrap some historically important canal boats and sink them off the coast of Long Island to creat artificial reefs.  He asked me to meet him at Lock 12 in Tribe’s Hill, NY and take a few photos of one of the boats as it made its way Eastward.

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Above is the derrick boat “Ward’s Island” which is being pushed from Lyons, NY  through the Erie Canal System and down the Hudson to be sunk off the coast of Long Island.

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Craig and fellow supporters of Canal history are waging a bit of a protest in regards to the State’s decision to move ahead with this plan.  On the left is Will Van Dorp who has a great wordpress site having to do with shipping.  Here is a link that talks about the Ward’s Island.  Interestingly enough, the boat was commissioned by the NY State office of Mental Hygiene in 1929 to ferry cars and people from Manhattan to the Ward’s Island asylum.

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After about 10 years downstate, she was sent up to the Canal to begin life as a derrick boat, and was only decomissioned last year.  Here she is in the lock.  Note that this is the stern; she is being pushed backwards through the Canal.

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Here’s a detail of the stern.  She was sitting really high in the water as much of the weight was stripped out before the beginning of the trip.

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It was an incredibly beautiful day at the Lock.  I have felt for a long time that the Canal is a very underutilized feature of New York State.  Destroying a part of its history is probably not a good way to attract positive attention to it.

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Here’s the tug Lucy H pushing her towards Amsterdam.

The next boat scheduled for scrap is the tug “Urger” (Edit; Urger is not meant for scrap.   As of now the State wants to take it out of the water, beach it, and make it into a display at Lock E13. / Also, Will Van Dorp contacted me with a few more links about the Ward’s Island.  Here and here).  Here is a link to the Urger.  Let’s hope it is not too late to save her.

Willard Suitcases / Editing

Freda B Willard Suitcase

This was the first case I photographed.  It was the 17th of March 2011.  Craig Williams had given me permission to gain access to the collection and I was very excited.  I remember setting up my wrinkled background and fiddling with my lights.  It struck me at the time that it would be interesting to document the entire process of shooting the cases, including what they looked like after the museum had wrapped them back up after the conservation process.

This is part of what I saw when I finally got the case open.  Quite a way to start the project.  This is what I posted about that first day.

Today at about 2.30 I finished editing all of the cases that we have shot, and uploaded the final photographs to the suitcases site.  This case belonge to Lawrence R.  I especially like the headline in the Democrat and Chronicle.

This day has been a long time in coming.  We will see what happens with the project in the fullness of time, but I am very excited and happy to have made it this far.

Connie Houde was kind enough to take this picture of Peg and me on that last day of shooting.  I think champagne might have been involved.

There are too many folks to thank for all of the support, encouragement, and love that I have felt since I began photographing the suitcases in 2011.  But I think of you all the time.  Thank you all.

Willard Suitcases / Rodrigo L Final

Willard Suitcases
Rodrigo L.

This morning I uploaded the last of the photographs of Rodrigo’s possessions.  His cases were really interesting and you can check them all out here.

Willard Suitcases
Rodrigo L.

Rodrigo maintained a strong connection his native Philippines, and also had an interesting collection of books.

Willard Suitcases
Rodrigo L.

There were several items pressed between the pages of a few of them.

Willard Suitcases
Rodrigo L.

This hat was pretty cool and the white object at the bottom seems to be shark’s teeth strung together into some sort of necklace.

Willard Suitcases
Rodrigo L.

Peg and I shot our last suitcase on Monday the 9th of November 2015.  I will be editing that work in a day or two, and that will be it as far as what was in the New York State Museum collection.  Craig Williams seems to remember that there are a few cases that never went to the Museum that are in the Romulus Historical Society.  If so, we’ll try to track those down and photograph them.  I photographed the first case (Freda B) on the 17th of March 2011, and this has been quite an amazing ride.  I just want to thank all of you who follow the project for all the good wishes, support, and interest.  Now that the editing is just about done, I’ll be spending much of my time moving on to the next stage.  I’ll also take a minute to thank Peggy Ross again for her continued help.  I couldn’t have done this without her.

Anna Lucille Earley, Willard Nurse

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

I got a call a few weeks ago from Craig Williams telling me that a trunk had been discovered in the attic of the Covert Funeral Home in Ovid, NY that belonged to a woman who was a nurse at Willard in the early part of the 20th Century.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

At that time Craig wasn’t too sure of many of the details but thought I might be interested if anything came of it.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

Craig has been working at the Romulus Historical Society with Peggy Ellsworth who worked at Willard and has been a great friend to the suitcases project.  Peg has been the go-to person for all things Willard since the institution closed in 1995.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

Last Friday Paul McPherson who is the current director of the funeral home brought the trunk to the historical society for Craig and Peg to have a look.  They were really enthused and Craig called to see if I could take a few photos as he unpacked the items and started to conserve and catalogue the collection.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

The contents of the trunk are in great shape, and it is amazing to see how well preserved the items are.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

I love seeing these old commercial products in their early packaging.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

There were several mounted photographs in the trunk, as well as this envelope which contain a large number of photographic negatives.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

Craig scanned a few and the quality is amazing.

photo baseball rs

The Willard baseball team was almost certainly made up of staff, and not patients.  But one has to wonder if any of the patients ever made it onto the diamond.

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I think this scan was from a print.  In addition to having worked at Willard as a nurse, she was a graduate of the institution’s school of nursing.  Craig and Peg are looking at the images to try to figure out which one in the photos is Anna.  None are identified on the back, so it might be quite a job.

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The above photo is especially exciting, as the building in the background is the sheltered workshop where the suitcases were stored in the attic and were rediscovered in 1995.  The collection of cases dates from 1910 to 1965 and Anna was at Willard starting in the late teens, so it is very likely that she worked with some of the owners.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

As we found in many of the suitcases there is a broad range of items in Anna’s trunk; she had saved things that can tell a fairly complete story of her life, and more broadly, what life at Willard was like in the 1920s.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

This box contains a lot of personal correspondence, including some very interesting postcards.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

It took a minute to figure out this one.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

It became clear once we saw the “soldier’s mail” postmark.  Let’s hope H. C. Norris made it through the war safely.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

As a nurse at Willard, she would have lived on the grounds and received her mail there.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

This inscription is especially touching and a bit mysterious.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

Craig and I didn’t have much time to go through the notebooks, but this is a huge trove of original source material that will be interesting to study once everything is catalogued.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

Perhaps the most intriguing is this small diary from 1918 which contains day to day accounts of Anna’s life at Willard.  To the left is a playbill for “Farmer’s Daughter” which played at Hadley Hall on the Willard grounds.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

Anna’s Student’s Note Book is pretty interesting.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

Her hand writing is very readable.   I didn’t see any crossed out sections as I flipped through the pages.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

This small brooch is pretty.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

The trunk itself is is great shape.

Trunk belonging to Anne Earley, nurse at Willard.

Anna is buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Ovid.  Craig took this photo of her gravestone.

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The Romulus Historical Society will be putting an exhibit together of the trunk and contents sometime soon.  The museum is located in the town of Willard and is only open until the end of September.  It is not clear if anything will happen before then, but Peggy is eager for the collection to see the light of day.  I’ll update here when I know details.  There is obviously a ton of work to be done researching Anna’s life, but this is really an amazing find.

Special thanks go to Paul McPherson for contacting the historical society with this incredible look into the life of Anna.  A find like this really brings history alive.  It will be interesting to see what develops once everything is conserved and catalogued.  And as always thanks to Peggy Ellsworth for her tireless work in remembering the patients and staff at Willard, and to Craig Williams for keeping me in the loop.

 

 

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.

Ithaca / Willard / Ovid Library Talk / Golden Rod

Posted in golden rod, History, Mental Health by joncrispin on 06/09/2015

I drove to Ithaca on Friday in order to attend the annual Willard Psychiatric Center employee reunion.  Saturday morning, Peter Carroll and I started our day in the usual way; breakfast at the Lincoln St. Diner and then a photo of him jumping.  It is the best diner breakfast anywhere.

I seem to remember a time when the Happy Landing was open, although I never did eat there.  It is on Route 96 between Trumansburg and Willard, and I have driven past it hundreds of times.  Love the sign.

I have been to the employee reunion before, and it is an amazing event.  Peter came along this time so that Peggy Ellsworth could introduce him to some of the retired staff.  It looks like he and Deb Hoard will be making a documentary on the suitcases project that will include some interviews with former employees.  It is something Peter and Deb have been talking to me about for a while, and is very exciting.  It’s still early days, and funding is a big hurdle, but I really think it will happen.

After the event, we drove over to Ovid to look at the “three bears” buildings in the center of town.  I noticed that the public library was still open, so I went in to say hi.  Librarian Katie Fontana was just closing up but was happy to show me the room where I will be speaking on Thursday the 24th of this month.  I would encourage any of you who are nearby to come.  There also will be some sort of brown bag lunch the next day.  Here’s is a link to the library web site.  Hope to see you there.  And this is the BEST sign ever.

On our way back to Ithaca, we had time for a quick stop at the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg for a beer with Craig Williams and Helen McLallen.  Quite a place with lots of history.

On my way out on Friday, I had noticed more goldenrod than I’ve seen in ages.  This shot was taken about 3 miles East of Bainbridge, just before I got back on Route 88 for the drive home. The hillsides are covered with it.

If any of you can make it to Ovid for the talk, shoot me an email.  Maybe a bunch of us can meet at the Rongo for a beer afterwards.  Cheers, y’all.

Willard Suitcase / Elizabeth M

Posted in Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 18/12/2013

At times I struggle a bit with most of the long-term projects on which I spend a great deal of time and energy.  I realize that it is a normal part of the process, and having questions about what I am trying to do actually gives me a chance to think and, I hope, eventually get some answers.

During the first phase of this work, most of the cases that I was shooting were quite full of items that folks brought with them to Willard.  Craig Williams rightly thought that since my time was limited, I should concentrate on the most “interesting” cases.  Once I became committed to a complete documentation of all of the roughly 430 suitcases, I realized that most of the ones that I hadn’t shot were empty.  But empty is a relative term here.  In addition to the paper tags that identify the owner of each case, there is a beauty in the suitcase itself, and in the fabric lining, and in the straps designed to hold people’s clothing secure during transit.  Occasionally there will be some other random object; a hair pin, a button, a luggage tag, a newspaper clipping.

On Monday I was beginning to think that my interest in these empty cases was somewhat misplaced.  The project had gotten so much attention early on, and I understand that it was due primarily to what the cases contain, and what those contents say about the individuals that own them.  While shooting, I was feeling that fewer people would be interested in the empty ones, and I was bothered by that.  I thought about it a lot during my drive home from Rotterdam, and I began to remember what I always talk about when speaking about art and creativity.  Ultimately, the only reason to create art is to please the person who is creating it.  If others are affected by it, that is a huge bonus.  All I know right now is that I look at the photographs I took of this case and I see a life.  I see that her name was Elizabeth and that she came to Willard on 30 November, 1951. I see that she had a beautiful leather suitcase, and that someone in her family had the name Mary.  And I am really moved by this and hope to be able to move others when they look at these pictures.

So I am really jazzed about continuing.  The video for the next Kickstarter appeal is done and I have to decide when to get it up and running.  Right now I am thinking that early to mid January is the time, and I will certainly post about it here.  In the meantime, thank you all for following the project.  I really appreciate the comments and emails that come my way.

Ithaca Suitcase Talk

Posted in Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 30/09/2013

I will be talking about the Willard Suitcases project at the Tompkins County Public Library  in Ithaca, NY on Thursday, 24th October.  Craig Williams will also be there and it should be a fun evening.  The event will take place in the Borg Warner room at 6.00 PM and is, of course, open to the public.  It would be a good chance to meet those of you who live in central New York and can attend.

I like this photograph from John C’s case as it shows how carefully the staff at the New York State museum worked to preserve these delicate objects.  I have just uploaded his suitcase to the willardsuitcases.com site, so you can now see what else John had with him at Willard.

The Amazing Beverly Courtwright

Posted in Asylums, Buildings, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 06/02/2013

I have always given primary credit to Craig Williams for saving the Willard suitcases, and his contribution to the preservation of these objects was enormous.  But if it wasn’t for Beverly Courtwright’s connection to Willard and her tremendous respect for the patients and their lives, the cases would have been lost forever.  On Saturday I got the chance to meet her for the first time, and thanks to the corrections folks who now control the site, we were allowed to go into the attic for a few minutes.  It is behind this door that in May of 1995 Bev “rediscovered” the cases.  She had become one of the Willard employees heavily involved with the transition team responsible for shutting down the psych center.  As a storehouse clerk, part of her task was to go through all the buildings to determine what should be saved and what could be thrown out.  She described the first time she opened this door and saw the cases stacked up as a surreal experience, and told me that she felt a “whoosh of energy” sweep over her.

She grew up in the area, and as a child remembers Willard patients coming to her home through the Family Care program that allowed for patients not in need of direct care to live temporarily in private homes.

This is what the attic now looks like when you walk through the door.  The racks are on either side of the attic with men’s cases on one side and women’s on the other.  When Bev was talking about being up here for the first time it literally gave me chills.

You can see the letters on the racks representing the first initial of the  surname of each patient.  Whomever set up the system did an amazing job.  I find it so interesting that as in the residential parts of the buildings, men and women were segregated up here as well.

There were a very few items left behind that could not be linked to a specific patient.  This coat was one of them. / As my work on this project continues, I am constantly overwhelmed by the people I meet and the stories that they have to tell.  Late last night I got an email letting me know of a new comment on this post.  Scroll down toward the bottom of the comments section and read what Stephanie had to say. /  Getting into the attic and meeting Bev really tied together everything that I have been trying to say with my work on this project.  She is a truly remarkable person with a huge heart and the ability to convey a great sense of connection to the people who were at Willard, and I just want to thank her for all she has done.

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