Jon Crispin's Notebook

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.

photo nurses rs

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.

earley neg 05s

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.

_DSC8853es

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 / Names

Posted in Asylums, History, institutionalization, Mental Health, patient's names, psych centers by joncrispin on 05/10/2015

 I am especially taken by the labels that we find in the suitcases.  These small bits of paper and string give us quite a bit of information about the patient as they were brought to Willard.  In this case, W (we only have an initial) S (not allowed to use her surname) came to the institution on 16 November 1938.  This is a rare case where the label is ripped, but even so, I have had to obscure part of her name.

I am aware that there is an active debate about this, but I come down firmly on the side that would have me able to include the patient’s full names with their possessions.  The reason I am forbidden from naming patients has to do with specific New York State law about the privacy of people who were wards of the state.  This law supersedes even the Federal HIIPA regulations, which state that 50 years after death, records are available to the public. In fact, many other states use full names in talking about former patients at asylums and psychiatric centers.  I won’t go into all the reasons why I feel it is respectful to name the suitcase owners, as I am not so good at putting this kind of argument in writing.  But someone contacted me last week who is really good at it.

Here is a link to a post on her site.  I am grateful for all the nice things she said about me, but I am especially pleased that she was able to put into words something that I think about often; which is how to show respect to people who at one time in their lives were patients at Willard.  So Nelly, thank you so much for your openness about your own situation and the clarity with which you expressed your feelings.  I really appreciate it.

Willard Suitcases / Rodrigo L

Posted in Asylums, Mental Health, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 24/07/2015

Willard Suitcases

Rodrigo was a reader.  His collection of books was extensive and interesting.

Rodrigo L

He was also a bit of a writer. Below is a novel that he wrote that was part of his library.

Rodrigo L

It is interesting how he changed the dedication.

Rodrigo L

He must have been working with some sort of editor or teacher, as there are lots of corrections in red ink.

Rodrigo L

Some of his books were from his days at Salt Lake High School.  The collected issues of the school publication “Red and Black” were among his books.

Rodrigo L

This was the only evidence of his byline that I could find.

Rodrigo L

Frustrating to have to obscure his surname.

There is so much amazing material here, and I have to keep reminding myself that I am just documenting the collection as a photographer, and not as a social historian.  The temptation is to photograph everything that made his life so interesting, but I reckon I would never finish.

Peggy was especially helpful is setting up and organizing our work yesterday.  Here is a shot of her cheerful presence in front of a setup for which she was largely responsible.  Thanks Peg.

Peggy Ross

Pelham, MA Town Hall

I have volunteered to do some work for the Pelham Historical Commission in documenting the Pelham Town Hall.  This is the second floor of the building, which was originally built in 1743 (this floor was added later).  Pelham is historically significant as it was the home of Daniel Shays, leader of Shays Rebellion.

I was in the building for a short visit last week, and will plan on spending a lot more time there over the next month.  Should be fun.

Willard Suitcases / Over The Top

Posted in Architecture, Asylums, Dance, Hadley Hall, History, Landscape, Willard Asylum by joncrispin on 04/03/2014

Well, it seems we made it.  Late this afternoon we went over the $20,000 goal, with 324 backers.  There is still just under 24 hours to go and I am hoping a few more folks will come in to be a part of the community.

I couldn’t find a date on this scan of a bird’s-eye  view of Willard, but I am guessing late 19th Century.  The main building in the foreground is Chapin House, which sadly, is now gone.

And this photograph is from a Hallowe’en party in Hadley Hall (also where movies were shown).  I assume it was taken sometime in the 1950’s.  The band almost certainly are not patients, but the dancers and the folks sitting around the dance floor would mostly be.  This room still exists, in fact it is where Karen Miller and I spoke at the Romulus Historical Society event this past summer.

Every time I write up a post here, or update the Kickstarter page, I find myself wanting to over-use the word  “amazing”.  This whole project is that way for me.  Amazing that I have access to the cases, amazing that the cases even exist,  the amazing lives that are revealed by the contents of the cases, the amazing people that are working with me (thanks Peg, and everyone at the museum), and  the amazing people that are supporting this work through Kickstarter and in so many other ways.  There, I think I got it out of my system.  But, you know, it is really something to be a part of all this.   Cheers everyone, and thanks.  I am back shooting the suitcases tomorrow, and hope to have an update in the evening when I get back.

Ausbourne G. + Twitter and Tumblr

Posted in History, Willard Asylum, Willard Suitcases by joncrispin on 11/01/2014

I have been uploading more cases to the willardsuitcases.com site.  This is a photograph from Ausbourne G’s possessions.  He brought a good collection of tools with him to Willard in a nice wooden box. / I am making good progress on getting all the cases online, and will continue to upload more as time allows.

I have set up a Twitter account for those of you who would like updates on a more regular basis.  Check it out at @willardsuitcase (no s).  And I have also set up a Tumblr site which I have linked to this wordpress site.  willardsuitcases.tumblr.com    This is the first post where I have linked to both, so let’s hope it all works.  Any feedback is appreciated.

Emancipation Proclamation

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Family, Government, History, People by joncrispin on 04/01/2013

On the first of January bells were rung around Massachusetts at 2 pm to commemorate the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  I had heard that Pelham was going to join in and we went up to the historical society to have a look.  This building used to be a church.  It was built in 1839 when the government made the town move the worship area out of the town hall due to separation of church and state.  The town hall (built 1743) is right next door and is interesting in that it is the oldest town hall in continuous use in the United States.  The October town meeting is convened in it and then moved down to the school to be able to hold everyone.  Pelham is also interesting in that it is the home of Daniel Shays.  It is worth reading about him if you are interested in American history.  His story is amazing.

Anyway, we arrived at the historical society and a few folks had shown up to participate.  The single bell in the belfry was cast in England in the 1830s and has been out of service for a long time.  Somehow enough money was found to conduct an engineering assessment of the structure to make sure that if it were rung the whole thing wouldn’t just collapse.  It checked out OK (as they say); a new pull rope was attached and it was ready to go.  We all took our turns and it was a surprisingly moving experience.

Hadley Hall Projection Room

Posted in Art, Community, ephemera, Film, History, Movies by joncrispin on 16/07/2012

This is a bit of an experiment.  When I was out at Willard recently, I shot the bowling alley in Hadley Hall and then went upstairs to the projection room.  The lighting was the weirdest I have come across.  I shoot most of this stuff in RAW, so that I have tons of latitude when it comes to editing the photos.  I messed around with these images for a long time and I could NOT get the color to look good.  The walls were yellowish and there were mixed fluorescents.  Rather than get discouraged and stuff the whole idea of a post I decided to convert to black and white and see how they look online.  Funny, since in the days of film I used to shoot this sort of thing in black and white much of the time.

The tradition for the projectionists was to write the name of the film and the date it was shown on the walls.

Lots of interesting films here.  For example, “All Fall Down” was shown on 13 January, 1963, and Apache Rifles got a (Good) rating.

And here “The Glass Slipper” was shown on 14 April, 1956.  And these were all 35mm prints!

What really interests me about the asylum having shown first run movies is that the residents of the institution were able to attend, as were the people who lived in the surrounding towns.  From what I have been told, the townsfolk sat in the balcony and the asylum residents sat downstairs.

I like these notes for the projectionist.  There must have been someone downstairs who could send some sort of signal in case of a problem.

The projection room seemed to me to be almost totally intact.  The sheet of paper here might be hard to read online, but at the top of the list is “Back To The Future”.

Here’s another of the projection lenses.  A beautifully made optic.

There was still quite a bit of paperwork lying around.

I was just blown away by this room and its contents.

It is really hard to put into words just how fortunate I am to get into places like this, and how important it is to me to be able to preserve images of something that very few people can see for themselves.

So, thank you all for checking in and encouraging me to do this kind of work.  I am off to Rotterdam tomorrow to shoot more suitcases and will post an update to that project very soon.

Willard Asylum Suitcase #2

Posted in Art, History, People, Shoes, Uncategorized, Work by joncrispin on 24/07/2011

I was back in Rotterdam last week to photograph more suitcases from Willard Asylum.  Check this out for the background of the project.

I am slowly beginning to formulate a plan for how to proceed.

Even though an inventory of each case has been prepared by the museum, I prefer not to know the contents before I begin taking pictures.

There is something about being surprised by what’s inside that helps me connect with the person.

And I want the connection because I am trying to say something about the lives they lived before arriving at the asylum.

Anna’s first case contained mostly clothes.

I believe the inventory was done just as she arrived at Willard.

The museum is very careful about caring for each individual item.

Anna had some really beautiful clothes.

Just about all of her clothes had nametags, which I have to assume were sewn in before her time at Willard.

Below is the second of her cases.

This one had fewer clothes and more personal items.

For some reason, I really like the paper that the museum uses to protect the cases and their contents.

I especially like the design of this one.

When I photographed the abandoned buildings on the earlier project, I tried never to move items that I came across.  This is so different for me as I need to lay the items out in order to photograph, but I don’t want to make the arrangements look too studied.  I actually work very fast when I am shooting.

This case contained several hats, and an incredible pair of shoes.

There were also some indications of her life before Willard.

The hair pin packaging is beautiful.

I am not sure if the residents of Willard had access to their possessions during the time they were living there, but somehow I think not.  So this letter would probably have been received before she arrived.

And since it was not addressed to Anna, I wonder about its importance to her.

Thanks so much to Craig Williams at the New York State Museum for allowing me access.  As I mentioned in the earlier post, I would really appreciate any feedback.  I still don’t have an outlet for this work, and no funds to jump into it in any concerted manner, but I hope to keep chipping away.  There is alot of information about the people attached to these suitcases and should I go much further with the project, I would like to be able to include some biographical background to accompany the photos.

Watts Towers

Posted in Architecture, Art, Friends, History, People, Travel by joncrispin on 03/07/2011

John and Lynne took us on a mini tour of places of note in the LA area yesterday.  It is amazing to watch John navigate around the area.  He grew up out here and knows the streets very well.  Lynne does the driving and John says things like “Why don’t you turn right here?”  We always end up in amazing places.  The Watts towers are a National Historic Landmark and worth a visit.  Learn more about them here.

Whenever I think of Watts I am reminded of my great friend Alex’s tales of his time as a young man in the National Guard and being placed on a corner with live ammunition during the riots of 1965.  Not having been given much in the way of guidance, he wasn’t sure what would happen, and fortunately for everyone around where he was stationed, not much did.

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