Starting in around 1910, Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane had many residents who came to be treated for various mental illnesses that were recognized back then. The institute was to be shut down to be converted into drug treatment facility for criminals when the New York State Museum received the hundreds of suitcases left by dead patients. In collaboration with the museum, Jon Crispin, a freelance photographer, photographed the abandoned suitcases full of memories and stories of the people who went for treatment at the institute.
From 1910s through 1960s, when many patients at Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane psychiatric institute died with nobody to claim them, suitcases with their belongings were left behind. By the time it was closed down in 1995, the employees at Willard saved all these suitcases instead of throwing them away.
The facility is located near a small town in New York, near the Seneca Lake, and many of the employees were locals. According to Jon Crispin, multiple generations of employees from the town worked there and quite possibly during their time there have become close to the patients. Willard has its own cemetery grounds where most of these patients were buried and the employees couldn’t bring themselves to just throw away the suitcases.
People of different levels of problems were joined in the institute, ranging from serious psychoses and delusions to those who couldn’t get over the death of a parent or a spouse.
Though some of the patients were completely unable to function in any environment and had to be restrained, many others were suffering from less severe problems, while others were merely put there for no reason other than being a homosexual.
Many of the patients enjoyed their hobbies and had allotted time for arts and crafts. Some of them also worked at the farm surrounding the facility and even had their own dance bands.
Whether the suitcases of the patients were packed by themselves or by someone else, some of them contained tools for craft work. One of the cases was even filled with leather-working tools, which were probably used during the arts and crafts time.
Many of the suitcases are also filled with memorabilia from their past lives. Pictures, fancy clothes, works of embroidery, perfume bottles from Paris, combs, mathematical notebooks, clocks, and many more.
One of the residents, a black gay man, who was in military had many beautiful women from the 30’s and 40’s in his photo booth pictures. He was arrested for his outburst because he felt that a waiter or waitress was disrespecting him when he was dining.
Another Ukrainian man had notebooks filled with mathematical information. He also had a wedding picture of his wife with fake flower bouquet and was arrested by the Secret Service for saying that he was married to President Truman’s daughter, Margaret Truman.
Another had a Westclox Big Ben alarm clock in its original box. A woman had a very expensive perfume bottle from Paris. The suitcases also contain many letters they received while at Willard and also many letters that were written by them, but were never posted.(source)