Intimate Look at the Possessions of Asylum Patients, 1910-1960
Jon Krispin’s amazingly heart-felt photography project, Willard Suitcases, is the visual documentation of the personal possessions of inmates at the Willard Asylum for the Insane in Willard, New York from the contents of their suitcases. The results of his project reveal an intensely intimate look at the patients who were admitted into the asylum, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Each patient was allowed to bring only one suitcase with them at the beginning of their stay.
Krispin’s photographs beautifully capture the contents of these suitcases, which were stored between 1910 and 1960. The photos are stunning, illuminating and, at times, heartbreaking. When patients were committed, they arrived with a suitcase packed with all of the possessions they thought they needed for their time inside. Most never left.
The mental hospital had an average stay of nearly 30 years. When patients died, they were buried in nameless graves across the street from the asylum. If their possessions remained unclaimed, their cases were stored away and forgotten. In 1995, an employee of the mental hospital discovered the suitcases, over 400 of them.
What a person brings with them when away from home says a lot about them. Aside from the expected contents of a suitcase such as clothes and toiletries, almost all of the suitcases carried items that provided an insight into the minds and hearts of their owners. Many of the suitcases contained photographs of beloved family members, others held favorite books and sheet music, but what they all shared is at the heart of being human - a need to keep certain possessions close that remind us of who we are, where we have been and the memories they hold.