The UK's Daily Mail has posted a chilling series by photographer Jon Crispin documenting the personal articles carried by people about to be committed to Upstate New York's long-closed Willard Asylum for the Insane.
Apparently when patients were committed to Willard, they arrived with the possessions they thought they needed for their stay... but most of them never checked out again. When they died, they were buried in nameless graves and their possessions were locked away, forgotten until an intern discovered them in 1995 (the same year the asylum closed). There were 400 suitcases found, dating from 1910 to 1960, and so far Crispin has photographed 80 of them.
“These people were essentially prisoners inside,” Crispin told the Daily Mail. “Their families largely abandoned them.”
Articles in the cases include sewing kits, photo albums, musical instruments, toys, military uniforms, syringes, even prosthetic limbs. The overall effect is both haunting and heartbreaking.
“The overwhelming thing that I take from it is is it’s all personal,” the artist said. “I can look at the objects in these cases and get a strong idea of what the people who owned them was like.” New York state law prohibited him from matching the hospital records with the suitcases, so the patients' identities remain hidden from public view.
The series is currently being featured in an exhibit about mental health at the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, entitled “The Changing Face of What is Normal.”