Photo Series Examines Abandoned Suitcases From A Now-Closed Mental Hospital

Ethel S packed a suitcase full of quilts.

Ethel had a suitcase of cozy quilts.

Irma’s trunk was full of sheet music.

Irma’s trunk was full of sheet music.

Freda packed a collection of grooming materials.

Freda packed a collection of grooming materials.

Viola G.’s plaid suitcase was empty except for this tiny scrap of paper.

Viola’s plaid suitcase was empty except for this tiny scrap of paper.

When Willard Psychiatric Center in New York’s Finger Lakes area closed its doors in 1995, staff member Bev Courtwright made a miraculous discovery. Tucked away in the attic were a collection of over 400 abandoned suitcases containing the possessions of their original owners before they were committed to the institution. Photographer Jon Crispin began documenting the collections of belongings in 2011, offering a poignant look into the lives of the people who entered this place (and often never left).

The patients and their suitcases arrived at the Center between 1910 and 1960. Since many of them were treated for chronic mental illness, it wasn’t uncommon that patients died while in the hospital and were buried in the graveyard across the street. If no family member came to claim their belongings, they were taken and stored in the room where Courtwright eventually found them.

The suitcases and trunks vary in their contents, of course, and some were more robustly-packed than others. This fascinating series that examines the objects we hold sacred and what we’re personally attached to, as strange as they may seem. Crispin’s website sheds light on the individual stories of each patient, and in a way memorializes those who owned them. (Via Let’s Get Lost. H/T Meighan O’Toole)

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