When patients were committed to the Willard Asylum for the Insane in Upstate New York, most arrived with a suitcase packed with whatever possessions they thought they might need for their time inside.
Willard inmates were committed any number of reasons including epilepsy, “promiscuity,” postpartum or menopausal depression, homosexuality, “shell shock,” “disobedience,” and the like.
Many were committed by family members, and most never left.
The average patient stay at Willard lasted for 30 years, & when those patients died, they were buried in graves across the street from the asylum, their suitcases locked in an attic & forgotten.
In 1995, an employee of the mental hospital discovered 400 of those suitcases, dating from 1910 to 1960.
Photographer Jon Crispin’s photographs of those suitcases and their contents are currently featured as part of an exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium, ‘The Changing Face of What is Normal.’