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Photos Of Old Suitcases Discovered In Abandoned Insane Asylum Reveal The Secret Lives of Patients

In 1995, Bev Courtwright, a Willard Psychiatric Center employee, was tasked by the New York State Office of Mental Health to inspect the now-closed psychiatric center to determine whether there are still things worth salvaging.

Courtwright discovered a museum-worthy collection of over 400 old suitcases. The suitcases, which contained the belongings of former patients, have been there sometime between 1910 and 1960 when their owners were admitted to Willard.

The cases are now under the care of the New York State Museum. A small number of the them have been displayed in the museum and photographer Jon Crispin give us a peek of their contents.

 
Fred B

fred b suitcase 1

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fred b suitcase 2

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Clarissa B

Clarissa B suitcase 1

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Clarissa B suitcase 2

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Maude K

"Maude had 3 cases. The wicker case and the "4 winners" box were empty. But the suitcase contained her tools for working with leather."

Maude K suitcase 1

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Maude K suitcase 2

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Maude K suitcase 3

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Maude K suitcase 4

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Maude K suitcase 5

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Maude K suitcase 6

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Freda B

Freda B suitcase 1

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Freda B suitcase 2

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Freda B suitcase 3

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"These objects open a small window into the lives of some of the people who lived at the facility, and I am determined to share them with as many people as possible."

Anna G

Anna G suitcase 1

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Anna G suitcase 2

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John C

"This was another fairly early case which I shot in February of 2011. It has a rather odd collection of items, but I loved the coin purse with the keys. In the last shot you can see how the New York State museum staff individually wrapped each of the two keys. Such a great amount of care was used in preserving the cases and their contents."

John C suitcase 1

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John C suitcase 2

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Mary W

Mary W suitcase 1

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Mary W suitcase 2

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Raymond H

Raymond H suitcase 1

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Raymond H suitcase 2

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Charles L

This was the only case that contained a musical instrument.

Charles L suitcase 1

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Charles L suitcase 2

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Eleanor G

Eleanor G suitcase 1

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Eleanor G suitcase 2

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Eleanor G suitcase 3

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Anna B

"Anna had three separate wrapped items. The two cases were similar, but the radio was a complete surprise to me. She clearly liked to do needlework, and as can be seen in the books and papers, she was learning English and the Pledge of Allegiance."

Anna B suitcase 1

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Anna B suitcase 2

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Anna B suitcase 3

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Dmytre Z

"Dmytre lived at Willard for most of his adult life. He was a prolific artist, and his paintings were hung in various buildings at the institution."

Dmytre Z suitcase 1

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Dmytre Z suitcase 2

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Dmytre Z suitcase 3

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Thelma R

Thelma R suitcase 1

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Thelma R suitcase 2

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Mary R

"Mary R came from Eastern Europe and had an interesting collection of clippings as well as some fine needlework.

Mary R suitcase 1

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Mary R suitcase 2

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Helen R

"Helen's suitcase is one of the few that was wrapped in this kind of heavy paper. She was admitted to Willard on 19 January 1968."

Helen R suitcase 1

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Helen R suitcase 2

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Carlos F

Carlos F suitcase 1

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Carlos F suitcase 2

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Carlos F suitcase 3

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Peter L

Peter L suitcase 1

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Peter L suitcase 2

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Steffan K

"Steffan's case presented an interesting dilemma for me as I was immediately attracted to the clock but then began to feel guilty that I was more interested in the object than in the case itself and in Steffan's life. It was good to sort this feeling out in a relatively early part of the process. But I still love this clock."

Steffan K suitcase 1

Jon Crispin

Steffan K suitcase 2

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Steffan K suitcase 3

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Steffan K suitcase 4

Jon Crispin

Credit: Jon Crispin

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