Willard Asylum for the Insane had an average stay of 30 years, and many patients that came to the hospital never left. In the summer of 1995, 400 suitcases, each filled with the earthly belongings of those people who had long since been forgotten, were discovered in the attic. In a way they were time capsules of the lives they lived before they were committed.
Many of the folks who came to stay at the Willard Asylum had been abandoned by their families or had no where else to turn, and when they died, their unclaimed bodies were buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery across the street. Their possessions were shuttered away and forgotten.
Photographer Jon Crispin has spent the past few years curating and documenting the contents of the bags and the people who they belonged to with a series of fascinating photographs.
"It's such compelling stuff. These people were essentially prisoners inside. Their families largely abandoned them. They gave them a suitcase and had them committed. Looking at these suitcases, you just get the idea that that these people really had lives outside before they went to Willard," he explained to the DailyMail.
Crispin's chilling photographs let each of the suitcases tell a story about a person it belonged to, and crowds of people have been captivated by the melancholy nerve they seem to touch.
The photographs, including suitcases and 400 artifacts belonging to 14 of the patients that were committed to the Willard Psychiatric Center, was on display in an exhibition titled, Changing the Face of What is Normal: Mental Health, at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
The exhibit also features an installation called Restraint, which lets guests interact with the different ways that patients have been restrained in mental health facilities over the years. Guests are invited to experience a Utica Crib, a 19th century cage made of wood. Or even variations of straight jackets.
The exhibit has been so well received it initially ran until late fall of 2014, letting guests continue to feed their curiosity, and to help keep the memory of the many people, who lived and died in obscurity, alive. Today you can see the exhibit at its permanent home at the Museum of Disability History in Buffalo, New York.
More tragic abandoned beauty to explore...