New York Insane Asylum Suitcases Tell Stories

February 13, 2013 | Julia Dawidowicz

When the 135-year Willard Insane Asylum was demolished in 1995, a local NY State preservationist came across some incredible relics: hundreds of dusty old suitcases belonging to patients who had lived and died within the hospital’s walls.

Eleven years later, photographer Jon Crispin was given permission to come and investigate. Since then, he has been photographing and meticulously piecing together the inmates’ lives based on their most intimate belongings: from ticket stubs and photographs to laxative prescriptions and bridal corsages.

The work thus far will go on display at San Francisco’s Exploratorium next month. For each suitcase’s owner, the committed photographer constructs a research-based narrative. Crispin still has a long way to go: he’s documented just over 100 of the 500 suitcases acquired. That’s a lot of baggage.