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Chilling pictures of suitcases left in a New York insane asylum

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When patients were committed to the Willard Asylum for the Insane in Upstate New York, they arrived with a suitcase packed with all of the possessions they thought they needed for their time inside. 

Most never left. The mental hospital had an average stay of nearly 30 years. When patients died, they were buried in nameless graves across the street of the asylum. Their suitcases, with all their worldly possessions, were locked in an attic and forgotten.

In 1995, an employee of the mental hospital discovered the suitcases, 400 of them. They date from 1910 to 1960. 

Now, photographer Jon Crispin is cataloging each suitcase and opening a window into the lives - and the minds - of the people deemed too unwell to be allowed in society

The chilling pictures of suitcases left in a New York insane asylum by patients who were locked away for the rest of their lives | Daily Mail


(Yes it's the "Daily Fail",  not everything on its site is sensationalistic shite.)

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It's important to remember the dark ages (oh, hey, even tdoc calls it that!) so that we can appreciate what we do have.

I find that a lot of people still have this dark ages notion of IP - once you go you never leave - which really does nothing to fight stigma at all. You should know what you're up against. Pictures like this help... but they also hinder because they don't say how different it is now. And people don't seem to realize that there have been medical advances.


If you want something really chilling, listen to horror stories of bad psychiatry (drugged against your will, forced ECT and unconsented lobotomy, etc) and look at these pictures at the same time. It is truly frightening. On second thought, don't do that. It might break you. If you do, use extreme caution and self-care!

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I thought the only "chilling" thing about this was that they were committed, then left to die there and buried in nameless graves.


The suitcases? Those seemed full of rather normal shit to me. Maybe the point it lost with me, however. That they owned things? That they were real people who cared about shit, had hobbies and liked things, yet they were given no humanly respect? That sucks. That's horrible.


I've read a lot about what has already been referred to as the "dark ages" or the earliest stages of recognized state mental health care. It was truly horrible. I do feel very lucky that I am not living in that time and am still treated like a human being rather than some freak, for the most part. Those people had it really bad. I guess I won't go into full detail about this because, yeah, it's disturbing. 


Also noted the fact that nowhere was it stated how much things have improved for the mentally ill since that time frame. I think that would have been essential for that article, really. Why the hell not include at least a few sentences about that? No wonder people are scared shitless of going IP. If this is all you've heard or what you THINK may happen, then hell no, I wouldn't want to do it either.

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My thoughts are exact opposite. I love old things. A time when objects were manufactured with a totally different attitude.


The only "MI" that got me was the woman with the needless and medications/drugs. Yes, they may have been for epilepsy or maybe not. Its really the only medical thing in the photos.


Psychiatry started way before 1900 and in the US. I don't think these suitcases are anything but a reminder of time and place.



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  • 1 month later...

The photos make me feel sad because I think, "I wonder what it was like to have a book and never find out the ending?", or, 'What a difference to his health care seeing those pictures of his family would have made."


We might not lock most people up for life anymore, but I think we can safely say that the remaining stigma around puts most of us in invisible cages. The comment about there being 'no signs of mental illness' in one of the suitcases made me angry. Does the journalist think crazy people carry Napoleon hats in their suitcases? What did he expect to see in these photos? The only thing chilling about them is that these people were separated from things that could have given them hope, and possibly have given them reasons to try and get better.

Also, those belts weren't 'gaudy' at all. They were fashionable at the time. The writer is projecting his ideas of crazy onto other people who can't defend themselves. 

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Check out the photographer, Jon Crispin's blog.




Indigo, thanks for posting the link to the photog's blog.  His perspective is really interesting.   Also thanks to retromancer for the original article.   


This is all interesting; a reminder of times past, when people were institutionalized... forever. 

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