Filed under: Oddities
Truthfully, I had intended to start posting on a lighter note but I had to share this project, it can be found at The Willard Suitcase Exhibit. I highly recommend that you check it out.
During the 1995 closure of New York’s 120-plus-year-old Willard Psychiatric Center, workers discovered 427 suitcases covered in dust and set in rows in the rafters of one of the attics. The bags contained the most meaningful (and in many cases only) possessions of hundreds of former inmates: photographs, letters, paintings, journals, clothes and other personal items, all with different stories to tell.
Darby Penny (editor and leading advocate of patients rights) and Peter Stastny (psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker) wanted to share these stories, to remember those who had been admitted to the institution, mistreated, untreated and in many cases forgotten by the outside world, to live an entire life and die within the walls (most were admitted involuntarily or under court order the many staying for several decades -the average stay was more than 30 years.)
Referencing the suitcase contents and institutional records, (including histories and session notes) and direct research with former staff etc, the two profiled 10 inmates, painting a picture of who they were and who they became in their time at Willard. These profiles were first exhibited in 2004 at the New York State Museum. The show was so powerful that its nine month run saw over 600,000 visitors. Penny and Stastny along with photographer Lisa Rinzler published a book with the 10 profiles. As well, The Exhibition Alliance has created a traveling exhibition titled The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic.
The exhibition has dates posted for New York, Maryland, W. Virginia, N. Carolina and Michigan, if you are in the area.
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