I just received word from the New York State Museum that I have permission to start shooting more suitcases. I’ll call them next week to set up a schedule. This is a huge relief to me and I would like to publicly thank them for allowing this to happen. / This photograph was taken on 22 May, 1984 on the very first day that I was allowed into Chapin House. It was a wild day. My dear friend Richard Pieper was with me and basically ran interference as I was assigned two security guards to follow me around. He would stop in the middle of doorways and turn around to ask a question thus holding them up so I could be left on my own a bit. I remember feeling that I might not have much more access than on this day, so I shot 35 mm black and white film with my Leica rangefinders (these two shots), 35mm slide film with my Nikons, and 120 color negative film with my Pentax 6×7. Almost everything great that I got out of this building came from this day. / I was so thrilled last evening to get an email from Michael Labate who was director of facilities planning for OMH at the time I was trying to access the buildings. He single-handedly got me access to Willard and I will be forever grateful. He had heard about the suitcase project and was so complimentary about my work.
These broom-like devices weighed a ton and were used by the patients as they walked the corridors. As it was explained to me, the wooden floors were in constant need of maintenance, and paraffin would be put on chamois cloths attached to the bottom of these polishers. I only ever shot this scene in black and white, but it is so very evocative to me.
Central stairway, Chapin House, Willard Asylum
There are a lot of great and interesting people working on New York State asylum issues. I have been following Lin Stuhler’s work on the Willard cemetery for a while, but only had the chance to meet her a few months ago. We keep in touch, and she just emailed me with a link to her recent blog post about the recent open house, and the bill she has been pushing in the state legislature to name the people buried at the graveyard. There is also a link to a really great video that was made by her local cable company. It is an interesting post and there is some nice video footage of some of the buildings and the cemetery. She has a real passion for this issue and should be commended for all the hard work she has done in the name of Willard patients.
There will be a rare opportunity to see the grounds of Willard next Saturday the 18th May. I have copied and pasted all the information that I have at this point, and you can view it below. I would highly recommend that anyone who is in the area and is interested make the effort to attend. / This photograph is from my first visit to Chapin House after it had been closed for several years.
Willard Psychiatric Hospital WILLARD – Organizers of the guided tours at the former Willard Psychiatric Center on May 18 are trying something new. This year only two starting times are scheduled for tours so visitors will have more of a chance to explore 9 of the structures that grace the landmark hospital on Route 96A.
“We used to have three starting times but people never had enough time to travel through these incredible buildings so we decided to limit it to two,” said organizer Lee Anne Fox. “This will improve the flow of people and give our 35 volunteers the chance for a lunch break.”
The two-and-a-half hour tours are slated to begin promptly at 9:30am and 1pm at the Grandview Building, built in 1860 and now used by the Finger Lakes Federal Credit Union. Other buildings that will be recognized by those familiar with the site, which began its history in 1869 as the New York State Agricultural College, include Brookside, Bleak House, Hadley Hall and the Mortuary.
Current stones in the Willard Cemetery have only a number, and no name.
Current stones in the Willard Cemetery have only a number, and no name.
Former Willard hospital employees and some current staff of the Willard Drug Treatment Campus, which took over the property in 1995, will be available to answer questions and offer background during the event. Some may discuss ghost sightings that have been the subject of television shows. Visitors will also have the chance to inspect the Willard Cemetery where 5,776 Willard patients were buried from 1870 to 2000. An effort has been underway to restore the cemetery, which is adjacent to hospital grounds.
Cost of admission to the tour is $10 per person. Children under 12 years of age are free. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Child Care Center, an accredited not-for-profit daycare center in the Jackson Building, which once housed Willard’s School of Nursing and is also on the tour. Parking is free.
For additional information contact Carly Hungerford at (607) 869-5533.
In March I was contacted by Jain Lemos from the ASPP.
She had seen the Salon piece on the suitcases just as she was putting the finishing touches on the latest issue of their quarterly magazine. Jain knew that it would be very last minute, but we managed to select images and I wrote 400 words about the project. I loved her idea of featuring the preservation of the suitcases and contents, especially how the New York State Museum spent so much time and care on the cataloging and conservation aspect. Yesterday I received a few copies directly from the printer and the story looks great. They used a cropped shot of the glycerine bottle on the contents page, and as you can see above, eight shots were used in the spread. The magazine is available only to members, but the story should be up online in a month or so. It is a really great organization and not just for photographers; many members are picture editors and others who work directly with images in other ways. If you work with images in any way, it might be a good idea to check them out.
I had a very nice time on Talk of the Nation today. Ari Shapiro was great and it was fun to talk about the suitcases. My heart was beating a bit as I was being introduced, but once we got rolling it went really well. Here is a link to the audio. The studio was interesting. NPR no longer has a broadcast facility in Charleston (I’m down here for a bit of a late winter break.) so they sent me to an independent recording studio that does this sort of live feed on a regular basis. You can see by the picture that it was a comfy little space. / Pardon the repetition for regular visitors to this site, but if you are new here and just want to see the suitcase posts, here you go. Some other links are here, here, and here. Comments are always welcome. Thanks for all your support and interest, and big thanks to Ari and A.D. at TOTN.
Slate Magazine ran a really nice piece on the Willard Suitcase project. Here’s the link. Big thanks to David Rosenberg for his interest and doing a great job choosing and laying out the photos. / When I was recently in San Francisco I stayed at this place. It is a great old building and the staff are loads of fun.
Hey everyone, tomorrow I fly to San Francisco to help plan how my portion of the “Changing Face of What is Normal” exhibit will be hung. (Providing Logan in Boston is open for business. We had 20 inches of snow here in Western Massachusetts overnight, and Boston got totally wailed.) I’ll try to post daily from out there. I don’t know how much free time I will have, if any, but if you are in the area and want to meet up for a brief visit, just send me an email. It might work. This photo is from Flora T’s case. I think I published it in an earlier post, but lately this image has been sticking with me. The print I made is absolutely beautiful.
I have always given primary credit to Craig Williams for saving the Willard suitcases, and his contribution to the preservation of these objects was enormous. But if it wasn’t for Beverly Courtwright’s connection to Willard and her tremendous respect for the patients and their lives, the cases would have been lost forever. On Saturday I got the chance to meet her for the first time, and thanks to the corrections folks who now control the site, we were allowed to go into the attic for a few minutes. It is behind this door that in May of 1995 Bev “rediscovered” the cases. She had become one of the Willard employees heavily involved with the transition team responsible for shutting down the psych center. As a storehouse clerk, part of her task was to go through all the buildings to determine what should be saved and what could be thrown out. She described the first time she opened this door and saw the cases stacked up as a surreal experience, and told me that she felt a “whoosh of energy” sweep over her.
She grew up in the area, and as a child remembers Willard patients coming to her home through the Family Care program that allowed for patients not in need of direct care to live temporarily in private homes.
This is what the attic now looks like when you walk through the door. The racks are on either side of the attic with men’s cases on one side and women’s on the other. When Bev was talking about being up here for the first time it literally gave me chills.
You can see the letters on the racks representing the first initial of the surname of each patient. Whomever set up the system did an amazing job. I find it so interesting that as in the residential parts of the buildings, men and women were segregated up here as well.
There were a very few items left behind that could not be linked to a specific patient. This coat was one of them. / As my work on this project continues, I am constantly overwhelmed by the people I meet and the stories that they have to tell. Late last night I got an email letting me know of a new comment on this post. Scroll down toward the bottom of the comments section and read what Stephanie had to say. / Getting into the attic and meeting Bev really tied together everything that I have been trying to say with my work on this project. She is a truly remarkable person with a huge heart and the ability to convey a great sense of connection to the people who were at Willard, and I just want to thank her for all she has done.
On Monday I shot the last of the Willard suitcases for a while. I hope to use the rest of this month to begin editing the images for the Exploratorium exhibit, and knowing how my brain works I knew I couldn’t attempt to edit while I was still shooting. I was surprisingly emotional about the whole thing; an important part of the project ended and I am not sure when it might resume. It is also significant to me that it marks the end of the Kickstarter phase of this work. So some thank you’s are in order. I could NEVER have gotten this far without Kickstarter and the incredible support of the almost 700 people who backed me. Thanks to Alex Ross for the long term “loan” of his lights and soft boxes. He is a true friend. Craig Williams and the New York State Museum gave me access to the cases and Craig’s support was instrumental in keeping it all moving along. And Peggy Ross kept me organized. Without her help in unwrapping, setting up the shots, helping me see things I would have missed, and putting the objects back where they belong I would never have made it through as many of the cases as I did.
I will work on a post later today showing the last case in the queue, as it were. It was a great one to end on.