Tompkins County Public Library

Friday, October 4, 2013

Craig Williams and Jon Crispin discuss Willard Suitcases, October 24, at 6 PM

On Thursday October 24, at 6:00 PM in the BorgWarner Community Room, Craig Williams, Senior Curator of History at New York State Museum and one time Director of the DeWitt Historical Society and Jon Crispin, Professional Photographer who has embarked upon a major project to photograph all the Willard Suitcases now preserved by the New York State Museum, will present a discussion of the Willard Suitcases which are the subject of the exhibit The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic.

Craig Williams will discuss finding the suitcases in the attic of one of the buildings at Willard Psychiatric Center, when he visited the facility after it closed in 1995.  Williams first tried to return the suitcases to their original owners or too their families but over 400 of them are now preserved in the State Museum.  He then worked with Darby Penney and others to create the exhibit which is now on display in the Library.  He will talk about the importance of preserving these artifacts for future generations to see and learn from. 

Jon Crispin will discuss the importance of photo documentation of this collection.  He has been a full-time, self-employed photographer since 1974, dividing his time between freelance assignments and longer-term photo documentary projects.  Crispin has been photographing at Willard for the last three decades and in 2011 was granted access to the suitcases and began to photograph them and their contents.  He has shot over eighty of the cases so far.  He received funding for this work from a successful Kickstarter campaign.  His main concern throughout his documentation has been to maintain a respect for the integrity of the residents' lives, and to tell their stories through his photos. They can be seen at his wordpress site.

This promises to be a fascinating discussion, which you will not want to miss. 

This program has been made possible by grant support from Nami-Finger Lakes, The De Luca Fund for Hope and Recovery, the Finger Lakes Independence Center and the Tompkins County Public Library program fund.


TCPL is able to display the Willard Suitcases and Jon Crispin’s Photographs

Having learned from the New York State Museum that for legal reasons the Library would not be able to display the actual Willard Suitcases, arrangements were made to borrow artifacts from the Romulus Historical Society museum instead.  And professional photographer Jon Crispin, who is currently working on a documentation of the Willard Suitcases and their contents, very generously loaned prints for us to display.

Subsequently we learned from the State Museum that arrangements had been made for us to borrow a suitcase and the possession of two patients. These are now on display in the exhibit cases in the Avenue of the Friends together with artifacts from the Romulus Historical Society and Jon Crispin's prints. The two patients, Ethel and Margaret, both had ties with Ithaca which brings the history this exhibit has to tell very close to home.

The exhibit will be on display until November 6. 

Two programs are planned on October 5 when Darby Penney will talk, and October 24 when Craig Williams, curator at NY State Museum, and Jon Crispin will talk about the exhibit and the importance of keeping a detailed photographic record of these suitcases.