Jon Crispin – Willard Suitcases

Here is the link to Jon Crispin’s beautiful new website, Willard Suitcases.

Jon Crispin Suitcase 6 -

Jon Crispin Suitcase 6 –

Jon Crispin Suitcase 2 -

Jon Crispin Suitcase 2 –


Lin Stuhler’s Willard Cemetery Project

Thanks, Jon!

Jon Crispin's Notebook

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…

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The Changing Face of What is Normal – Jon Crispin – Exploratorium

Congratulations, Jon Crispin! This wonderful exhibit of Jon’s photography of former patient suitcases found in the attic of Willard State Hospital will be displayed at the Exploratorium in San Francisco beginning April 17, 2013.
(Please click on the RED links).

Book Photo 5.20.2013 by Jon Crispin

Book Photo 5.20.2013 by Jon Crispin

I am very proud that The Exploratorium is selling my book! Thank you!

The Changing Face Of What Is Normal, The Exploratorium.

The Changing Face of What is Normal. Crispin-Suitcases From The Willard Asylum.

NPR Interview with Jon Crispin.

COLLECTORS WEEKLY -Abandoned Suitcases Reveal Private Lives Of Insane Asylum Patients.

Willard Suitcases – Darby Penney – Photos by Jon Crispin

Jon Crispin Suitcase 2 -

Jon Crispin Suitcase 2 –

Like so many others who have discovered that an ancestor was an inmate at Willard, I read the book The Lives They Left Behind Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny in order to learn what life was like living inside the asylum. I contacted Ms. Penney to ask if my great-grandmother’s suitcase was found in the attic. It wasn’t. The authors were given permission to research the medical records of twelve patients and were allowed to use patient photographs in the book using factitious names. Since I am a descendent of a patient, I assumed that I would be able to receive a copy of my great-grandmother’s medical records and photographs. I was wrong. I learned that I have no right to this information unless my primary care physician needs the health records to diagnose or treat a condition. This explanation was given to me in a letter by the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health. It makes no sense to me considering that my great-grandmother has been dead for eighty-four years. I wonder if a diagnosis that was made eighty-four years ago would even be relevant today. My point is this: I want to know what happened to my great-grandmother. I want to learn her diagnosis and read about her experiences in a state hospital.

Jon Crispin Suitcase 6 -

Jon Crispin Suitcase 6 –

Ms. Penney is a national leader in the human rights movement for people with psychiatric disabilities. In an email I asked her, “When did the state hospitals go bad?” Her reply was, “It never went bad. Western society’s methods of dealing with people in mental and emotional distress have always been based on punishment and segregation. Anyone who is locked up against their will and kept in isolation is being treated poorly, to my mind.” Ms. Penney and the NYS Archives have the list of the former suitcase owners. Even though it is not a medical record it cannot be released to the public because it would identify former patients. You may contact Ms. Penney to inquire about your ancestor’s suitcase at: For more information visit The Lives They Left Behind Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic Website. 

Jon Crispin Suitcase 10 -

Jon Crispin Suitcase 10 –

Willard Asylum Cemetery (Veterans Names) Military Section, Seneca County, NY:

Jon Crispin Suitcase 13 -

Jon Crispin Suitcase 13 –

Jon Crispin’s Notebook – Willard Suitcases: