Willard Asylum for the Insane – Suitcases

In 2011, I was lucky enough to take a public tour of the former Willard Asylum for the Insane in Seneca County, New York.  During that tour, I took a lot of photographs of both the interior and exterior of many of the buildings.  I later shared some of those pictures and my thoughts about the tour here on my blog.

Grandview Building – Willard, NY (2011)


I never expected that my Willard post would create such a following.  It has been my number one post for two years running.    As a result of that post, I have received numerous emails from people looking for information on the former institution, suitcases, and the cemetery.  Many emails have come from people searching for information on family members who they believe were once patients there. I have personally responded to all of those inquiries, and hopefully have steered everyone in the right direction.

Recently, I found some information related to the Willard suitcases that I am eager to pass along.

Photographer Jon Crispin has been photographing the suitcases of former Willard patients that were found in an attic at Willard prior to it’s closing in 1995. The suitcases have been in the custody of the New York State Museum since they were located.

Crispin’s exhibit “The Changing Face of What is Normal” is slated to open on April 17th, 2013, at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California. 

These photographs are very thought provoking,  This exhibit (in my opinion)  humanizes the patients who resided at Willard and is a great memorialization to them.  And when you consider some of the mundane reasons that people were institutionalized in the late 19th, and early part of the 20th century, the title of Crispin’s  exhibit couldn’t have been better named.

To read more about Jon Crispin’s photo project, follow the links below.

Slate Magazine (Article)

The Telegraph (Slide show)

The Telegraph (Article)

NPR Radio (Interview on Talk of the Nation)

The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things (Article)



3 thoughts on “Willard Asylum for the Insane – Suitcases

  1. I was wondering whether anyone knows what life at Willard would have been like not long after it opened, in the 1870s? I’m writing a paranormal about a character who was in an asylum in the 1870s. My own ancestor (actually more than one) was an inmate at Willard in the 1870s and I would like to partially base my character on her, but I can’t seem to find out anything about what life would have been like for her. Another blogger I found seemed to indicate that this was when the Quakers were running it and it was likely a peaceful, restful place. Reading about other U.S. asylums in the same time period definitely doesn’t read the same way. I haven’t decided yet whether I want ,my character to have been at Willard-I may have to invent a fictional institution because, unfortunately for my character, her experience was more like that described by Nellie Bly in her manuscript, Ten Days In A Madhouse. Can anyone help?

  2. Eileen…what a great story! Wouldn’t you just love to go to Crispin’s exhibit?! And how wonderful you must feel that your previous post touched so many people. Now that’s far more inspiring than any cake I could ever bake. : )


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