Photographer, Jon Crispin came across several abandoned asylums, including the Willard Asylum for the Insane in the 1980s, and his various photography projects have documented these institutions for the New York State Council on the Arts. In 1995, workers discovered hundreds suitcases in a deserted building’s attic when the Willard shut down. The cases had been placed there for storage at some point between 1910 and the 1960s, each one taken from a newly arrived patient. In a project called the Willard Suitcases, Crispin spent years documenting these 400 suitcases left behind by former patients.
Each suitcase was like a tiny time capsule offering a glimpse of each person’s life. Tucked away inside were various sentimental trinkets – letters, ornaments, photographs – and each preserved item revealed a precious insight about who the owners were and the story of their life, interests, and love. Looking at old, abandoned belongings can be quite moving as they provide a visual history that can captivate the viewer. Plus, they ignite our imagination as we glance at the fascinating stories enclosed within these suitcases. Browse the gallery below to see some of the suitcases from the project.