I ran across a FB post on a photograph exhibit of suitcases found in an attic at Willard State Hospital. The photographer, Jon Crispin, documents items left by patients who died or left the hospital. The website for the exhibition, The Willard Suitcase Exhibit, offers not only pictures, but history of some of the patients, pictures and history of the hospital, interviews (offered in Mp3 format) from some of the staff, and much more.
A tragic life of a very educated woman is also shown here. Mademoiselle Madeline (Mlle. Madeline) graduated from the Sorbonne in France. She came to America, had good jobs and lived a full life. The Depression hit, and she got lost in it. She couldn’t find work, according to her file, her employers considered her “odd, tactless, and domineering.” This seems quite an expected commentary for an educated and independent woman of this time. Her history further describes how so ended up at Willard: Unable to find steady work during the Depression, Madeline was referred to the Emergency Work Bureau. They found her unemployable, and referred her for outpatient mental health treatment; this led to her 1931 admission to the psychiatric unit at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. After being put on anti-psychotic drugs for being basically stubborn and not willing to just stay in an institutional life, she had a serious reaction. Her face and hands began to twitch, and she ended up having a grimace on her face (tardive dyskinesia). She was then given ‘attitude therapy’ to try to get her to stop the grimace. She ended up dying in care, which lasted 47 years. Her gravesite is unknown.
What is really sad is the average patient stay was 30 years! I have a hard time really wrapping my head around being in a hospital of any kind for 30 years. In just reading some of the histories offered, the ignorance of the time is just so unreal. One patient, Fraulein Theresa, was stated as being, “noisy, resistive, ugly, and delusional.” Some of the other patients are referred to as just being noisy, but basically normal.
Another patient, Mr. Dmytro, who was originally from the Ukraine spoke with such a heavy accent, the staff had problems communicating with him. So…he was thus made to endure 20 electroshock treatments, which did not help at all.
These patients listed on the website lived and died in this hospital. For a time they were even unpaid laborers for the hospital. From the information offered, it appears the last patient left in 1995. I would think some place like this would fit in with the 19th century. It is hard to believe this state of affairs lasted so long.
From just the few cases shown and the pictures of the cemetery, it is clear many patients will never be accounted for to bury properly. Such a sad life for so many people.
As you look at the pictures and listen to the voices, try to embrace the history offered here. These are lessons we can learn from right now. Much the same is now happening in the criminal justice system. People are being sentenced to jail and prison for very minor infractions, then being tossed around until they are so acclimated to prison, they know no other life. I could go on and on with this subject, but I will not bore you. Appreciate the art of Jon Crispin, and all the history offered on his page.