“There were many patients in these asylums who were probably not unlike friends you and I have now.”
Time capsules in the form of forgotten suitcases from the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane in New York State from 1910 to 1960, photographed by Jon Crispin. The mysteries therein illustrate the neglected and essentially denied humanity of many of that era’s (and sadly this era’s) mentally ill. Of course, in the early, mid and even late 20th century, you could be deemed mentally ill if you were gay, politically dissident, a midwife, an herbalist, or just unusual — and who isn’t at least one of those things? For now, their identities are concealed by the state even from living relatives, but we have bobbins and photobooth pictures and guns and pills and bells to which to listen carefully.
You can see more photos and stories about patients at Collector’s Weekly. The full collection is preserved in the New York State Museum's permanent collection, and is currently on view at San Francisco’s Exploratorium through April 2014, in an installation that explores the ‘changing face of normal.’