Friday, November 11, 2011

Asylum Suitcases

So amazing. A New York asylum catalogued and stored the suitcases new patients brought with them from 1910 to the 1960s, and there they remained until having been recently discovered.

They were stored with all of their contents and it sounds like the patients never had access to their things again. They are the amazingly preserved, intact time capsules of people who were removed from society to rot away in unknowable circumstances. A photographer has started a project to document the cases and all of their contents.

I can't believe how new some of these items still look! I guess it's a product of being shut away from light and air forever. This is interesting on a lot of levels. I love old forgotten things that haven't been touched in ages. The connection between "then" and "now" seems much stronger with those secret little things locked away for decades or more.

It's also interesting to see the things these people chose to bring with them. As the photographer says, the asylum was for people with chronic mental illness; they probably never left the facility once they went in. These are days when mental illness was poorly understood and poorly treated. Rosemary Kennedy, shock treatment, the freakish regularity of lobotomies! This asylum was probably a really unfortunate place to be.

I have a few favorite suitcases.


This one held a zither! Remember the crazy music from The Third Man? Zither music. Weird, carnivally. Rad.

NPR article on the project

Jon Crispin's blog

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