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Packing for the insane asylum


When the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane finally shut its doors in 1995, there was a treasure trove of personal history waiting to be discovered in a locked attic, a window, albeit a cloudy one, into the minds of committed patients who passed away behind its doors in the early part of the last century.

Photographer Jonathan Crispin was drawn to these forgotten remnants and funded his efforts to immortalize them on film with a 2011 Kickstarter campaign, the results of which will be part of an exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium.

Obviously, some of the cases were a lot more mundane than others. There was one that had syringes in it that were so beautiful and old, and small drug packets with pills still in them. There were combs, books, bibles, clocks, and an incredible Westclox Big Ben alarm clock in its original box that’s unbelievably pristine.

There was lots of expensive stuff, like perfume bottles from Paris that were worth tons of money. People wonder, how is it that a woman who’s committed to Willard has a bottle of perfume, which even at the time was super expensive? Mental illness doesn’t target any one particular group of people; it takes all kinds.

Many of the patients assumed they would be released at some point, but the stories told through these pictures and the stories Crispin discovered are a sobering reminder that we never truly know what the future holds for us.



Full story at Collector’s Weekly via Breakfast Links.

A history of mental illness.

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