Abandoned Suitcases…Opened Lives

livestheyImagine, opening a door to an attic and finding over 400 suitcases, trunks, and bags that have been unopened for decades.

In 1995 as local historians explored the closed Willard State Mental Hospital in New York looking for relics to preserve they came across just such a treasure trove of artifacts. Each suitcase had belonged to a patient at the facility and had been taken from them when they arrived. Some of these patients were transferred to other facilities, their suitcases long forgotten, but many died at Willard, never leaving the system that institutionalized them.

The book, The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penny and Peter Stastny, photographs by Lisa Rinzler, uses the suitcases, their contents, hospital records, and other resources to create an engaging story of the people who were once the owners, the lives they had before they were committed to Willard and what happened to them after.

Check out the book, and if you would like more information take a look at The Suitcase Project website.whatsheleft

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman is a fictional story inspired by the suitcases discovered at the Willard State Mental Hospital. Wiseman crafts an engrossing tail interweaving the story of modern-day Izzy Stone with that of Clara Cartwright, who was committed to Willard in 1929. If you pick up this book, get ready to read all night. You will not be able to put it down.

Emily Fowler Central Library


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