State agrees to return Willard Psychiatric Center suitcase contents to families

When Willard Psychiatric Center closed in 1995, workers discovered hundreds of suitcases in the attic of an abandoned building.

Many appeared untouched, looking just like they had been since their owners packed them before arriving as patients at Willard. And, many of those people never left, having died at the Seneca County facility.

The suitcases were photographed and catalogued by photographer Jon Crispin as part of a state-sponsored project. The contents gave a glimpse into the lives the Willard patients lived before they were judged insane and committed to the facility on the shore of Seneca Lake.

Crispin’s work resulted in “The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital for the Insane” in 2014.

Now the state Office of Mental Health and the New York State Museum in Albany have teamed up to try to return the contents of the suitcases to surviving family members.

Colleen Spellecy of the Willard Cemetery Memorial Project Committee, a group that worked to recognize Willard patients buried without headstones at a nearby cemetery, said the committee’s volunteers have been asked to help find the family members of the suitcase owners.

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