The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic
Title: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic
Author: Darby Penney,Peter Stastny
When New York’s 120-plus-year-old mental institution Willard State Hospital was closed down in 1995, New York Museum curator Craig Williams found a forgotten attic filled with suitcases belonging to former inmates. What follows are profiles of ten individual patients whose suitcase contents proved intriguing, referencing their institutional record—including histories and session notes, as well as some on-the-ground research.
The Lives They Left Behind is a deeply moving testament to the human side of mental illness, and of the narrow margin which so often separates the sane from the mad. It is a remarkable portrait, too, of the life of a psychiatric asylum—the sort of community in which, for better and for worse, hundreds of thousands of people lived out their lives. Darby Penney and Peter Stastny’s careful historical (almost archaeological) and biographical reconstructions give us unique insight into these lives which would otherwise be lost and, indeed, unimaginable to the rest of us.