What they left behind
January 27, 2004 7:56 PM   Subscribe

What they left behind: "Craig Williams, a curator at the New York State Museum, drove four hours to visit Willard Psychiatric Center in the spring of 1995. The complex, located 65 miles southwest of Syracuse, was about to shut down after more than 100 years ... a staffer suggested he check out the attic of an abandoned building, and that's when he found 400 suitcases covered by decades of dust and pigeon droppings"
posted by ryanshepard (27 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool, but something about these things always concerns me:

No family members or friends have yet stepped forward to claim their belongings.

Should family members have to step forward, or should the curator have put more effort into locating them before putting this stuff on public display? I don't know.
posted by Jimbob at 8:20 PM on January 27, 2004


Agreed Jim, but it sounds like the curator did do about 9 years of research, one hopes that he at least spent an afternoon looking....
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 8:24 PM on January 27, 2004


so tragic...at least we've gotten a little better at helping people (but not enough)
posted by amberglow at 8:25 PM on January 27, 2004


That's a very powerful article - thanks for the link.

To think of the fractured, splintered lives these people led . . . it simply overwhelms me.

I wonder what they're going to say about our current state of mental health care 100 hundred years from now.
posted by ashbury at 8:27 PM on January 27, 2004


Seeing as in some states children are currently prescibed medications used simply to render them inert because Halidol, etc. are cheaper than the drugs actually needed to cure them . . . I doubt the future will have much positive to say about modern day asylums either. Keep in mind that in some states you can also be involuntarily committed by other people, and it's something to worry about.
posted by Ryvar at 8:32 PM on January 27, 2004


wow.
posted by omidius at 8:34 PM on January 27, 2004


at least we've gotten a little better at helping people (but not enough)

We're definitely not doing enough when prisons are becoming the default mental health system.
posted by homunculus at 8:39 PM on January 27, 2004


I suspect there are strong parallels between the '10s-'40s incarceration of so-called "mental" patients, and the '90s-'00s incarceration of "drug" users (the THC kind, not the alcohol and caffeine and nicotine kinds.)
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 PM on January 27, 2004


what omidius said.

we should be shaking our heads the same way about people in jail on mandatory drug sentences. lives wasted for bullshit reasons.
posted by Slagman at 8:56 PM on January 27, 2004


What omidus said.
posted by Plunge at 9:30 PM on January 27, 2004


Ditto.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:57 PM on January 27, 2004


Wow. I wish I lived closer to NY, I'd love to see this exhibit.

I couldn't believe the length of time some people were at Willard. 47 years? 50 years? Yikes!
posted by SisterHavana at 9:58 PM on January 27, 2004


so tragic...at least we've gotten a little better at helping people (but not enough)

To think of the fractured, splintered lives these people led . . . it simply overwhelms me.

I had an aunt who spent most of her life in such a place. I never met her.
posted by y2karl at 10:29 PM on January 27, 2004


Pretty powerful and moving stuff.
posted by fenriq at 12:01 AM on January 28, 2004


I wonder what they're going to say about our current state of mental health care 100 hundred years from now.

The phrase "those stupid fuckers" springs optimistically to mind.
posted by Opus Dark at 12:22 AM on January 28, 2004


My grandmother used to work voluntarily in a cafe in a mental hospital in the UK. There was one old woman inmate, as mad as a hatter, who had been incarcerated 50 years previously for having a baby by the master of the house's son when she was 18 and unmarried. She had obviously seduced the master's son (because a well-mannered boy wouldn't take advantage of a servant girl, would he?), and her loose morality made her a danger to society. The baby was taken away from her, and 5 decades in a mental hospital broke her mind. She might still be there for all I know.
posted by Pericles at 2:17 AM on January 28, 2004


so sad these wasted lives for bullshit reasons. ditto what five fresh fish said.
posted by dabitch at 2:46 AM on January 28, 2004


Lawrence might never have ended up at Willard had he not taken a job as a window washer at Bellevue Hospital.
That's scarry. A friend whom worked at a mental hospital, said he quit because when he was out in public he would find himself thinking "this" person needs to be locked up. He couldn't tell the sane from the insane. Guess it shows we can all be insane at times.
posted by thomcatspike at 6:17 AM on January 28, 2004


So tragic. Some of the people profiled in the article do sound like they might have had some mental/emotional problems - but locking them up for decades was completely unwarranted. If you put people in mental institutions, they go crazy. No one should be locked up unless he or she is a danger to others.
posted by orange swan at 6:20 AM on January 28, 2004


this is a great article , thanks for posting it.
theres something very noble about these people that i like.

I'm not very knowledgable about drug treatment facilities in the us , i know a lot of them operate on the minnesota model and i guess there are some that dont , is this what you are referring to fff ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:21 AM on January 28, 2004


Keep in mind that in some states you can also be involuntarily committed by other people, and it's something to worry about.

Err, that would be all states, in fact. Report someone to the authorities and, if you can come across as even remotely credible, they've generally got about 72 hours of involuntary commitment after which they can be held indefinitely if two doctors can be found to sign off on it.

And don't fool yourself that the decrease in average stays in mental hospitals comes from anything other than increasing dependency on HMOs and their policies limiting hospital stays. In many state hospitals where payment is not an issue stays of several years or more are not uncommon.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:56 AM on January 28, 2004


Has anyone ever walked around the old Bellevue building
in NYC, just up the street from the new Bellevue building.
(27th and First, or so, actually it may not still be there for
all I know - it's been a few years)

The vaguely Grecian sculptures sunk at odd angles into the ground
don't add any normalcy to the place.

There is a palpable feeling of, well, something slightly off anyway, YMMV.

This reminded me.
posted by milovoo at 9:50 AM on January 28, 2004


sgt.: no, I'm referring to the 50% of the prison population that's there for the wicked and evil offense of possessing a herb.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:16 AM on January 28, 2004


Fascinating article. For anyone interested in these old abandoned mental hospitals, this site has pictures of four abandoned Long Island area asylums taken by "urban explorers." Spooky stuff.
posted by katieinshoes at 10:38 AM on January 28, 2004


Here's an short but interesting article that mentions some other artifacts and memories recovered from NY psychiatric hospitals recently.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:04 AM on January 28, 2004


Meanwhile, in California: "Juvenile convicts suffering mental illnesses are often over-medicated and improperly punished and cared for by inadequately trained clinicians who tend to intervene only when crisis strikes, a state-funded report on the California Youth Authority concludes."
posted by homunculus at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2004


Beautiful link, katieinshoes. I just wasted an hour there.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 6:35 AM on January 29, 2004


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