The Lives They Left Behind

PsychCentral has alerted me to a wonderful online exhibit based on the lives of several psychiatric patients whose belongings were found in suitcases in an old asylum attic years after they had passed away.

All the individuals were patients at the Willard Asylum, some for as long as 62 years.

Unfortunately, the site is a bit over-Flashed which means it’s not the most intuitive to navigate, but it’s worth grappling with the menus at the bottom of the screen as the stories are incredibly touching.

The photo on the right is of ‘Frank':

On June 7, 1945, Mr. Frank #27967 went into the Virginia Restaurant on Fulton Street in Brooklyn and was served a meal on a broken plate. He became upset and caused a disruption outside the restaurant, yelling and kicking garbage cans. The police were called, and, instead of arresting him, brought him to the psychiatric ward at Kings County Hospital. From there, he was transferred to Brooklyn State Hospital, and on April 9, 1946, he was admitted to Willard, one of a growing number of African American patients transferred to Willard from New York City in the 40s, due to over-crowding…

Mr. Frank # 27967 never escaped the consequences of that day outside the restaurant in 1945. In 1949, he was transferred from Willard to the Veterans Administration hospital in Canandaigua, NY, and in 1954 to the VA hospital in Pittsburgh. He died there 30 years later, having spent more than half his life in an institution.

The site also has a great deal of information about the hospital itself, audio recordings of memories of the institution and more information about the book and touring exhibition which is on the road right now.

In fact, it’s currently on show at the Cayuga Museum of History and Art in Auburn, New York.

Link to The Lives They Left Behind online exhibit.

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