If you want to view a pretty amazing historical art project online, check out The Willard Suitcase Exhibit Online. Willard Psychiatric Center in New York opened as the Willard Asylum in 1869 and after being renamed in 1890 to the Willard State Hospital, reached a record census of 4,076 patients in 1955. In its 126 year history, the psychiatric facility saw more than 50,000 patients pass through its doors. It closed its doors for good in 1995.
The description below is reproducted from the site, and describes the project in far better terms than I could.
“When Willard Psychiatric Center closed in 1995, staff members Beverly Courtwright and Lisa Hoffman, along with Craig Williams, a New York State Museum curator, worked to save historical artifacts there. Beverly found a door tucked under the pigeon-infested rafters of an attic. Prying it open, they found rows of wooden racks, packed with almost 400 suitcases of all shapes and types — men’s on the left, women’s on the right, alphabetized, labeled, and covered by bird droppings, seemingly untouched for years. Realizing they had stumbled across unique and valuable artifacts, Craig had the suitcases moved to the Museum’s warehouse near Albany.
This is where Darby Penney and Peter Stastny encountered the luggage in 1999, wrapped in dusty plastic sheets. Working with a list of names and hospital identification numbers, they went through the suitcases to choose a smaller number of individuals and identify their belongings for closer study. Peter, Darby, and photographer Lisa Rinzler spent several years immersed in the material and documentary remnants of these people’s lives, forming relationships with them through the things they left behind. They went to their homes, visited their graves, read their correspondence and medical records, studied their snapshots, talked to their neighbors and caretakers, and Lisa took photographs of what they saw. They also examined hundreds of Willard photographs and documents at the New York State Archives.”
The online exhibit requires Flash.