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ON THE ROAD

All roads lead to Albany

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Picture: Schoharie County, on the road © Fien Leysen


Darby Penney


Today we are headed to Albany, to speak with Darby Penney and Jon Crispin.

Darby Penney is the author of the book "The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic". In it, she tells the story of the suitcases that were found on the attic of the psychiatric hospital in Willard.


Patients who would arrive and be admitted, would have to hand over their possessions.

These were safely kept in the suitcase they came in.


In all our talks with the people of Willard, we hear different opinions on Penney's book. People from outside of Willard thought it was beautiful and moving, and were shocked that there was a collection of forgotten lives, hidden away in suitcases, somewhere in an attic.

The former staff and the citizens of Willard respond hurt and angry, they tell us how the patients always had access to their suitcase and belongings. No one was forgotten, the suitcases were not "discovered". They had always been there. Every nurse knew of their existence. But after moving from one building to another, or reorganizing certain floors, not everyone remembered where the suitcases were exactly. As Willard closed, they turned out to be stored in the attic.

Forgotten, to some. Safely kept, according to others.


Darby Penney tries to give an insight into the lives of the different patients by describing the contents of the 427 suitcases.


Jon Crispin


Heading back from Albany, we stop on the way in a hip restaurant. We are meeting Jon Crispin, the photographer who was allowed to document each suitcase and capture it beautifully on camera.


He shows us his work and talks about his method of operation, his experiences with Willard.

All four of us would love to visit the abandoned buildings on the Willard grounds. Jon, to take pictures. The three of us, to film it, see it, and - maybe - feel what it might have been like, way back when.

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