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A couple of years ago I was doing research on the history of the treatment of schizophrenia, and I ran across a book about suitcases that they found in an attic in a closed down psychiatric hospital. In the book, The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic, the authors go through many of the suitcases (I think they found 400) and try to piece together the people’s lives who owned the suitcases. Many of the people’s lives that the authors were able to find information on entered the hospital and died there. Often times while I was reading the book I thought to myself, “This person doesn’t sound like someone who is mentally ill.”  The people who owned the suitcases had been admitted to the hospital sometime between 1910 and 1960, so you can imagine that what was considered “mental illness” changed a great deal in those fifty years.

I found the book to be interesting and sad. Interesting, because the people’s stories are often interesting, and sad because many of their lives seemed forgotten, and not wasted, because a life is never wasted, but interrupted in a way that their skills, talents, dreams could never be realized. Many of the people were buried on the hospital grounds.

Here is a link on Amazon to the book:


There is a photographer, Jon Crispin, who is photographing all of the suitcases. You can see pictures of his work, and some of the cases, here: