The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic

By Darby Penney and Peter Stastny


Based on almost 10 years of historical detective work, Peter Stastny and Darby Penney have written about the lives of 10 people who were committed to Willard State Hospital in New York’s Finger Lakes during the first half of the 20th century. Starting with the belongings left behind in these individuals’ suitcases, the authors sifted through collections of photographs, old letters, diaries, archives, and personal mementos to uncover who these people were before they disappeared for decades behind the institution’s walls. They were artists, soldiers, musicians, teachers, nurses, laborers, and skilled craftsmen who led active, complicated, even fascinating lives before pain, loss, peculiar beliefs, ill-health, poverty, spiritual distress, unseen voices and circumstance intervened. The resulting volume is a fully illustrated social history, a moving—and devastating—group portrait of 20th century American psychiatric care.

Darby Penney is a leader in the human rights movement for people with psychiatric disabilities. Peter Stastny is a psychiatrist and documentary filmmaker. Photographs by Lisa Rinzler who is a prize-winning cinematographer.

Paperback book - 205 pages

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