Release Date: 
Thursday, January 1, 2004
Contact Information: 
Contact: Office of Communications Phone: (518) 474-1201

Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic, an exhibition examining the lives of early 20th century patients at a former New York State psychiatric hospital, opens at the New York State Museum on January 17th.

Open in Exhibition Hall through Sept. 19, 2004, the exhibition emanated from the discovery of about 400 suitcases in the attic of a building at the Willard Psychiatric Center when it closed in 1995. Through research, based on the suitcases and their contents, and information provided by the New York state Office of Mental Health, much has been learned about the suitcase owners and the history of the New York State mental health system. Assisting the Museum's curators have been Darby Penney, former director of recipient affairs at the New York State Office of Mental Health and current president of the Community Consortium, and Dr. Peter Stastny, a psychiatrist with the Office of Mental Health.

The exhibition focuses on 12 suitcases out of the hundreds that were found because of the rich variety of objects that were found inside them and the compelling histories of their owners. Many of the patients spent decades at Willard and most of them died there. Curators hope their stories will restore a human dimension to a group of people who have been hidden and forgotten.

A special program on the historical context of the Willard suitcases will be held January 24th at 3 p.m. in the Museum Theater. Robert Whitaker, former Albany Times Union science and medical reporter, will present a lecture entitled "The Willard Suitcases: Bearing Witness to Lost Lives and Shedding Light on a Forgotten Chapter of American History." It is free and open to the public. Whitaker's book, Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, was named by the American Library Association as one of the best history books of 2002.

The State Museum is a cultural program of the New York State Department of Education. Started in 1836, the museum has the nation's longest continuously operating state natural history research and collection survey. The museum is located on Madison Avenue in Albany. Further information is available by calling 474-5877 or visiting the museum website at www.nysm.nysed.gov.

The New York State Museum is located on Madison Avenue in Albany. It is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week throughout the year except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the museum website at www.nysm.nysed.gov.