Sunshine Recorder


Abandoned Suitcases Reveal Private Lives of Insane Asylum Patients
If you were committed to a psychiatric institution, unsure if you’d ever return to the life you knew before, what would you take with you? That sobering question hovers like an apparition over each of the Willard Asylum suitcases. From the 1910s through the 1960s, many patients at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane left suitcases behind when they passed away, with nobody to claim them. Upon the center’s closure in 1995, employees found hundreds of these time capsules stored in a locked attic. Working with the New York State Museum, former Willard staffers were able to preserve the hidden cache of luggage as part of the museum’s permanent collection.
Photographer Jon Crispin has long been drawn to the ghostly remains of abandoned psychiatric institutions. After learning of the Willard suitcases, Crispin sought the museum’s permission to document each case and its contents. In 2011, Crispin completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund the first phase of the project, which he recently finished. Next spring, a selection of his photos will accompany the inaugural exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium’s new location.
Crispin’s photographs restore a bit of dignity to the individuals who spent their lives within Willard’s walls. Curiously, the identities of these patients are still concealed by the state of New York, denied even to living relatives. Each suitcase offers a glimpse into the life of a unique individual, living in an era when those with mental disorders and disabilities were not only stigmatized but also isolated from society.
… Collectors Weekly: Was there any single suitcase that stuck with you?
Crispin: One of the last cases I shot was from a guy named Frank who was in the military. His story was particularly sad. He was a black man, and I later found out he was gay. He was eating in a diner and felt that the waiter or waitress disrespected him, and he just went nuts. He completely melted down, smashed some plates, and got arrested. His objects were particularly touching because he had a lot of photo booth pictures of himself and his friends. Frank looks very dapper, and there are all these beautiful women from the ’30s and ’40s in his little photo booth pictures. That really affected me.
Dmytre’s suitcase is another that I really like, it’s the last case I did. Dmytre was very moving. He was Ukrainian and clearly brilliant. He had notebooks filled with drawings of sine waves and mathematical things like that. There’s a wedding picture of Dmytre and his wife, and she’s holding a bouquet of fake flowers, which were also in the case.
Dmytre was interesting because he got arrested by the Secret Service because he went to Washington, D.C. and said that he was actually married to President Truman’s daughter, Margaret Truman. And what’s great is there’s a little Washington monument thermometer in the case, so clearly he bought a little tchotchke on his trip to D.C. and then later got arrested for saying that he was Margaret Truman’s husband.
Obviously, some of the cases were a lot more mundane than others. There was one that had syringes in it that were so beautiful and old, and small drug packets with pills still in them. There were combs, books, bibles, clocks, and an incredible Westclox Big Ben alarm clock in its original box that’s unbelievably pristine.
There was lots of expensive stuff, like perfume bottles from Paris that were worth tons of money. People wonder, how is it that a woman who’s committed to Willard has a bottle of perfume, which even at the time was super expensive? Mental illness doesn’t target any one particular group of people; it takes all kinds.

Abandoned Suitcases Reveal Private Lives of Insane Asylum Patients

If you were committed to a psychiatric institution, unsure if you’d ever return to the life you knew before, what would you take with you? That sobering question hovers like an apparition over each of the Willard Asylum suitcases. From the 1910s through the 1960s, many patients at the Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane left suitcases behind when they passed away, with nobody to claim them. Upon the center’s closure in 1995, employees found hundreds of these time capsules stored in a locked attic. Working with the New York State Museum, former Willard staffers were able to preserve the hidden cache of luggage as part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Photographer Jon Crispin has long been drawn to the ghostly remains of abandoned psychiatric institutions. After learning of the Willard suitcases, Crispin sought the museum’s permission to document each case and its contents. In 2011, Crispin completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund the first phase of the project, which he recently finished. Next spring, a selection of his photos will accompany the inaugural exhibit at the San Francisco Exploratorium’s new location.

Crispin’s photographs restore a bit of dignity to the individuals who spent their lives within Willard’s walls. Curiously, the identities of these patients are still concealed by the state of New York, denied even to living relatives. Each suitcase offers a glimpse into the life of a unique individual, living in an era when those with mental disorders and disabilities were not only stigmatized but also isolated from society.

… Collectors Weekly: Was there any single suitcase that stuck with you?

Crispin: One of the last cases I shot was from a guy named Frank who was in the military. His story was particularly sad. He was a black man, and I later found out he was gay. He was eating in a diner and felt that the waiter or waitress disrespected him, and he just went nuts. He completely melted down, smashed some plates, and got arrested. His objects were particularly touching because he had a lot of photo booth pictures of himself and his friends. Frank looks very dapper, and there are all these beautiful women from the ’30s and ’40s in his little photo booth pictures. That really affected me.

Dmytre’s suitcase is another that I really like, it’s the last case I did. Dmytre was very moving. He was Ukrainian and clearly brilliant. He had notebooks filled with drawings of sine waves and mathematical things like that. There’s a wedding picture of Dmytre and his wife, and she’s holding a bouquet of fake flowers, which were also in the case.

Dmytre was interesting because he got arrested by the Secret Service because he went to Washington, D.C. and said that he was actually married to President Truman’s daughter, Margaret Truman. And what’s great is there’s a little Washington monument thermometer in the case, so clearly he bought a little tchotchke on his trip to D.C. and then later got arrested for saying that he was Margaret Truman’s husband.

Obviously, some of the cases were a lot more mundane than others. There was one that had syringes in it that were so beautiful and old, and small drug packets with pills still in them. There were combs, books, bibles, clocks, and an incredible Westclox Big Ben alarm clock in its original box that’s unbelievably pristine.

There was lots of expensive stuff, like perfume bottles from Paris that were worth tons of money. People wonder, how is it that a woman who’s committed to Willard has a bottle of perfume, which even at the time was super expensive? Mental illness doesn’t target any one particular group of people; it takes all kinds.


 The Sheer Terror of Syphilis (as seen in 1930s posters)
A new hypothesis from economist Andrew Francis argues that the terror of syphilis was so great among US residents that the sexual revolution of the 1960s simply wasn’t possible without getting the dreaded disease under control first. In his view, the development of effective treatments—most notably, penicillin—had a more profound effect on culture than even birth control measures.
This may be hard to grasp at first, since the fear of syphilis has fallen off so dramatically today. But there’s an easy way to transport yourself back in time 70 years or so, just before the rise of common antibiotics, to get a sense for life in a world where infectious diseases could prove so much more difficult to control. Thanks to the Work Projects Administration (WPA), a federal initiative in the late 1930s and early 1940s that put hundreds of thousands of American to work on public projects, we have an incredible visual archive of life at the time: 2,000 posters created by government-employed artists.
A surprising number of them relate to syphilis; indeed, it’s the largest public health issue addressed by the posters, many of which are now archived at the Library of Congress and available online. The posters are alternately terrifying, paternalistic, comforting, and informative, but they are never uninteresting.

The Sheer Terror of Syphilis (as seen in 1930s posters)

A new hypothesis from economist Andrew Francis argues that the terror of syphilis was so great among US residents that the sexual revolution of the 1960s simply wasn’t possible without getting the dreaded disease under control first. In his view, the development of effective treatments—most notably, penicillin—had a more profound effect on culture than even birth control measures.

This may be hard to grasp at first, since the fear of syphilis has fallen off so dramatically today. But there’s an easy way to transport yourself back in time 70 years or so, just before the rise of common antibiotics, to get a sense for life in a world where infectious diseases could prove so much more difficult to control. Thanks to the Work Projects Administration (WPA), a federal initiative in the late 1930s and early 1940s that put hundreds of thousands of American to work on public projects, we have an incredible visual archive of life at the time: 2,000 posters created by government-employed artists.

A surprising number of them relate to syphilis; indeed, it’s the largest public health issue addressed by the posters, many of which are now archived at the Library of Congress and available online. The posters are alternately terrifying, paternalistic, comforting, and informative, but they are never uninteresting.


A Photo History of Male Affection
In my unending search for just the right vintage images for our articles, I have looked through thousands of photographs of men from the last century or so. One of the things that I have found most fascinating about many of these images, is the ease, familiarity, and intimacy, which men used to exhibit in photographs with their friends and compadres.
I shared a handful of these images in our very early post on the history of male friendship, but today I wanted to share almost 100 more in order to provide a more in-depth look into an important and highly interesting aspect of masculine history: the decline of male intimacy over the last century.
As you make your way through the photos below, many of you will undoubtedly feel a keen sense of surprise — some of you may even recoil a bit as you think, “Holy smokes! That’s so gay!”
The poses, facial expressions, and body language of the men below will strike the modern viewer as very gay indeed. But it is crucial to understand that you cannot view these photographs through the prism of our modern culture and current conception of homosexuality. The term “homosexuality” was in fact not coined until 1869, and before that time, the strict dichotomy between “gay” and “straight” did not yet exist. Attraction to, and sexual activity with other men was thought of as something you did, not something you were. It was a behavior — accepted by some cultures and considered sinful by others.
But at the turn of the 20th century, the idea of homosexuality shifted from a practice to a lifestyle and an identity. You did not have temptations towards a certain sin, you were ahomosexual person. Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century. At the same time, it also may explain why in countries with a more conservative, religious culture, such as in Africa or the Middle East, where men do engage in homosexual acts, but still consider homosexuality the “crime that cannot be spoken,” it remains common for men to be affectionate with one another and comfortable with things like holding hands as they walk.
Whether the men below were gay in the way our current culture understands that idea, or in the way that they themselves understood it, is unknowable. What we do know is that the men would not have thought their poses and body language had anything at all to do with that question. What you see in the photographs was common, not rare; the photos are not about sexuality, but intimacy.
These photos showcase an evolution in the way men relate to one another — and the way in which certain forms and expressions of male intimacy have disappeared over the last century.
It has been said that a picture tells a thousand words, so while I have provided a little commentary below, I invite you to interpret the photos yourselves, and to ask and discuss questions such as: “Who were these men?” “What was the nature of their relationships?” “Why has male intimacy decreased and what are the repercussions for the emotional lives of men today?”

A Photo History of Male Affection

In my unending search for just the right vintage images for our articles, I have looked through thousands of photographs of men from the last century or so. One of the things that I have found most fascinating about many of these images, is the easefamiliarity, and intimacy, which men used to exhibit in photographs with their friends and compadres.

I shared a handful of these images in our very early post on the history of male friendship, but today I wanted to share almost 100 more in order to provide a more in-depth look into an important and highly interesting aspect of masculine history: the decline of male intimacy over the last century.

As you make your way through the photos below, many of you will undoubtedly feel a keen sense of surprise — some of you may even recoil a bit as you think, “Holy smokes! That’s so gay!”

The poses, facial expressions, and body language of the men below will strike the modern viewer as very gay indeed. But it is crucial to understand that you cannot view these photographs through the prism of our modern culture and current conception of homosexuality. The term “homosexuality” was in fact not coined until 1869, and before that time, the strict dichotomy between “gay” and “straight” did not yet exist. Attraction to, and sexual activity with other men was thought of as something you did, not something you were. It was a behavior — accepted by some cultures and considered sinful by others.

But at the turn of the 20th century, the idea of homosexuality shifted from a practice to a lifestyle and an identity. You did not have temptations towards a certain sin, you were ahomosexual person. Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century. At the same time, it also may explain why in countries with a more conservative, religious culture, such as in Africa or the Middle East, where men do engage in homosexual acts, but still consider homosexuality the “crime that cannot be spoken,” it remains common for men to be affectionate with one another and comfortable with things like holding hands as they walk.

Whether the men below were gay in the way our current culture understands that idea, or in the way that they themselves understood it, is unknowable. What we do know is that the men would not have thought their poses and body language had anything at all to do with that question. What you see in the photographs was common, not rare; the photos are not about sexuality, but intimacy.

These photos showcase an evolution in the way men relate to one another — and the way in which certain forms and expressions of male intimacy have disappeared over the last century.

It has been said that a picture tells a thousand words, so while I have provided a little commentary below, I invite you to interpret the photos yourselves, and to ask and discuss questions such as: “Who were these men?” “What was the nature of their relationships?” “Why has male intimacy decreased and what are the repercussions for the emotional lives of men today?”

College - The Energy Story

David Grellier is a French electronica musician and founder of the musical projects College (2005) and Valerie (2007). College, in Grellier’s words, was an attempt “to synthesize into my music the emotions of my childhood” and was greatly influenced by American 1980s pop-culture, “80’s soaps and an aesthetic which I particularly like: color, images, silvery films and the sun – images of Los Angeles and all of the other cities that […] continue to fascinate me.” In an interview to magazine Tsugi, David Grellier said he was influenced by “nostalgic music”, by the band Daft Punk, and artists like Alan Braxe, Fred Falke, Lifelike, Jacques Lu Cont (Stuart Price), Nicolas Makelberge, DJ Falcon, John Carpenter and others.

Vintage Posters from the Golden Age of Travel, 1910-1959

Mid-century graphic design gave us such treasures as Saul Bass, the WPA, and science ads like we haven’t seen since. From the Boston Public Library’s Print Collection comes this stunning collection of vintage travel posters from the Golden Age of Travel, when railways stretched across America and Europe, swanky ocean liners brought elegance to international waters, and the roads swelled with automobiles. Armed with these vibrant visual ephemera, travel agents and ticket salesmen reined in a new era of excitement about the adventures of travel, channeled through the language of design.


I Like Vintage Erotica
 A reader asks if fantasizing about now-dead people is “creepy.” We ask Dan Savage and other experts to weigh in.



Dan Savage says that it’s creepy to fantasize about people who have died. Because it is not possible to ever actually … you know. I may agree with him about the recently deceased, but I like vintage erotica, and sometimes I do fantasize that I’m making love to the women in those naughty French postcards — the lingerie, the beds, the divans, the pillows on the floor … it’s all so soft and warm and pre-Raphaelite. When the Internet happened and all the porn became available, like most lesbians, I didn’t like any of it — until I found the porn of pre-WWI Europe. Finally! I have a genre. What a relief. I’ve noticed that modern photographs that re-create vintage erotica do nothing for me. Women in the costumes with the period props are just silly. There’s something about knowing that she lived her life long ago and left only these beautiful glimpses of her sexual expression that captures my erotic imagination. But. She’s dead now. And there’s no possibility of meeting her. 

Read more.

I Like Vintage Erotica

A reader asks if fantasizing about now-dead people is “creepy.” We ask Dan Savage and other experts to weigh in.

Dan Savage says that it’s creepy to fantasize about people who have died. Because it is not possible to ever actually … you know. I may agree with him about the recently deceased, but I like vintage erotica, and sometimes I do fantasize that I’m making love to the women in those naughty French postcards — the lingerie, the beds, the divans, the pillows on the floor … it’s all so soft and warm and pre-Raphaelite. When the Internet happened and all the porn became available, like most lesbians, I didn’t like any of it — until I found the porn of pre-WWI Europe. Finally! I have a genre. What a relief. I’ve noticed that modern photographs that re-create vintage erotica do nothing for me. Women in the costumes with the period props are just silly. There’s something about knowing that she lived her life long ago and left only these beautiful glimpses of her sexual expression that captures my erotic imagination. But. She’s dead now. And there’s no possibility of meeting her. 

Read more.

The Modernist Nerd: Vintage Science Ads from the 1950s-1960s: The intersection of science and design has many beautiful manifestations, from data visualization to nerd tattoos. But hardly does it get more delightful than in these gorgeous vintage science and technology ads from magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing the modernist aesthetic to the atomic and space ages.


 St. Catherine Street Looking East. Montreal, 1937.
 St. Catherine Street Looking East. Montreal, 1937.

(via nondescripthistory)

On Saturday morning, July 28, 1945, the pilot of an B-25 bomber intending to land New York City’s LaGuardia Airport got disoriented in thick fog. He ended up crashing the plane between the 78th and 80th floors of the Empire State Building, killing all of the plane’s crew and 11 workers inside the building.  Dozens more were injured. One of the wounded workers was elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver, who at the time of the crash was operating on the same levels.  During rescue operations as she was being lowered down, the elevator’s cables snapped and she plummeted 75 stories into the building’s basement. Nevertheless she was somehow able to survive and attained a Guinness World Record in the process for longest survived elevator fall. Just two days later most of the building was open and running as usual for work on Monday.

(via picturesofwar-deactivated201307)

Montréal in the 60s

The video reminds me of Koyaanisqatsi.