Saturday, October 18, 2008


A recent story in the news reminded me of this traveling exhibit, which I hope to see. It is a collection of suitcases that were found in the attic of an abandoned building at the Willard Psychiatric Center in New York State when it closed in 1995. The contents, packed decades ago by those who were committed to the institution, offer clues to abandoned lives and the reasons they unraveled. The website is gorgeous and haunting.

I was reminded of "The Lives They Left Behind" when I saw a report that 96-year-old Elizabeth Gladys "Millvina" Dean, the last living survivor of the Titanic and only two months old when it sank in 1912, is selling her mementos. To maintain herself in Woodlands Ridge, a private nursing home in Southampton, England—Titanic's home port, Millvina is auctioning some rare prints of the ship and other artifacts. But the item that caught my interest is the small wicker suitcase that was filled with clothes and given to her destitute family when they arrived in America after being rescued. Andrew Aldridge, of Henry Aldridge and Son auctioneers, calls the suitcase emotive. It is that, but so is the luggage of downed airliners. Because of their history, Millvina's suitcase and those of the mental patients who died long ago at Willard are evocative in the way that time capsules are.

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