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Museum of DisABILITY History


The Lives They Left Behind


Imagine packing your life into one suitcase. Pictures of your loved ones. Meaningful books and letters. Gifts from your family. Reminders of your greatest accomplishments. Inspiration for future goals and dreams.

Vintage Pocket Watch

In 1995, when the Willard Psychiatric Center, located in the Finger Lakes region of N.Y., closed its doors, an incredible discovery was made in the attic: hundreds of suitcases, untouched for decades, filled with the most important belongings of their former owners. These suitcases tell the stories of the lives that were left behind when patients entered the center, many of whom never left. They tell of dreams and aspirations. Of futures unfulfilled. Of incredible accomplishments. Of love lost and love shared. Of loss and isolation. Of the rich and full lives abandoned when they walked through the doors.