Port Huron Museum Presents The Lives They Left Behind Exhibit

In a collaborative effort with Sanilac and St, Clair County Community Mental Health, and the Arc of St. Clair County, the Port Huron Museum presents: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic. Exhibition on view through July 31.

This exhibit tells the story of a New York State, Willard Psychiatric Center that operated from 1869 to 1995.

At the time, Willard Center was innovative in mental health care, and an answer to overcrowded city asylums and poor houses. Willard housed tens of thousands of people, during the years. At its height, there were more than 3,000 people living together at Willard.

After the facility closed, workers found more than 400 abandoned suitcases that contained the possessions of former Willard Center patients. After the discovery, two researchers went through the suitcases to study them further. They went to the patients’ homes, visited their graves, read their correspondence and medical records, studied their photographs, and talked to their neighbors and caretakers. The result of their findings was the development of this major exhibition.

From these suitcases and their contents, we can gain an understanding of who the people were who lived at Willard. We can see their jobs, hobbies and education. We can imagine their friends and family. And we can see how their lives were coming apart due to unemployment, death of a loved one, loneliness, poverty, or some other catastrophic event.

Who are these people who were committed to Willard? Why did so many stay for so long and why did most stay at Willard until their death? How were they treated? What was it like to spend years in an institution? Are the circumstances today any better than they were for psychiatric patients during the first half of the 20th century?
The “Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic” exhibit answers these questions and more.

The Port Huron Museum of Arts and History was founded in 1967, and through a community-wide volunteer effort, opened its doors in 1968. Housed in an historic Carnegie Library, built in 1904, the Museum provides exhibitions and programs relating to local history, fine arts (with an emphasis on regional art), decorative arts, natural history, and Great Lakes marine lore.

Port Huron Museum
1115 6th Street
Port Huron, MI 48060
United States

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