The Lives They Left Behind Header

The Lives They Left Behind


Vintage Pocket Watch

Partial Exhibit Through end of 2018

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.

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.

The Museum of disABILITY History is proud to host The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic as a special exhibit open to the public. The exhibit honors the memories of those who packed the suitcases and hopes to inspire dialogue about the treatment of those with mental illness.


“The Lives They Left Behind” was created by The Community Consortium, an organization that works to promote the full citizenship and civil rights of people with psychiatric disabilities