Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walk in the Footsteps of the Mentally ill at the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, MO

Entering the Glore Psychiatric Museum
Disturbing, fascinating and insightful is an accurate way to describe the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, MO, about an hour north of Kansas City.

Named after George Glore, who worked for the Missouri Department of Mental Health for most of his 41-year career, the museum focuses on the history and evolution of mental health treatment.

Located on the grounds of the old State Lunatic Asylum #2 (a.k.a. State Hospital #2 and St. Joseph State Hospital), which opened in 1874, the museum successfully captures the feelings of fear, helplessness and internal confusion that a mentally-ill patient might experience.  It also gives a great overview of how much the treatment of mental health has advanced.

Today, the State Lunatic Asylum #2 no longer exists.  A new mental health facility, the Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, stands across the street from the old asylum buildings, which have been converted into the Western Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center, a state prison facility.

The Glore Psychiatric Museum began its existence in one of those old asylum buildings, but now resides in a newer building on the property that was completed in the late 1960s.  This newer building was used for hospital admissions and as a patient clinic before the rehabilitation center across the street opened. 

The museum was created when Glore, with the help of other hospital staff and patients, decided to build “full-size replicas of 16th, 17th, and 18th century treatment devices.”  Glore wanted to make the public more aware of mental health issues and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Over the years, Glore continued building popular displays and began collecting everything to do with mental health treatment.  Today, the museum has grown to four floors of captivating exhibits and memorabilia that will do nothing less than unnerve you.

The Morgue/Autopsy Room
The basement is actually a good place to begin a self-guided tour of the museum, where a morgue and autopsy room awaits you at the end of the hall.  The morgue was once used to house the bodies of patients until families could make arrangements for them. 

Additionally, the state of Missouri used the morgue/autopsy room anytime there were suspicious deaths, bodies pulled from the nearby river, or deaths involving foul play.  It was even used to house a Northwestern Missouri family of four after they were murdered.

Although the morgue is no longer in use today, the refrigeration units, which can hold up to four bodies at a time, still work and are kept at an average temperature of 40 degrees.   

Rugs being created in the weaving shop
Other museum highlights on the basement level include a therapy room and examples of items created by patients while working in various occupational areas of the old hospital, including rugs made in the weaving shop and an artificial leg made in the cobbler shop.

Artificial leg made at the hospital
Moving up to the first floor of the Glore, you will find a gift shop, old photos and letters from the asylum, and even a prescription log from 1927-1930 which shows alcohol as the medication given for anything from the flu to cancer.

Staircase from 1880
Toward the back of the first floor is also an exhibit showing the lower portion of the grand staircase from the asylum’s administration building, which dates back to 1880.

Stomach contents of patient
On the second floor of the museum is one of the strangest exhibits you will ever see, the artistically displayed stomach contents of a woman who was a patient at the hospital in 1929.  She suffered from an eating disorder and complained of stomach pains.  When the doctors performed surgery on her, they found 1,446 items inside her stomach, including nails, safety pins, buttons, carpet tacks, thimbles and a nail file.  Unfortunately, the woman died during surgery.

Restraint Cage
The second floor also displays scenes with authentic equipment that was used for different therapy methods on mental health patients throughout the years, including hydrotherapy, wet sheet packs and electro-convulsive therapy.  There is also a room with original examples and replicas of various containment devices used in the past to subdue mental illness sufferers, including a restraint cage and a tranquilizer chair. 
Tranquilizer Chair

Walking up to the third and last floor of the museum, you are greeted by a row of antique wheelchairs and a collection of crutches.  These are examples of what would have been used in the hospital during its more than130-year history. 
A row of wheelchairs

Moving down the hall, rooms with exhibits explaining the use of music therapy in the hospital, what church services were like, how the kitchen worked and meals distributed, and a replica of what a patient room would have looked like at the hospital are fascinating windows into the world of the mentally ill at the old hospital.  Patients at the facility had very little privacy, and the rooms in some buildings were crammed with up to four beds.

Replica of a patient room

Eggshell Mosaic
Also housed on the third floor is artwork created by patients during therapy.  Some of the artwork, including an eggshell mosaic is beautiful, while other things like a life-sized cloth doll named Robert are a bit creepy.  All of the art, however, is interesting, revealing, and seems to be screaming out for a sense of mental balance.

The most memorable items on this floor are a collection of 100,000 cigarette packages which a patient believed he could redeem for a new wheelchair, a television set stuffed with papers and letters that a patient possibly thought would be transmitted if they were placed inside the TV, and a framed embroidered sheet which a mute, schizophrenic female patient used to communicate.  Instead of speaking, she embroidered words and phrases into the sheet.
Robert the Doll
100,000 cigarette packages
Not accessible to the public on your visit are the underground tunnels that once connected the Glore  Museum building to the other buildings still standing on the old hospital grounds.

These tunnels were once used to transport patients from building to building without having to go outside.  Today, however, the tunnels connecting the museum building to any of the nearby prison facilities have been walled up for security reasons.
TV stuffed with letters and notes

Embroidered Sheet
If you go to the Glore Psychiatric Museum, it will be unlike any museum you have ever experienced before, and it is filled with many more fascinating items and exhibits than I can possibly describe in this blog. 

All the time and energy George Glore put into creating this museum and educating the public about the history of mental health was well spent.  The Glore Psychiatric Museum will horrify you, captivate you, and maybe even give you a feeling of empathy for those afflicted with mental illness.

This attraction is definitely not geared toward children, but for adults who go, I doubt you will be disappointed. It is worth the admission charge.


The museum is located at 3406 Frederick Avenue in St. Joseph and is part of the St .Joseph Museums, Inc. system.  They are open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m, Sundays from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m., and closed on major holidays.

Admission is:

Adults - $5.00
Seniors (60 and above) - $4.00
Students (ages 7-18) - $3.00
Children under 6 – free
Group rate – (20 ore more) - $4.50
Museum members receive free admission

Guided tours can be arranged for groups by calling 1-800-530-8866 or 816-232-8471.

One a side note:   For your $5 admission to the psychiatric museum, you also have access to the other exhibits throughout the building that are not part of the Glore.  They include a great exhibit on Civil War medicine plus a small Jesse James area and a decent-sized doll display.

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