Interesting Places to Visit
Glore Psychiatric Museum (St. Joseph, Missouri)
By Phil Dotree — July 10, 2011
There are two types of visitors at the Glore Psychiatric Museum in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Many visitors are interested in psychiatry, and particularly in the history of psychiatric practices--what was once a brutal and ignorant profession has become an incredibly complex and necessary medical field in a relatively short amount of time. Lobotomies were performed a half century ago, and in the early 20th century, psychiatric patients were treated more like inmates or animals than people with problems that needed treatment.
The exterior view of the Glore Psychiatric Museum. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
For anyone in the field, seeing artifacts of psychiatry’s progression can be a fascinating experience, and there’s no better place to do that than the Glore Psychiatric Museum. However, other visitors are undoubtedly drawn to the museum by a morbid curiosity. The majority of people don’t know much about mental disorders and personality disorders, but they’re fascinating to us. Disorders like schizophrenia and psychopathy seem foreign and frightening. The Glore Psychiatric Museum offers visitors some insight into how the brain works and what happens when it isn’t working normally. In catering to both of these types of visitors, Glore is a strange place.
the Glore Psychiatric Museum gift shop has diagrammed and realistic models of brains for sale. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
The History Of The Museum
Founded by George Glore, an occupational therapy specialist, its original dedication was “to the noble work of reviving hope in the human heart and dispelling the portentous clouds that penetrate the intellects of minds diseased.” Glore began the museum as a one-time exhibit for Mental Awareness Week, but soon began building a collection of exhibits and searching for a permanent location.
St. Joseph had one of the largest psychiatric facilities in the state of Missouri, a sprawling facility which had been built in 1874. The facility, “State Lunatic Asylum Number 2,” had been home to thousands of mental patients, and its campus was ideal for Glore’s museum.
A model of the hospital's original design. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
The Glore Psychiatric Museum was constructed to show the history of the asylum and mental health treatment in the United States. It’s located in a large building in downtown St. Joseph along with the St. Joseph Black Archives, which is an African American history museum.
First Floor: Gift Shop And Entrance
The first floor of the museum holds the gift shop, which has various local trinkets, introductory psychiatric texts and dozens of games and toys for younger visitors. The museum’s curators can usually be found near the office or front desk on this level, constantly working on keeping the exhibits in good repair. While curators are available to answer questions, guests are expected to tour the Glore Psychiatric Museum without any assistance. Mounted signs and audio boxes detail the histories of each exhibit.
A magnet with the museum's name and a phrenology diagram on sale at the Glore Psychiatric Museum in st. Joseph, Missouri. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
An elevator and a set of stairs lead to the second floor, which mainly shows hospital facilities and surgical techniques. The museum staff recommend starting on the second floor, proceeding to the third and then down to the basement.
The Second Floor: Psychosurgery Techniques And Tools
A note on the Glore Psychiatric Museum’s website says that some exhibits “may not be appropriate for younger visitors,” and it’s likely that this refers to the second floor mannequins. Their blank faces are certainly somewhat creepy, as are the psychiatric surgeries and sometimes barbaric treatments that they’re demonstrating.
Early psychiatric practices were often barbaric, as is the case with these early “tranquilizers.” (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
One of the first rooms on the second floor shows a mannequin preparing for a frontal lobotomy. A shiny and sharp-looking set of psychosurgery tools are displayed in a case next to the bed of the “patient,” along with a detailed history of the long-abandoned neurosurgical technique. Lobotomies, in which part of the prefrontal cortex of the brain is disconnected, were once thought to cure certain psychiatric conditions, and the inventor of the lobotomy even won a Nobel Prize for his discovery.
Mid-20th century restraints, including tied gloves that stopped patients from picking at themselves or injuring hospital staff. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
The medical community slowly realized that the psychiatric benefits of a lobotomy were limited or nonexistent, and the practice was discontinued after ruining the lives of thousands of patients (including patients at the St. Joseph psychiatric hospital). The lobotomy is probably the best known misstep of psychiatric medicine, but in staying true to the museum’s mission, the exhibit gives an accurate and somewhat terrifying description of the technique.
This display shows the accidental cranial penetration suffered by Phineas P. Gage. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
A nearby model shows what the head of Phineas Gage looked like after the 18th century construction worker’s skull was pierced by an iron rod. Gage’s case startled the medical community and showed the profound effect that brain damage can have on personality, as Gage – who survived for years after the incident and was even able to clock out of work immediately after the iron went threw his head – soon became withdrawn and antisocial. The museum’s model shows the size of the iron that went through Gage’s head and explains how the case was used and misused by the medical community.
Past the lobotomy model are rooms with insulin shock machines, surgical tables, localized radiation tools and much more. It’s occasionally unsettling and even a bit frightening. One exhibit shows thousands of needles, nails, buttons and other items removed from the digestive tract of a patient who obsessively swallowed almost anything she could find, laid out in an aesthetically pleasing circle that looks like a bit of patient artwork until you’re close enough to read the attached sign.
An assortment of objects removed from a patient's stomach and intestines during a surgery, arranged in decorative fashion and made into an exhibit at the Glore Psychiatric Museum. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
There’s a tremendous amount to see. The second floor is undoubtedly the largest part of the museum, certainly worth a few hours’ worth of exploration. Many of the exhibits have brief audio descriptions that are triggered by large red buttons, but a few have no descriptions whatsoever. Even so, the second floor’s probably the most straightforward educational part of the Glore Psychiatric Museum.
It’s easily the best place to start a visit, but the third floor fills a necessary role in reminding visitors that psychiatric medicine isn’t just techniques and research--the patients of St. Joseph’s psychiatric hospital are and were real people, and understanding them is essential in avoiding the tragic mistakes made during the days of lobotomies and insulin shocks.
A display at the Glore Psychiatric Museum showing a form of hydrotherapy used in psychiatric facilities from the mid-19th century well into the 20th. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
The Third Floor: Patient Art
The third floor of the museum focuses on explaining different types of therapy and in showing the lives of mental patients. There’s a particular focus on occupational therapy, as George Glore specialized in that field. Artwork from patients takes the center stage.
There are dozens of sculptures, paintings, weaved works and other types of art from various patients. The art is used to show the signs and symptoms of different conditions. For instance, a weaved work from a schizophrenic patient has disjointed phrases, made-up words and shows evidence of delusions. A self-sculpture by a patient with a birth defect has a flat head, indicating the patient’s perception of himself.
This “Madonna” oil painting was done by a patient who, when she entered the hospital, told the staff the unlikely story that she was a movie star. Interestingly, it was later discovered that she in fact played in a film with John Wayne: a very limited part in a bar scene of the 1944 movie, The Fighting Seabees. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
The artwork is powerful, and some of it is quite good from an artistic perspective. It effectively humanizes the patients of the St. Joseph psychiatric hospital. While the mannequins on the museum’s second floor are cold and lifeless, the artwork on the third floor is vibrant, sometimes heartbreaking.
One display shows 108,000 empty cigarette packs carefully bundled together. The patient who collected the packs thought that a cigarette company would give him a new wheelchair for his work; however, no such program existed at the company. The hospital staff did buy him a wheelchair when they learned of the situation, and the empty packages were donated to the museum.
One patient collected 108,000 bundled empty cigarette packs in the mistaken belief that he could trade them for a new wheelchair. His efforts, however, were not in vain — in 1969 the hospital administration, both impressed by and feeling sorry for the fellow, presented his unit with a new wheelchair. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
Another display has hundreds of letters which were written by a patient and inserted into the back of a hospital television set. Why the patient put the letters in the set is unknown, although some staff speculated that he thought he was transmitting them. The hundreds of letters contain diary entries, rambling narratives and more. The Glore Psychiatric Museum received both the letters and the television and created a display that gives an amazing look into the mind of a facility patient.
The third floor also has rooms with occupational therapy tools--one is dedicated to music therapy, for instance, and has about a dozen instruments--and rooms that are carefully preserved to show where patients lived, worked, slept and ate in the 1960s and earlier. Some early nursing regulations are preserved on one of the walls. A nursing office shows a standard furniture layout, with info about patient care and descriptions of a few common psychiatric conditions that patients might have had.
An uncomfortable display of early proctology equipment at the Glore Psychiatric Museum. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
From the third floor, museum guests can take an elevator down to the basement, which sheds more light on the history of the Glore Psychiatric Museum, along with a few surprises.
The Basement: A Morgue and Cars
The first section of the basement has artifacts from the St. Joseph asylum’s first days, including farming tools used as an early type of occupational therapy (although the focus was more on wearing the patients out than actually addressing their conditions).
View under the hood of the “Yellow Rose,” a 1978 chevrolet monte carlo restored by young psychiatric patients. this is part of a display in the museum from the woodson children's Psychiatric hospital. Ironically, although the Yellow Rose was not designed to run or even start up, it nevertheless won many awards in Missouri car shows. The walnut running boards, Mirrors, dash, and bumpers were all made by Woodson students in their wood shop. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
Small rooms in the basement show more of day-to-day hospital life, including the hospital morgue. There’s a large sign outside the morgue that warns visitors not to climb over a wooden partition in the room; apparently, guests were laying on gurneys or drawing back the sheet on a mannequin “corpse” in the middle of the room. There’s not much to see in the morgue, but it is interesting in a sort of morbid way.
One display in the museum is from the Woodson Children's Psychiatric Hospital, which was also equipped with a fully accredited school. Younger patients weren’t able to participate in team sports like other young adults, so Woodson instead emphasized vocational programs such as wood shop and auto tech as a creative outlet for the kids. Students in these classes rebuilt two cars, the “Yellow Rose,” a 1978 Chevy Monte Carlo that was donated to the school following a Kansas City, Missouri flood, and the “Juke Box Hero,” a 1987 Toyota pickup graciously donated by the Toyota Motor Company.
This 1987 toyota picup nicknamed the “Juke Box Hero” is capable of running. Toyota engineers helped the psychiatric students replace the 4-cylinder engine with a Supra 6. The students designed all the artsy graphics seen on the vehicle, which were subsequently donated by a St. Joseph company. as you can see from the trophies in the foreground, the Juke Box Hero won many awards in car shows. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
The two cars are beautiful vehicles, hand-painted and impressively equipped. They were entered into a number of show car competitions before being donated to the museum.
There are also wagons from the museum’s earliest days, which are currently being restored by young adults with psychiatric disorders. These last exhibits are another reminder of the importance of psychiatric treatment and the ongoing need for occupational therapy.
Farm wagon (background) and a 19th century carriage (foreground), currently undergoing restoration by juvenile patients. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
The Glore Psychiatric Museum has been called one of the weirdest museums in the United States, but its core message is admirable and very straightforward: psychiatric treatment has progressed immensely, and studying that progression is important and fascinating. Patients are people, and the mistakes of the past have led to better understanding and better treatments that can actually help these people get better. Only half a century ago, schizophrenics were committed to asylums with almost no chance of ever leaving. Now, many can be treated successfully with medications to keep the condition from affecting everyday life.
A model doctor performing some Electroencephalography (EEG) on an equally life-like model patient at the glore Psychiatric Museum. The eeg machine records electrical activity along the patient's scalp. (Photo by Phil Dotree © Richard Grigonis)
Studying the progression of psychiatry is certainly an admirable goal, and for both psychiatry aficionados and casual onlookers, the Glore Psychiatric Museum is an excellent place to spend a few hours.
The museum is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Monday through Friday and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. on Saturdays. Admission is $5. For more information, visit http://www.stjosephmuseum.org./glore.htm
Phil Dotree, a St. Louis native, has written over 2,000 articles on various subjects for many websites and news sites (Yahoo!, Digg.com, Fark, TheFrisky.com, ManOfTheHouse.com) and many companies including Gillette and Proctor and Gamble. These pieces have included opinion articles, website content, press releases, SEO, and much more. He has been featured on the Howard Stern show and CNN.com. John studied English at Southern Illinois University and currently works exclusively as a freelance writer and musician in St. Louis, Missouri.