Witch and Wheel.
Simulated witch burning and the big human hamster wheel.

Glore Psychiatric Museum

Field review by the editors.

St. Joseph, Missouri

The smell of ancient insanity would still hang in the corridors of the Glore Psychiatric Museum, if this unusual collection hadn't been moved to an expansive newer building a few years ago. It once inhabited a ward of St. Joseph State Hospital -- called the State Lunatic Asylum #2 until 1899 -- a fortress-like mental health complex. Modern medication has returned nearly all the patients to society, making way for the state to turn the facility into a prison.

The museum sits right outside the prison fence, in a complex of brick buildings. The original museum was started in 1967, by George Glore, a lifetime employee of the Missouri mental health system. George retired in the mid-1990s due to failing health, but the museum, named after this tourism visionary, carries on. We miss George's personal tours and stories, and the museum seems, well, more respectable. But still worth a trip to St. Joseph.

Imprisoned Glamour Mannequin.
Imprisoned Glamour Mannequin.

Past the bronze bust of George, the collection now fills four floors, and you can find all your Glore favorites. Dioramas span the history of treatment for mental illness -- witch burnings and devil stompings; the "Bath of Surprise," a gallows-like platform that dumped a patient into icy water; and a working model of O'Halloran's Swing, in which strapped-in patients spun at up to 100 RPMs. Before retiring, George completed the giant patient treadmill -- a locked human hamster wheel monstrosity -- where frisky residents could walk off their excess energy.

Patients out for a Walk.
Vintage photo of patients "out for a walk."

On an earlier visit, Glore told us patients could spend up to six months in the "Tranquilizer Chair." It was invented by Benjamin Rush, "The Father of American Psychiatry," a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a big believer in leeches and bleeding. The museum has a reproduction of Rush's bleeding knife that was distributed to promote a drug manufacturer; they were recalled after a patient grabbed one off his psychiatrist's desk and stabbed him to death.

Art from things swallowed.
Art from things swallowed.

Many of the devices are shown in use on an assortment of female glamour mannequins donated by a department store. Three mannequins are chained to the wall of his Bedlam Asylum scene. "Bedlam used to charge admission -- people would visit as recreation," Glore would say, shaking his head, as he led tourists through his museum.

The mid-20th Century exhibits include items used during the early days of Glore's own tenure: hydrotherapy and the wet sheet pack (patients rolled in wet sheets), lobotomy instruments, Fulton, MO's hospital cage, electroconvulsive treatments, and a fever-cabinet used for heating syphilis victims.

Artistic legacies of certain patients are on display, too. There is an imaginative arrangement of 1,446 items swallowed by a patient and removed from her intestines and stomach. She died during surgery from bleeding caused by 453 nails, 42 screws, safety pins, spoon tops, and salt and pepper shaker tops.

Obsessed collections.
525 secret notes jammed in the TV; mesh box holds 100,000 cigarette wrappers for an imagined redemption program.

One fellow stuffed 525 disjointed notes into a working television set in a ward. Found by a repairman in 1971, many of the scraps appeared to be answers to questions the patient had been asked by psychiatrist over the years to determine his mental state.

"Another patient swallowed a Timex," said Glore. "When she passed it, it was still ticking." Another patient collected 100,000 cigarette packs under the delusion that the cigarette companies would redeem them for a new wheelchair for his ward.

The Glore Museum's new management continues to collect artifacts and add to the exhibits. One gallery showcases contemporary patient art; in the basement, you can examine cars customized by teams of patients, or glimpse a functioning morgue.

Update 2014: The museum is no longer affiliated with the State of Missouri and is part of the St. Joseph Museum. It continues to operate in an building adjacent to the prison. George Glore died in 2010; Scott Clark is now the knowledgeable curator. "Interpretive Planner" Sara Wilson, hired in 2013, has worked to make the museum a little more colorful and less creepy.

Glore Psychiatric Museum

3408 Frederick Ave., St. Joseph, MO
I-29 exit 47 (Frederick Ave.) Head west about a mile. After 36th St. you'll see the Glore sign and building on the left. Be careful not to drive into the entrance for the prison next door -- they can be a little jumpy.
M-Sa 10-5, Su 1-5 (Call to verify)
Adults $6. Not recommended for children under 15.
RA Rates:
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