As we were approaching St. Joseph, MO, a city we were not too familiar with, Ruth and I discussed which attraction we would visit. We only had time for one. Ruth favored the Pony Express National Museum and I voted for Glore Psychiatric, which sounded kind of unique. I pointed out that the Pony Express lasted only 18 months while our official Missouri Travel Guide said that Glore’s displays covered 400 years of psychiatric history. We went to the Glore, and it was decidedly surreal.
The Glore Psychiatric Museum’s entry in our Guide went on to explain that its history included exhibits like the Bath of Surprise and O’Halloran’s Swing. I saw neither. “The exhibits at the Glore Psychiatric Museum illustrated how mental illness has been portrayed and treated.” Its tourist brochure further explained, “The Museum also chronicles the history of what was once known as the State Lunatic Asylum No. 2.” Surreal indeed.
At the Glore I learned about well-intentioned Dorothy Dix. In the 19th century she saw the insane in bad conditions and initiated a hospital movement to help them about 1844. Thomas Kirkbride began designing the buildings. Between 1848 and 1910 the two of them started 40 mental hospitals following his plans. The St. Joseph facility opened in 1874. Such hospitals were built all over the United States to care for the mentally ill, most often men who had been traumatized by wars, people suffering during The Depression or experiencing depression, etc.
This museum covered the history of treatments, which it claimed were always designed to help patients. Music and art therapy were mentioned with examples provided. It honestly reported that some patients did get better while others were harmed, and that our knowledge of mental illness is still very limited. I was truly horrified by a story featuring one-eyed Phineas Gage. As the result of an explosion, he had a steel rod enter his cheek and exit through the top of his head. He kind of survived. Glore’s displays explained the use of hydrotherapy, restraint, lobotomies, shock therapy, psychic pharmacology. etc. I read that during electric convulsive treatments the patient lost consciousness immediately “and had amnesia for the whole treatment procedure” and that some patients woke up “terror-stricken”. Staff rule #11 from 1907 was “Do not gossip, and mind your own business”, and #6 reminded hospital employees that a fine of $1 would result from striking a patient. I didn’t know whether to head for the exit or just cringe when I saw the tranquilizer chair. All body parts of patients in it were immobilized as a doctor performed treatments such as bloodletting by knife or leeches while the patient’s feet might be placed in a tub of scalding hot water.
The museum was founded in 1967. In 1994 the Missouri legislature provided funds for a new 108-bed hospital across the street from the Glore. Three years later the Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center was dedicated. I thought that the award-winning Glore Psychiatric Museum was weirdly fascinating, but Ruth later claimed that she wished she had gone to the Pony Express National Museum instead.
ps The first display asked who should care for the mentally ill, and the glass with the largest number of sticks was the Federal Government’s.