St. Joe’s Glore Museum takes look at history of mental illness treatment

Glore Museum

What do you think of when someone says “mental institution?” “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest?” Scary movies?

The Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph takes a fair look at the history of Missouri’s mental institutions and the history of treatment.

I was excited to visit the museum. Some will say Lisa looked forward to it more, with the possibility of having me committed.

The museum is located in a building on the grounds of the old Missouri state mental hospital. The original building is kind of contained by fences and security as part of a state prison. Rest assured visitors are safe to visit the museum.

An old nurse uniform
An old nurse uniform

The Glore is part of the St. Joseph Museums complex, which is also home to the Black Archives and the St. Joseph Museum. It’s an interesting historical area – including exhibits on Native American history, the Civil War and a doll exhibit.

The Glore Museum separates the exhibits based on mental illness and treatments.

One patient consumed more than 1,400 pieces of metal, such as nails and safety pins. She had a condition where she rejected food, but wanted metal objects. She required surgery to remove the items. Unfortunately, she did not survive.

Glore Museum

A section on lobotomies explores the pros and cons of the treatment. The surgical procedure of removing or scrapping connections to the prefrontal cortex of a person’s brain was a popular psychosurgery process during a 20-year period (1940s-50s). By 1951, the United States had about 20,000 lobotomies performed.

Why would someone have a lobotomy? Apparently, if a young person was moody or difficult to control, they could be deemed mentally ill and a lobotomy would help bring them under control. It was a controversial process.

Glore Museum

As medicine became available to handle mental illness issues, the need for lobotomies faded.

Anyone remember seeing jack Nicholson in a straight jacket in “Cuckoo..?” this form of restraint was common back in the day. The museum examines the various types of restraints.

Glore Museum

Electroshock therapy was a possible treatment for a “mentally ill” person.

Glore Museum

In fact, some of the “treatments” used throughout history include burning a person at the stake if they were accused of being a witch. Witchcraft as a mental illness? Apparently.

How about creating a gerbil-style treadmill wheel for patients to work off excess energy?

'Witch" to be burned. In the background is the human gerbil-style treadmill.
‘Witch” to be burned. In the background is the human gerbil-style treadmill.

A cold bath could help a patient with their issues. The person would sit in a tub of cold water while a staff member sprayed them with more water.

Glore Museum

Sports fans may know what I mean when I refer to “Bedlam.” It’s the nickname for the annual Oklahoma-Oklahoma State football game. In reality, it was a “treatment” that resulted in a patient being chained to a wall in one of three positions – laying down, sitting or standing. The display showed a person laying down, chained to the wall in a locked room. The window allows passersby to check him out.

Glore Museum

I think I would have gone berserk with Bedlam.

Another method of treatment for patients was the rocking chair. If patients weren’t helping in the hospital’s fields or doing other tasks, they were assigned to sit in rocking chairs, separated enough from other people in hallways. The idea was to control their socialization with other patients.

I don't think you can buy Mental Hospital Barbie in a store.
I don’t think you can buy Mental Hospital Barbie in a store.

One patient stored more than 500 letters in the back of a television set. It was noticed by staff. Some of the letters and notes are displayed on the wall behind the TV.

Glore Museum

Some patients used artwork as part of their therapy. The museum has several paintings and drawings on display.

Patients, who could work, did so around the hospital grounds. Some worked in the kitchen, where thousands of potatoes were peeled every day. Others worked around the hospital, as well as on the grounds.


The institution's kitchen
The institution’s kitchen

The hospital had gardens. Patients worked the fields to help raise crops for use in the kitchen.

Some patients were seamstresses. They would create clothing goods to sell.

Weaving goods
Weaving goods

The museum offers a look at the treatment of young kids during the late 20th century. A youth institution was closed in the early 1980s due to budget cuts. Funds were raised and later it reopened as a school for troubled youth.

Glore Museum

As a project, the kids worked on donated automobiles. They decked them out. They were entered into car shows.

Glore Museum

Perhaps the most eerie part of the tour is the morgue and the autopsy room in the basement. Though not located in the original building, both rooms could scare some people. The autopsy room has a mannequin covered by a sheet on a slab. Visitors can don an examiner’s gown and pose.

Glore Museum

The Glore Psychiatric Museum should be a must-see for people visiting St. Joe. It offers a different take on museums.

FYI: I don’t think the museum would be a good idea for some young children. But, everyone knows their kids better than we do.

For more information on the Glore Museum, please visit

Disclaimer: Thanks to the St. Joseph Visitors Bureau for the complimentary tickets to the St. Joseph Museums complex. However, all opinions and views are ours.