Saint Joseph, MO

History of the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri

CJ Coombs
State Hospital for the insane, St. Joseph, MO.Source.
The story begins in 1872 when Missouri’s State Legislature approved $200,000 for the building of a Lunatic Asylum and St Joseph citizens convinced the legislature to locate it just east of their city. (Source.)

The State Lunatic Asylum No. 2

The history of the State Lunatic Asylum No. 2 in St. Joseph, Missouri is thought-provoking and the name itself is a good indicator of how much the topic of mental illness has evolved since the time the asylum opened. However, the term, lunatic, wouldn't be used today in association with patients.

The asylum opened in November 1874 east of St.Joseph. The facility had 275 beds and began with 250 patients. It was self-sufficient and grew what fed the patients. In 1879, the building suffered a fire but reopened in 1880. Back then it represented a place to send people that society didn't want.

In 1899, the asylum which resembled a fortress was renamed the St. Joseph State Hospital.

Dr. George C. Catlett, the hospital’s first Superintendent, explained that the hospital was dedicated 'to the noble work of reviving hope in the human heart and dispelling the portentous clouds that penetrate the intellects of minds diseased.' (Source.)

By the early 1950s, the number of patients grew close to 3,000. There were so many patients and not enough staff to provide the necessary care. As better options of treatment became available through the years including modern medications, downsizing occurred.

By the early 1990s, a lot of hospital patients were released back into society with the assistance of medications. In August 1994, Missouri approved a bond permitting the large asylum campus and hospital to be converted into a correctional facility.

What used to be the St. Joseph State Hospital Administration Building is now a part of a correctional facility. By July 1997, a new building was constructed across the street from the original campus and Northwest Missouri Psychiatric Rehabilitation opened with 108 beds. In that same year, Glore’s Psychiatric Museum was forced to move from the campus and relocated to a building that used to serve as a clinic for mental hospital patients. That building now sits right outside the prison fence.

George A. Glore

In 1967, a museum was started in a St. Joseph State Hospital ward. In 1968, a hospital employee, George Glore, started a collection by building life-size models of some of the old devices used for mental health treatment. To commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week, he wanted replicas going back to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries to show the history of mental health treatment devices. The officials were so impressed with his exhibits, that the idea to have a psychiatric museum was born.

The museum is named after Glore who spent over 40 years of his career employed by the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

This collection is one of many intriguing exhibits that earned the Glore Psychiatric Museum recognition as 'One of the 50 most unusual museums in the country' and mention in national publications and television programs including The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, PBS, and The Science Channel. (Source.)

Some of the museum's collections include actual equipment and full-size replicas. There are also lobotomy instruments and what was called the Tranquilizer Chair. The museum also includes items from other Missouri state hospitals.

It used to be believed that insanity was a form of arterial disease or inflammation of the brain. Dr. Benjamin Rush who was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed what was called a "tranquilizing chair" in which patients were confined. The chair was supposed to control the flow of blood toward the brain. The belief was if a motor activity was reduced, it would reduce the flow of blood going toward the brain by either force or frequency of the pulse. The chair was supposed to influence circulation which was believed to be a way to treat the insane. It didn't work.
The tranquility chair.David Becker, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The museum also includes art created by patients over time.

More displays reveal several former patients’ unique disabilities.  In one glass case is an arrangement of more than 1,400 metal objects, including nails, screws, pins, bottle caps, bolts and buttons swallowed over the years by a woman who was discovered eating a tasty nail in 1929.  Though this patient with a compulsive need to swallow metal objects obviously survived the effects of the metal in her stomach, she died on the operating table, when the objects were removed. (Source.)

The building also houses three other museums. One room contains a doll museum. There is a wing dedicated to Black American history in the area including artifacts from the Civil War era. The third is a wing dedicated to Native American history.

According to Glore, if you didn't look at the way mental illness used to be treated, then you couldn't appreciate the progress care and treatment have made. After Glore retired in the 1990s, he served as the museum's curator until he died on August 2, 2010, in St. Joseph, Missouri.

An introduction to the Glore Psychiatric Museum is featured in the below video.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author; 30 years of legal secretarial experience; BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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