7.31.2008

Better Living Through Science

Nothing else I did on Wednesday seems worth mentioning when compared to the Glore Psychiatric Museum, so let's just get right to it, shall we? My dear and perceptive friend Beverly had mentioned the Glore Psychiatric Museum to me while I was planning my trip and as soon as I heard about it I added it to the very short list of places I absolutely had to go, and boy howdy am I ever glad I did!

This is Dr. Glore who having worked in the mental health field and witnessed the horrors of the system first hand, was determined to preserve and document some of the outlandish and even horrific attempts that have been made over the centuries to "cure" mental "illness." Plus, he liked aviator style glasses.
.
The Glore is a prize specimen of a rapidly dwindling breed: a museum with character, one you can tell was fashioned by real people and not just some team of fancy Noo-York curator types making illuminated wall labels. We're talking rampant use of early 60s-era manequins, bad wigs, Ken doll dioramas and fancy special effects like using cellophane to represent water. And the real beauty of it (to me at least) is that because the Glore has so much soul, it's much more compelling and effective at getting its story across than a glossy high dollar interactive exhibit would be.
.

The museum occupies several old wards on the grounds of the St. Joseph State Hospital in Missouri. There are three floors packed full of fascinating exhibits. It was so cool to be able to take a gander at ancient technological devices I'd only read about previously, like the iconic fever cabinet or the much feared ECT (shock therapy) unit. This gal, who is killing some time in the fever cabinet, seems to have hair that holds up pretty well to all the heat and sweating - and that's the exact reason to invest in a good haircut my friends.
A good number of the items on display had been in actual use at the St. Joseph Hospital over the years, but there was also a room that served as a sort of chamber of mental horrors, displaying replicas of restraint and attention getting devices that had been used in the 17th and 18th centuries to treat patients. There were coffin sized metal and wood cages, a huge turning device that spun a patient around until they became hysterical, and even a 10 foot high enclosed wheel that a patient would be placed in for punishment. If the patient moved at all, the wheel would turn and force the patient to keep moving in that direction to stay upright (see photo of suffering Ash Blonde below - the wheel is in the background). The Salem Witch trials were of course examined thoroughly (very popular with the tourists), with a very convincing manequin evoking the horror and beauty of being burned at the stake ALIVE! I had to ask myself when I saw her, "Where on earth did she find a hairdresser that could do a shag haircut in the 1600s?"


This below display is subtle, but hilarious. The text reads, "Replicas of 18th-19th century leech storage jars". What cracks me up is that when you look at the vessels, you can just imagine some craft class at the St. Jo Community Center where the girls got together and made replica leech jars for the museum. Fancy gold lettering, even! Faux leech jars. How can anyone possibly get bored with this planet?


Freezing water seems to have been a popular tool of disruption through the ages, and there are numerous displays depicting icy dousings. This gal had to sit in a tub of cold latex and then get saran wrap draped over her head to get her attention. At least her nails look good.

It was clear the little hussy seen below needed to be tamed - just look at that eye make up! You know she was trouble from the get go!

One of the most visceral (pun fully intended) exhibits at the museum is a large (3 foot by 3 foot) mandala of rusty screws and bolts and buttons and safety pins and earrings - all manner of oddments. The business-like recorded voice that crackles from a device that looks a lot like a 60s alarm clock informs you that each and every item in the display (which has been lovingly sewn into a festive sunflower like shape) was removed from the stomach of a female patient who was a chronic swallower. I could be more graphic than that, but trust me, it's not in your best interest. Just enjoy the nice collage. A dutifully typed listing of each of the items removed from the woman's stomach appears in the case along with a unpleasantly mysterious substance which I'm sure at one time was glue but after many years of aging unfortunately more resembles the actual contents of this deceased woman's stomach. "The patient died during surgery" the voice reports unflinchingly. My guess is the poor woman couldn't face her favorite aunt after the whereabouts of her missing earrings had finally been determined.

The third floor of the museum houses the inmate art display and has quite a few fascinating items. My favorite was a board covered with some of the crazy scribblings of a man who write them and then quietly slip them into the back of the dayroom t.v. When his secret was finally discovered, there were 525 scraps filled with lunatic ravings, packed into the cabinet of the television. He sure seemed to admire Nixon and Agnew too.


After I was satisfied that I'd seen every square inch of the museum (I called Mark three times during my tour to report on things I'd discovered) I stopped by the gift shop, picked up a souvenir brain for Mark, and left with a deep sense of satisfaction at having found something I often long for, but seldom get to enjoy.
.

How many days will I be allowed to dwell in this place of roadtrip nirvana?

2 comments:

dave said...

For chilly hotel room nights
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrAn1MMU4aI&feature=related
Have a great time. I love the blog!

ChrisB said...

Fact is always stranger than fiction. Hard to believe that seemingly intelligent people would devise such methods of torture in the name of cure.

Disturbing as this was the train wreck quality forced me to look.
C-