The St. Joseph Museum complex is not where you'd expect to find a museum.

This hodge-podge collection of dolls, black history, Native American artifacts and exhibits on mental health fills the rooms and spills into the hallways of a building settled on the grounds of a former psychiatric hospital. It is bordered by the razor-wire fence of what is now a minimum security prison.

St. Joseph Museums includes the Glore Psychiatric Museum, the Black Archives Museum, the Society of Memories Doll Museum and the Harry L. George American Indian Collection. 

The Glore collections and the other museums inside the facility all share the same space, allowing visitors to wander through floors containing exhibits on multiple differing topics and to examine history in many different contexts.

Of these museums, the Glore is the biggest attraction. This unusual museum chronicles the history of mental health treatment and St. Joseph’s State Lunatic Asylum No. 2, attracting history buffs, asylum enthusiasts and paranormal investigators.

Some suspect the facility is haunted. But even if there are no ghosts, many still find the museum eerie.

Among the exhibits are full-sized replicas of primitive treatment devices built by hospital employee George Glore, for whom the museum is named, in 1968 for a mental health awareness initiative. These wooden cages, hamster wheels and spinning devices represent the torturous treatment people with mental illness faced throughout history.

This exhibit inspired the creation of the Glore Psychiatric Museum, which aims to help destigmatize mental illness.

Other popular displays include a work of embroidery made by a mute patient presenting her thoughts and worries in words, a television that was discovered stuffed full of never-sent letters and a collection of nails and other inedible bits and pieces found in one patient’s stomach.

Scattered throughout St. Joseph Museums are interactive displays asking visitors to consider questions raised by the exhibits and vote based on their opinions, focusing on issues like treatment methods and privacy.

Before leaving, visitors should be sure to stop by the front admissions desk and ask to see the tunnels. When it was still a psychiatric hospital, tunnels under the facility were covered in murals painted by patients as a form of therapy.

A staff member will take interested visitors to see some of these colorful underground murals depicting landscapes and surrealist scenes.

Unfortunately, the museum only has access to a sample of these murals, as some of the tunnels are located below the prison.

  • I'm currently on the graphics desk. I've also been an assistant city editor and a reporter on the community and education beats. You can reach me by email at oliviagarrett@mail.missouri.edu or on Twitter @_oliviagarrett.

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