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Museum Celebrates Scientific Progress, Accepts 'Creepy' Reputation

The Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph walks visitors through the complex, and sometimes disturbing, history of how we treat mental illness.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) It's a walk through time, exploring how we tried to understand what goes on inside our heads.

And if you ask nicely, they'll give you a guided tour.

Jordan Timm is a nursing student from Washburn University - he is visiting the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph.

"I'm here as a requirement for my mental health class, to see how the field of mental health has evolved over the last century or two."

The museum is inside what was once part of the hospital.

On display here are examples of restraints for the mentally ill, or treatments like electric shock therapy.

"It's odd that this is what was thought of as therapeutic back in the day," Timm said.

Kathy Reno, who works public relations for the St. Joseph Museums, explains some of the more archaic practices: "Some of the things they used to do that they don't do now - there was a lot of trial and error.  There's nothing particularly unique about our hospital.  What we were doing was standard across the country."

When you see the chair where lobotomies were performed, or the lab for water treatments, you understand how far we've come in our understanding for mental health.

"They weren't really looking at why people behaved the way they did," Reno said.  "They were just trying to get them to snap out of it.  Then when they began to look at why people behave the way they do we start making great strides."

This is also a place that features an exhibit on solitary confinement, and a woman being burned at the stake for witchcraft.

So there's a reputation for the Glore Museum to be haunted, or even creepy.

"A certain amount of that can't be avoided.  Is that the image we court?  Definitely not!  George Glore's goal was to reduce the stigmas associated with mental illness for patients and their families, and to tell the story of this hospital, which used to be one of St. Joseph's largest employers.  Do I realize there's a certain fear factor?  Definitely."

For museum curators, the challenge is balancing the creepy nature of the history here, while celebrating all the scientific progress that really took place.
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