St. Joseph. Jesse James died here. And the single most unsettling image–of a vengeful John Brown–hangs in the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art. But no unsettling emotion compared to the final stop on my self-guided tour. The first thing I saw set the mood: 1,446 items swallowed by a patient. Nails and screws, bolts and bobby pins and thimbles. Yes, the patient eventually died of his self-inflicted torment. The Glore Psychiatric Museum is America’s most straightforward presentation of the relics of past treatment of the mentally ill. At once disturbing and enlightening, the museum probes the dark recesses of imagination. Down the hall is a human treadmill resembling a giant gerbil wheel made of wood, with no windows. Near the tranquilizer chair was a revolving swing, a box that swiveled up to 100 revolutions per minute, causing anxiety and vertigo, not to mention release of bodily fluids. One after another, the displays showed evidence of man’s inhumanity to man: a pillory, a contraption called Bedlam, and several coffin-like cages with names like the Utica crib and the lunatic box. There’s even a boob tube version of a message in a bottle: 525 notes scribbled secretly and stuffed into the back of a television set by a resident who believed his mind was trapped in a pair of boxcars outside.
The Glore sits in a real-life setting, the former St. Joseph Psychiatric Hospital. Its rooms are stark, cold and clinical, its doors reinforced, foreboding. The basement morgue peels away your defenses that this is just a representation. This stuff is real.
I asked Kathy Reno about the future of the Glore. She’s the public relations person for Saint Joseph Museums, Inc., the guts behind the Glore and three sister museums. “We’ve heard from several museum consultants,” she said. “Some suggest cosmetic facelifts, like, ‘Turn the entrance into a walk inside the brain.'” I sensed that she wasn’t sold on the facelift idea. Neither am I. Let these stark walls speak. For the former residents of this house of horrors, the end was always near.
Then I asked her, “What’s the most unique response you’ve heard from visitors to the Glore?” She thought for a moment. “One lady said, ‘Why didn’t the doctors try these methods on themselves?'”
–from Souls Along The Road
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