Travel

St. Joe: a destination for museums from eclectic to mainstream

The Glore Psychiatric Museum is an unusual museum you can visit in St. Joseph, Missouri.
The Glore Psychiatric Museum is an unusual museum you can visit in St. Joseph, Missouri. Eagle correspondent

Fifty years ago, an occupational therapist at State Hospital No. 2 in St. Joseph, Missouri, had his patients create displays for a hospital open house as a way to help them learn new skills and channel their energies into productive activities.

These exhibits told the story of early treatments for mental health disorders at what had originally been called State Lunatic Asylum No. 2 and showed treatment devices from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

This was the start what would eventually be called Glore Psychiatric Museum, named in honor of that therapist, George Glore. Today, the collection has grown to 10,000 items on four floors of exhibits and often makes shorts lists of the most unusual museums in America.

Less than a four-hour drive from Wichita, the Glore Psychiatric Museum had been on my must-see list for awhile. The Glore alone is worth the trip, but I was happily surprised to find so many museums in this city of 90,000 about 50 miles north of downtown Kansas City.

St. Joe has 13 museums, some focused yet mesmerizing, like the Walter Cronkite Memorial, and others broad, like the Patee House, where you can explore much of the city’s history including its most famous ties: the start of the Pony Express and the end of Jesse James.

The diversity of museums is excellent because the Glore Psychiatric Museum is not for everyone. I found it poignant with a side of eerie, though the creepiness factor is mostly attributed to the faceless mannequins used in several exhibits.

While exploring the museum, you’re wandering the halls and rooms of the former hospital medical, surgical and admitting unit. Exhibits illustrate the history and progress of mental health treatments as well as the history of the hospital, from its 1874 opening through its pinnacle of 3,000 patients to 1997, when it stopped housing patients.

This 1968 building sits right outside the fence of the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center that opened on the old asylum campus in 1999. The closest you get to the prison grounds is a section of 1930s tunnel once used to travel between campus buildings. The tunnel walls are covered with murals painted by patients between 1988 and 1990.

The original exhibits created by Glore’s patients are still in the collection along with items donated from across the country. The descriptions, photographs and devices of early treatments are on display, offering glimpses into what now seem like barbaric actions: hydrotherapy involving hours of exposure to ice cold water or scalding hot water, insulin shock therapy, electroshock therapy, use of restraints and lobotomies.

It’s hard to forget the grainy photograph of a guest physician executing one of 10 ice pick lobotomies he performed in three hours at the hospital that day in 1949. Another unforgettable exhibit shows the contents of a patient’s stomach who suffered from a disorder involving eating of substances that have no nutritional value. The 1,446 objects arranged in a circular pattern include nails, buttons, thimbles and safety pins among other items.

Patient artwork, including pottery, paintings and needlework, show how patients faced their daily challenges and expressed themselves. One patient wrote on 525 pieces of paper and slipped them into the back of his television set: the exhibit shows some were letters and some diary entries.

In honor of the museum’s 50th anniversary, the temporary exhibit area is displaying “Thinking About Thinking” for the remainder of the year. It features several original interviews with Glore, who died in 2010, and some elements about how the idea and collection developed and its original location.

Glore Psychiatric Museum is open daily and admission is $6 adults, $5 seniors, $4 students.

If you go to St. Joseph to see full solar eclipse Aug. 21, here are three attractions and two restaurants that you should’t miss.

Other St. Joseph museums

Within the same complex that houses the Glore Psychiatric Museum are three other museums operated by Saint Joseph Museums: The Black Archives Museum, Doll Museum and St. Joseph Museum, which includes a large collection of American Indian artifacts and a World War I exhibit. Admission to all four museums is included in one ticket; $6 adults, $5 seniors, $4 students. Open daily, stjosephmuseum.org for more information.

Walter Cronkite Memorial: Opened in 2003, this small museum is free and located in the Spratt Hall Atrium at Missouri Western State University. The famed news anchor was born in St. Joe, and this memorial chronicles his life, from childhood to his passion for NASA. Most of the exhibits focus on his time at the anchor desk. The interactive displays are excellent. I especially enjoyed the towering video wall that allows you to watch some of Cronkite’s broadcasts of famous events, from the assassination of JFK to the Beatles phenomena. It’s also fun to sit in a replica of his late 1960s to early 1970s CBS newsroom, put on a pair of his distinctive glasses and have your photo taken behind the news desk. It’s open daily; see waltercronkitememorial.org for more information.

Patee House Museum: The Patee House was built as a luxury hotel in 1858 and a section of the first floor became the headquarters for the Pony Express in 1860. After decades of housing other businesses, avoiding demolition in the 1960s and becoming the sole National Historic Landmark in St. Joseph, the building’s first two floors are now home to a museum that covers communication, transportation and other interesting bits of St. Joe history. A replica of the Pony Express headquarters has returned to its original location with artifacts and placards. Legend has it that horse and rider rode right into the office to pick up the mail to start the 1,966-mile trek to California. There’s also a retired engine from the Hannibal-St. Joseph Railroad; until after the Civil War, St. Joe was the western terminus for the railroad, which is why the Pony Express started here.

Another interesting display is on the invention of Aunt Jemima pancake mix in St. Joe in 1889. You can see a copy of the original recipe handwritten by the local newspaper editor who developed it. You can also see where Jesse James lived for about 100 days before being shot and killed in the living room in 1882. The house originally sat a block north and was moved to the Patee House property in the 1970s.

Patee House Museum admission is $6 adult, $5 senior, $4 student.

The Jesse James Home Museum is a separate ticket, $4 adult, $3 senior, $2 student. Both are open daily; ponyexpressjessejames.com

Pony Express National Museum: In 1959, a portion of the abandoned Pikes Peak Stables – which held as many as 200 horses when the Pony Express started in St. Joe in 1860 – became the Pony Express National Museum. In 1993, the space was renovated to restore the remaining portion of the stables to its original size and to modernized the museum, which covers the need for, creation abd operation of and closure of the famous mail service. Admission is $6 adult, $5 senior, $3 student. Open daily; learn more at ponyexpress.org

Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art: This collection of American Art is small but packs a punch. You’ll see works by Mary Cassatt, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper and Thomas Hart Benton, among others. Part of the museum is in a historic mansion. Be sure to go downstairs to see the hidden game parlor and have lunch at the café in the former rose garden. Pro tip: don’t skip dessert here. It’s amazing. Open Tuesday through Sunday; $5 adults, $2 seniors, $1 students. Visit Albrecht-kemper.org for more information.

Historical house museums: St. Joseph is known for an extensive collection of beautiful mansions that serve as examples of the city’s late 19th-century wealth and opulence when it was known as “Queen of the River Cities.” The 1879 Wyeth Tootle Mansion with three floors, a tower and more than 40 rooms is open Fridays and Saturdays April through October. The Shakespeare Chateau Inn & Gardens is an 1885 stone mansion is open year-round for tours and overnight stays in the National Register Historic District known locally as “Millionaires’ Row.” The 1891 J.C. Wyatt House is open for tours and also serves lunch and dinner by reservation only. Two New York City transplants have renovated the house and serve delicious meals (including a decadent dessert trio) on the first floor among a Victorian setting.

A special attraction for Kansas City Chiefs fans

St. Joseph is the home of the Kansas City Chiefs training camp. The team practices on the Mosaic Training Fields on the campus of Missouri Western State University.

This year’s camp started July 26 and runs through Aug. 14. Daily practices start at either 8:15 a.m. or 9:15 a.m. and last nearly three hours. Practices are open to the public and there is no charge to attend, however parking costs $5 per vehicle per day. Autographs are available for a minimum of 10 minutes after each practice session from a select group of players.

The Chiefs also hold several special events for fans during training camp, including an alumni day on Aug. 11 and military appreciation day on Aug. 14. Schedules change and there are several dates with no practices schedule so it’s best to check stjomo.com/kcchiefs before going.

To learn about more St. Joseph museums, visit the convention and visitors bureau site at stjomo.com.

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