The Bad Taste Tour Goes to the Looney Bin
By Cash Peters, 5/25/2001
So there I was in St. Joseph, Missouri, traveling savvily, as we're told to do on this show, when I came across an amazing place...
Taped Voice on Speaker: "Thank you for visiting the Glore Psychiatric Museum..."The Glore Psychiatric Museum. It's free to get in - then again, you're thinking, who the hell would pay? True - but once inside, it's very educational. I mean, these days it's considered quite chic to be out of your mind, but years ago, they used to lock you up for it...forever.
Scott: This hospital is not a dead end. It used to be, if you dropped somebody off at our front door. We'd say, 'bring them in the clothes you want them buried in.' We have a cemetery in the grounds with 1753 graves in it. A lot of people did not leave here."That's Scott Clark, the curator. Basically, the museum consists of four floors of displays, including old medical instruments, vehicles, rocking chairs, and a collection of crutches that must be the envy of crutch-colletors everywhere. May years ago the hospital was completely self-sufficient. They grew their own vegetables, made all their own strait jackets...they're very resourceful, and many patients are quite talented. In fact, Scott has some wonderful paintings on display, done by people who hear voices...
Scott: "One of the patients I worked with when I first came here was so schitzophrenic that he couldn't get dressed. We'd lay out his clothes on the bed and we'd say, okay, take about an hour. And I'd come back in ian hour, and he'd still be standing in the same spot. The voices would not allow him to get dressed. But he could paint. The cotton-picker really could paint. We've got some of his stuff on display here. Why would his right brain be able to produce such wonderful works of art and yet he couldn't get dressed?"
Cash: "I used to live with a schitzophrenic...why are you laughing? How funny is that? And she used to come after me with a knife. Mind you, who doesn't? Half the people at the studio do. But she came after me because the voices told her to."
Scott: "The fact that you can recognize it is neat, and that's what we do...we want people to understand that there's a lot of people out there...they go to work, they do a job, they get married...and yet they're right on the edge."And if you're wondering what schitzophrenia is, imagine listening to public radio for 48 hours without a break...it's a bit like that. But it's not just schitzophrenics the old hospital had to deal with.
Scott: "People have stood in the garden thinking they were plants, waiting for their turn to be watered. it's not quite that bad now."
Recording on Speaker: "In 1929, a female patient was seen swallowing various items...x-rays proved inconclusice. Surgeons operated and found 1446 things in her stomach...salt-shaker lids, safety pins, thimbles. She died during surgery."I'm not surprised. By the way, they have those litle speaker things all over the place. THe treatments for mental illness, though, werre very cruel...slapping, beating with sticks, locking patients in steel cages. Nothing was considered too ridiculous. What's quite funny is - in order to reenact such brutal treatments, the museum uses shop-window mannequins, so they're elegant, they're stylish, and they're beautifully dressed.
Scott: "This steel cage was actually used. This is one of the real pieces we have here. From 100 years ago, it's 3x6 feet."
Cash: "The dummy's very well dressed."
Scott: "We wanted him to be comfortable."
Cash: "These people were obviously arrested in Saks Fifth Avenue and brought straight here."
Scott: "We keep looking for some boots, but we just can't find boots for him."
Speaker: "Did you know that St. Joseph was the first fire department in the world to have poles for firemen to slide down...?"That's enough speaker talk. And that's the tour really. You wander from room to rooma nd stare at a bunch of shop window mannequins in varying states of peril. In dungeons, in boxes...
Cash: "Oh, there's a woman tied to a post."
Scott: "Witchcraft was one of the leading contenders...if you were a witch, you were demonic and therefore you were crazy."Makes you think. If they did that to mannequins all those years ago, imagine what they did to real people. But as a special treat, you also get to visit the hospital morgue...
Cash: "So what are the chances of you doing a quick autopsy on me now?"
Scott: "I don't have the tools on me."
Cash: "I've got a penknife."
Scott: "That might work..."Poor guy, I practically terrorized him. But Scott is brilliant. And if you ask nicely, he'll take you into a long, dark, wet, echoey corridor that connects the museum to the psychiatric prison next door...
Cash: "S0 we're going into a secret passage. is it hidden?"
Scott: "No...not if you know what you're looking for..."
Cash: "Ewww...The sun'll come out...tomorrow..."I know, I should be on Broadway. You're not the first person to say that. Anyway, it's all very grim, I have to say. Although Scott's enthusiasm was infectious and I quickly got into it.
Cash: "Can we set fire to the witch?"
Cash: "Awwww, nobody will notice. Burn burn burn."
Scott: "Any time a photographer comes through, this is what he concentrates on, because she looks so pathetic."She does. All in all, though, the Glore Psychiatric Museum is great. Whether it's crutches you're interested in, or people who think they're plants, or you just want to see a bunch of mannequins being beaten with sticks, this place is for you.
Speaker: "Again, thanks for stopping by the GLore Psychiatric Museum."No problem. Oh, and if you do go, just mention my name and...er...no, on second thoughts, don't. In St. Joseph, Missouri, I'm Cash Peters for the Savvy Traveler.
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