More displays reveal several former patients’ unique disabilities. In one glass case is an arrangement of more than 1,400 metal objects, including nails, screws, pins, bottle caps, bolts and buttons swallowed over the years by a woman who was discovered eating a tasty nail in 1929. Though this patient with a compulsive need to swallow metal objects obviously survived the effects of the metal in her stomach, she died on the operating table, when the objects were removed.
The second floor of the Glore Psychiatric Museum displays many exhibits of former patients’ artwork and crafts, which includes everything from a few fine paintings to embroidery, and ceramic items that look very much like kindergarten displays.
Another display shows a television set stuffed with hundreds of letters and notes written by one of its patients. Evidently, in 1971 a male patient was seen inserting a piece of folded paper into the working television and the hospital’s electrician was called. When the back was removed from the set, more than 525 folded notes and letters were found that included the writings of the delusional patient.
Yet another exhibit features more than 100,000 cigarette packages that a former patient collected, believing that he might redeem them for a new wheelchair for his ward. When the hospital discovered his ambition, they purchased a wheelchair for the facility and dedicated it in his name in 1969.
Around the block from the museum, on what was once the southeast corner of the hospital campus, is the old asylum cemetery. A monument sits here next to a large field, with the “new” prison visible behind the trees. The first burial was made here on December 12, 1874, and the last burial in October 1949. For us, this sad cemetery was as disturbing as the museum itself, as the majority of its tiny markers identify nothing more than an anonymous number upon their face. Of the hundreds of people that once passed through the old asylum and died here, there is not a name nor a date to identify these faceless “victims.” Though the cemetery allegedly has more than 2,000 bodies within its midst, no more than several hundred headstones are in the old graveyard.
For many years Missouri’s state hospital cemeteries were neglected by hospital administrators. In fact, in the 1960s, cemetery headstones were ordered to be pushed over and buried, as mowing around them was considered too costly.
Generally, when a relative was brought to the hospital for admission, the family was usually told to bring the clothes they wanted the patient to be buried in, because chances were. that he or she would never leave the hospital. Sadly, many of the patients at the hospital never had a single visitor, as family members were too embarrassed or ashamed. Many died lonely and unclaimed when their families could not be located.
Today, the cemetery has been mostly restored, though several of the markers lay crumbling. All but a very few are unmarked. Even the nicest monument in the old graveyard, that of a woman named Ellen Ross, 1816-1865 has been vandalized. The name and date are barely legible and something is missing from the top of the headstone. Who was Ellen Ross? Who was Number 58 who lies almost obscured in the bank of the creek bed? As in life, these poor souls, have seemingly been forgotten.
Glore’s Psychiatric Museum has been featured on the popular television program, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”
Glore Psychiatric Museum
3408 Frederick Avenue
St Joseph, Missouri 64506
Missouri (main page)