For a unique museum visit, check out the Glore Psychiatric Museum in Saint Joseph, Missouri.

We stopped by the museum as we drove our RV across the country. It made for a fascinating rest stop and educational experience in an old psychiatric museum.

The original State Lunatic Asylum No. 2 opened in 1874 and had 25 mental health patients.

The resulting museum is considered by many to be the largest exhibition. It explains the evolution of mental health care in the United States.

Unusual Museum

The Glore Psychiatric Museum has been recognized as “One of the 50 most unusual museums in the country.” After our visit, we’d definitely agree.

But “unusual” is a good thing. For example, check out the details of our visit to the Museum of Clean in Idaho or the Museum of the Modern Housecat outside of Asheville, North Carolina.

The award-winning museum chronicles the 130-year history of Missouri’s state mental hospital. Visitors start with a short video that explains the history of mental health treatment.

State Lunatic Asylum plaque at Glore Psychiatric Museum
State Lunatic Asylum

One thing that really helped put the museum displays in context is the explanation.

Many of the “medical” treatments on display in the museum may seem harsh and completely inane by today’s medical standards.

The doctors and nurses of the early years of mental health treatment were just doing what they thought was best to help the patient.

Barbie doll display in mental hospital
Patient-designed display of life in the state mental hospital, including Barbie in a straight-jacket

The mental health medical field has progressed significantly since many of the early treatments. (Here’s looking at you “Bath of Surprise!”) But the treatments were conducted on mental health patients prior to doctors and nurses knowing any better.

They were honestly trying to do what they thought was best for the patients.

These seem cruel by today’s standards. But who’s to say that in 100 years, a museum may display today’s mental health treatments with the same type of wonder as to what the medical field was thinking?

After watching the video, visitors go through several floors of museum exhibits, including surgical tools, seemingly bizarre medical equipment, patient artwork, and more.

Glore Psychiatric Museum Displays

The museum has many interesting displays, including the several profiled here. Some were used in the state psychiatric museum, but others were in use before the museum’s time.

Bath of Surprise

For example, the “Bath of Surprise” was a 17th century device for calming disturbed mental patients.

The patient was dropped suddenly through a trap door into a tub of cold water.

The thinking of the time was that this shock would break the chain of delusional ideas patients exhibited.

It also was used because it caused fear in patients who were “stubbornly opposed to the use of medications or determined not to submit to rules established for the common good.”

Bath of Surprise at Glore Psychiatric Museum
Bath of Surprise


Another unique mental health treatment was the use of blistering in the 17th century to help cure hysteria in female patients.

Also known as cauterization, the prevailing thought at the time was that hysteria in women was caused by a misalignment or wandering of the uterus.

To fix the wandering uterus, the female patient was burned on the forehead with a red-hot iron. Ouch.

Blistering mental patient treatment
Blistering mental patient treatment
Blistering of female mental patients
Blistering of female mental patients

The Lunatic Box

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the lunatic box was used to help calm mental patients.

The patient was placed into the box (sometimes referred to as the English booth, the coffin, or the clock case) and had to remain in a standing position until he or she became calm.

To add to the treatment, the opening over the face area in the box could also be covered up, thereby leaving the patient in total darkness.

The Lunatic Box at Glore Psychiatric Museum
The Lunatic Box

The patient was typically left in the lunatic box for extended periods of time.

He or she would be fed a meager diet of gruel or gravy and would have to stand in his or her own waste.

To add to the discomfort, the patient would have to sleep either standing up or in some undoubtedly uncomfortable position.

Blood Letting

Another interesting practice on display at the Glore Psychiatric Museum is blood letting.

Blood letting of medical patients is a practice that continued into the 19th century.

To “let” blood, medical professionals of the time used either a special knife, cupping devices, or leeches.

The patient was bled frequently in order to rid them of the impurities contributing to their mental disorder that were thought to be present in their bloodstream.

After extensive bleeding, the patient was thought to be improved due to their weakened position and inability to resist.

Blood letting display made with dolls at Glore Psychiatric Museum
Blood letting

Tranquilizer Chair

The tranquilizer chair was developed by the “father of psychiatry in the United States” Benjamin Rush.

Developed in the 18th century, a mental health patient could be strapped to the tranquilizer chair until he or she became calm.

The chair held the patient’s arms, legs, body, and head in a state of total immobility, which was intended to lower the patient’s pulse and relax the muscles.

Tranquilizer chair at Glore Psychiatric Museum
Tranquilizer chair

While the patient was confined to the chair, Dr. Rush would perform various treatments, such as bloodletting or placing the patient’s feet in scalding hot water while ice was applied to his or her head.

Hallaran’s Swing

In 1818, Dr. Hallaran was a physician in Ireland who developed a new version of “the swing” to treat mental patients.

In this revolving swing, the patient sat in the swing and was spun at the rate of 40 to 100 turns per minute.

Centrifugal force forced blood to the patient’s brain which caused intense anxiety, false sensations, fear of suffocation, nausea, vertigo, vomiting, and more. Patients were put in either a seated or laying down position.

Patients in either a seated or laying down position in Hallaran's Swing
Patients in either a seated or laying down position in the swing
The Whirling cage
The Swing

The medical thinking at the time was that the swing’s use would help delirious, melancholic, obstinate, and uncooperative mental patients to train them to be obedient to prescribed rules of the time.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

As the mental health field progressed, researchers looked for new and improved ways to understand and treat mental health patients.

At the University of Iowa, British born medical engineer Harold Shipton served as one of the pioneers of the electroencephalogram (EEG) field and its use in mental health.

Shipton believed that the study of small electrical changes in brain activity would aid in understanding of brain function.

EEG patient display at Glore Psychiatric Museum
EEG patient

Shipton made an astute observation about our understanding of the brain.

In 1975, he wrote, “to understand the functioning of the brain is perhaps the ultimate human challenge. It could be said that the brain is the only system complex enough to ponder its complexity.”

Early Tranquilizers vs Modern Tranquilizers

The Glore Psychiatric Museum makes an excellent point about tranquilizers with its images of early tranquilizers vs modern day tranquilizers.

In earlier times in psychiatric treatment, tranquilizers took the form of handmade clubs, which were used at the St. Joseph State Hospital as recently as 1950. Nowadays, however, tranquilizers take the convenient pill form.

Early tranquilizers were handmade clubs
Early tranquilizers
Modern tranquilizers are pills
Modern tranquilizers

Location of the Glore Psychiatric Museum

The Glore Pyschiatric Museum is conveniently located near Highway 29 just north of Kansas City.

It’s in Missouri, but very near the border with Kansas.

If you’re roadtripping in the area, it’s an easy stopover point.

The museum has plenty of parking spaces and areas to turn around for large RVs. It even has designated parking for large RVs and buses.


The Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph made for an excellent stopover area while RV’ing across the country.

We spent several hours at the museum and it was a great place to stretch our legs while learning about how far the mental health field has progressed in the United States.

There’s plenty of RV parking and the museum is very easy to get to near the highway on the border with Kansas and Missouri.