Lobotomies and Hamster Wheels

Glore Psychiatric Hospital in St. Joseph, MO appears in Patricia Schultz’s New York Times Bestseller 1,000 Things to See Before You Die, and I was admittedly quite excited, though Victoria would have skipped it all together if she could.

The curved driveway led us to a bundle of ominous grey buildings. Victoria was seriously creeped out just sitting in the parking lot. I don’t blame her. The cold gray façades alone brought back memories of the first time I saw the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Even more frightening… I don’t even think it was intentional.

We followed the signs inside to the Glore Museum. The less-than-helpful high school cashier instructed us that we were in main hospital, first floor, and the exhibits were on the basement, second and third floors. She was no Nurse Ratched, but she probably could’ve been slightly more interested in our visit.

So naturally, we almost ran down the laminate steps to the basement. The halls were lined with antiques, and we almost skipped one of the most interesting and disconcerting exhibits -the hospital’s former morgue, hidden just around the corner . This museum went all out with the “creep”, opening just one of the four corpse holds, but being sure to position a covered “body” just outside its grasp.

Here’s Victoria begging to get us heck out of there. But, c’mon Vic, we just started.

We then headed up to the second floor, where we read the legend of the lobotomy.

On September 13, 1848, Phineas Gage, foreman for a railroad construction crew, was blasting rock for a road bed. Gage was responsible for placing the powder, sand and fuse into the hole with a long iron rod, one and a fourth inches in diameter and three feet long. The rod was shot through his head and landed 80 feet away.

Remarkably, he was still able to talk within minutes, completed his timesheet to get paid and rode to the local physician. The iron rod went through his jaw and completely out the top of his head. He had a long recovery and lived a dozen years after the accident. The part scientist found so interesting was that Gage experienced a radical personality change. This purportedly led to decades of dangerous invasive brain surgery to “cure” everything from depression to schizophrenia (though few researchers have found a direct connection between this story and later scientific research.)

The third floor was dedicated to history’s oddest, and sometimes curiously horrific treatments for mental illness. In one corner is a replica of a man-sized hamster wheel used in medieval times to exhaust the mentally ill. Patients were forced to run 24-36 hours straight in the contraption. In another corner was “the surprise tank” where patients were dropped from a trap door into a freezing pool of water to “shock” them into health. This “treatment” often led to broken bones, drownings and hypothermia.

While I wouldn’t list this in my top 1000 things to see, I would definitely refer it to friends visiting Missouri.

Learn more here.