"Well, of course you would have to start the tour with dead people. I swear, you girls are always trying to psych me out.”
Honestly, we weren’t. Today we just happened to start in the basement of the Glore Psychiatric Museum in St. Joseph, MO. And yes, it was indeed the morgue. But come to think of it, that IS where it’s located in most hospitals. While it wasn’t done with the purpose of making Lou’s skin crawl, it was a little enjoyable to see the role reversal. Usually it’s OUR nerves that become frayed when sightseeing together.
The Glore Museum is an attraction on Roadside America that is just a hop, skip and longish car ride with Lou, from home. It has an amazing history of the treatment of mental illness, and of the State Lunatic Asylum that was located here.
Part of the museum is dedicated to the historic treatment of mental illness, not just things that took place at Glore. The exhibit includes racks, cages, boxes, enclosed “gerbil wheel” devices, etc., all expressly intended to calm the crazed. When we got to the “Bath of Surprise” Lou started laughing, and couldn’t stop. The information plackard read, “The Bath of Surprise was a 17th Century device for calming disturbed patients. The patient was dropped suddenly through a trap door and into a tub of cold water.” Lou guffawed in a totally inappropriate manner and told the story about the time she threw ice cold water over the shower curtain on her husband, Al. “I heard it would be a good practical joke. I didn’t realize he would bolt out of the trailer buck naked screaming and yelling down the road. Didn’t calm him down at all (she said with a twinkle in her eye). Too bad they didn’t have the interweb then.”
The next exhibit explained how hysteria in women was believed to have been caused by a uterus out of alignment, or a “wandering uterus.” Symptoms included a desire for education and a spoken opinion, among others. This evoked an expletive-laced commentary from Lou as she stuck out her belly and continued through the exhibit LOUDLY pretending to be drawn this way and that, as if pulled by some invisible force. For once we were in complete agreement with Lou. We cheered both her outrage and her reenactment of the dangerous days of “Uteri Gone Astray.”
On the 3rd floor there is an interesting display of art created by patients that had lived at Glore. The collection included a variety of items including an incredible embroidered piece by a mute schizophrenic woman, many amazing clay pieces, and this sculpture, on which the patient wrote different phrases before its assembly. “I wonder what type of glue they used here. I’ve been trying to make an art car myself, you know. I have 782 bottle caps I’m glueing to the trunk of Al’s car. It makes a real statement.”
"WHAT IS THIS? WHAT’S A CONDUCT-O-METER??" While we can’t answer that, we feel certain that Lou would peg the meter at one end or the other. Whichever is most indicative of the mood of her "wandering uterus."
The lunatic asylum included a dental office. Lou wanted to skip by that room really fast and we happen to know why. The last time she was at the dentist they called us to come and pick her up early. Apparently when the dentist inadvertently hit a nerve she “accidentally” kicked him across the room with her orthotic clogs. “I don’t really see what all the fuss is about,” Lou said as we loaded her into the car, “it was just a knee-jerk reaction. I had the knee, and he was the jerk.”
As we left the museum we were all grateful for advances in the treatment of mental illness. The memorable afternoon of a bawdy but entertaining Lou made both of us thankful that snarky, ill-tempered, loud-mouthed, and opinionated are not symptoms recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).
Eh, that’s probably just the uterus talking…