Fortunately, you don't have to check in for an extended stay. An hour's tour through what is now the Glore Psychiatric Museum, located in the 1968 building that once served as a clinic for patients at the mental hospital, is enthralling enough to shock visitors into a much more positive frame of mind. For 125 years, the campus on the outskirts of St. Joseph, Missouri (the city grew around it), housed some of the state's most disturbed mental patients -- and, according to tour guide Scott Clark, a few mildly depressed folks who were dumped there by annoyed relatives. "They would drop off Uncle Fred and a suit to bury him in, whenever that was," he says.
At the three-story museum, a range of exhibits shows how the mental health industry has changed over the centuries, with treatments ranging from nineteenth-century dousing tanks, cages, dungeons and straitjackets to electroshock therapy in the 1940s. Most of the exhibits feature female mannequins donated from a defunct local department store, some having unspeakable things being done to them but boasting tasteful make-up and freshly combed wigs. On the second floor are examples of longtime patients' craftwork, including oils, watercolors and a pillowcase embroidered with scattered phrases uttered by an incoherent schizophrenic.
Glore Museum visitors understand how being surrounded by real lunatics jarred some patients into sanity (like Olivia de Havilland in the film The Snake Pit). Displays also reveal some patients' unique disabilities. In one glass case is an artful arrangement of the 1,446 nails, screws, bottlecaps, pins, thimbles, bolts and buttons swallowed over the years by a woman who was eventually discovered gobbling a nail in 1929. Though decades of eating safety pins and nine-penny nails did no apparent harm, the surgery to remove all the objects killed her.
At its peak of operation, in 1949, the asylum had 3,000 beds. Now it's been turned into a prison, and the newer mental-health facility across the street has only 108 beds. None of the patients are required to work in the hog barn or sweep the floors, as in the good old days. A tour of the museum (don't miss the gift shop, which still sells paintings by hospital residents) and its bizarre art and artifacts is enough to shake off a holiday-induced depression.
If it's not, you can just consider the days before morphine, when hospital staffers used a different kind of "tranquilizer": leather straps to beat patients into collapse. If that didn't work, there were always ice-cold sheets or a short stay chained to a wall in the damp basement.