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Ashland University’s Final Four game against Glenville State will tip off on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. EDT in the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament. The game can be viewed at this link.

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — In the past two days, I, along with my Ashland Source colleagues Dillon Carr and Curt Conrad, have visited the site of Jesse James’ murder, a 19th-century hotel that once housed Union soldiers during the Civil War, and an old insane asylum.

All three of these eclectic locations are now museums open to the public in St. Joseph, Missouri, a city that has seemingly preserved much of the world and the people that came before us.

We’re here to cover the Ashland University women’s basketball team, as it competes in Wednesday night’s NCAA Division II Final Four against Glenville State. But we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t share some of the atmosphere that surrounds the community where the Eagles have roosted this week.

This is a city where The West began, where outlaws were gunned down and where the Civil War made its home.

Our first stop on Tuesday morning after our visit to The Pony Express Museum the day prior, was the home of notorious outlaw Jesse James. 

Of all the museums on offer in St. Joseph, I was most excited to visit Jesse James’ home, the same home where he was killed on April 3, 1882. 

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I wasn’t excited because I respected the man, I did not. By all accounts, he was a Confederate war criminal, cold-blooded killer, thief, and all-around bad guy. But despite his dastardly deeds, he became something of a legend in his lifetime, an icon of the untamed west.

That’s why I was excited to visit. It’s not every day you can stand where an American icon was gunned down. 

James’ home in St. Joseph is quite small and does not have a bathroom. The kitchen has been converted into a small gift shop for visitors, and the remaining rooms host the museum’s exhibits.

The crown jewel of the display is the home’s front room, where James was shot in the back of the head by fellow James’ Gang member Robert Ford. The stitching that James was straightening when he was shot is still up today, as is a bullet hole thought to be from the shot that killed the villain.

Jesse James sign

The rest of the rooms host a variety of displays on James’ life, his gang and his family. There are plenty of paintings and photos, and it’s a little thrilling to look at a photo from the day James was shot and recognize the building you’re standing in.

Next door to James’ home is the Patee House Museum, a seemingly never-ending maze of displays and items from many eras of history. The Patee House was built in 1858 as a luxury hotel and also served as the headquarters of the Pony Express.

During the Civil War, it became the headquarters of the Union Provost Martial, who used its palatial ballroom for war trials. After the war, it served as the St. Joseph Female College for a few years before it was converted into the R.L. McDonald shirt factory.

In 1963 it became a museum whose displays reflect the eclectic past of the hotel. Just to give you a sense of the collection the Patee House has, here are a few things on display.

  • A train from the 19th century
  • A sports car from the 1980’s
  • A 1,000-pound ball of twine
  • Real murder weapons confiscated from criminals in St. Joseph
  • An indoor re-creation of a 19th century street
  • A number of preserved hotel rooms from the 19th century
  • A room full of Thomas Edison’s inventions
  • A recreation of a Wild West saloon
  • A functioning carousel

There is enough in the Patee House to keep a curious mind occupied for a whole day, maybe two. My favorite displays were the recreated saloon and 19th century street, both places where you could forget you were in the year 2023.

Our final museum stop of our trip was the Glore Psychiatric Museum, a former clinic for patients from the nearby St. Joseph State Hospital, also known as Lunatic Asylum #2.

The museum, as you might expect from the name, covers the often sordid but occasionally uplifting history of psychiatry and people who suffer from mental illness in the United States.

You can walk through many rooms dedicated to the bizarre, cruel ways that psychiatry was performed before the 21st century.

Methods like lobotomies, electro-shock therapy and medically induced seizures were disturbingly common in the 20th century, and you can see right in front of you the equipment they used to perform these barbaric procedures.

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But there are also plenty of rooms dedicated to the humanity, the light and life of its patients. You can see where troubled children rebuilt classic cars, where patients gathered to form bands in music therapy, where they made stunning and moving works of art, where patients could overcome their ailments.

The Glore Psychiatric Museum is also connected to the Black Archives Museum, the St. Joseph Museum, the American Indian gallery and the American History Gallery.

Sadly, my colleagues and I succumbed to our rumbling stomachs and left to get lunch before we could peruse the other museums. 

Speaking of lunch, we ate at the oldest continuously operated saloon west of the Mississippi, The First Ward House, yet another sign of St. Joseph reaching out to the past.

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