Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health – Salem, Oregon - Atlas Obscura

Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health

An institution that preserves the history of institutionalization. 


The Oregon State hospital has many claims to fame, but its most interesting one could be a museum dedicated to mental health.

The museum is brimming with odd artifacts, strange outdated machines, and historical mementos left behind by those who lived and worked in the state hospital over the last 130 years. These exhibits reveal the history of the hospital using both the echoes of the mentally ill and the often inhumane methods that were used to treat them.

The hospital was built in 1883 and has been used to house those with persistent mental health problems ever since. It has been estimated that roughly two thirds of the patients who have lived there over the last century were found guilty of crimes and were also found to be insane. Others were presumably a threat to themselves or to others and all were locked into the asylum for varying lengths of time. The museum has collected everything to do with mental health—from patients’ possessions and straitjackets to antique medicines and outdated treatment devices—even housing a suppository machine that was patented in 1924 by a man appropriately named Applebum.

The non-profit Museum of Mental Health is located in the oldest building of the asylum that is is still standing. It has permanent exhibitions that chronicle the hospital’s history as well as rotating shows. It showcases pieces of unidentified equipment in an attempt to figure out their uses as well as those that are known parts of its legacy. A recent acquisition is a newly restored vintage television that was part of a famous baseball scene in the Academy Award-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was filmed at the hospital. One of the most-visited rooms in the museum is a permanent exhibit commemorating the film.

Know Before You Go

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday  from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Check the website for ticket prices and other information.

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