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A new exhibit explores the 165-year history of the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital

A glass display case from the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital exhibit showing a timeline of events, photos and documents. The title of the timeline reads "Timeline of Notable Events at the Kalamazoo State Hospital."
Kalloli Bhatt
A picture of a display case with a notable events in the exhibit about the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital.

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum answers questions both serious and outlandish about the institution long known as the Kalamazoo State Hospital.

The Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital turns 165 this year. The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is marking the anniversary withan in-depth exhibit that focuses on the hospital’s achievements.

The display includes photographs, hospital records and a documentary on the institution, according to Julie Bunke, the museum's interactive experiences and exhibits manager. She said some of the items come from the KVM's collection and others are on loan from the hospital and the state.

Bunke added that the KPH had one of the first occupational therapy programs in the United States.

“And it really grew into quite the program that was then absorbed by Western Michigan University, and it’s a nationally recognized program that started right here at the hospital,” she said.

The exhibit answers some common questions about the hospital.

“People really seem to be interested in, were lobotomies, you know, happening at the hospital, which they were not,” Bunke said. “So we’ll kind of answer those direct questions just to kind of clear things up for people, any kind of misconceptions that are out there about the hospital.”

This year-long display in the first floor special exhibits gallery also answers the question, "Did Elvis Presley live in the hospital’s water tower?" (Spoiler alert: he did not.)

While going through artifacts for the exhibit, Bunke found a connection to the building.

“While doing this research, it became very personal because I found out that my great-great-grandmother was a patient at the hospital for 24 years,” she said.

The exhibit runs through early next year.