Offbeat Meeting Venues: Memorable Spaces Can Add ‘Oomph’ to Any Occasion

Article by Bill Beggs Jr.

When you get right down to it, many meetings and the spaces where they’re held are pretty cut and dried: you set up for your group theater-style, or in any other number of configurations with a screen and AV equipment (whether or not the equipment is provided or has to be rented). Probably there’s a long, skirted table or two topped with an array of soda and water bottles for one group, fancy catering and a sit-down dinner for another. Ho-hum. You’ve seen ’em all, right?

Maybe not.
How about meeting in St. Joseph, Mo., in a one-time psychiatric hospital? Or try the one-half scale Titanic replica (and museum) in Branson. Then there’s the American Kennel Club (AKC) Museum of the Dog in west St. Louis County where you’re welcome to bring Fido, if the meeting’s that informal. (No felines, please.) In any of these three venues, not only will you have the opportunity to provide attendees with a unique tour during breaks or before or after your meeting or event, but you’ll be remembered for your ability to think outside the box. (Save patting yourself on the back for afterward.)

Glore Psychiatric Museum, St. Joseph

Considered by many as the largest and best single exhibition explaining the evolution of mental health care in the United States, Glore Psychiatric Museum chronicles the history of State Lunatic Asylum No. 2, founded with 25 patients in 1874 on land located east of St. Joseph. It will give your attendees pause
to consider how extreme mental health treatment was as recently as the 20th century before groundbreaking pharmaceuticals and decades of research bore fruit.

Located on the adjoining grounds of the original state hospital, Glore chronicles centuries of mental health treatment. In 1968, hospital employee George Glore helped construct full size replicas of primitive 18th- and 19th-century treatment devices for a Mental Health Awareness Week open house. Those exhibits impressed hospital officials and sparked the idea to create the museum. Today, these replicas remain an integral part of the museum’s exhibits. Surgical tools, treatment equipment, furnishings, nurse uniforms, personal notes, and other items from the hospital are on display. Fascinating artwork from hospital patients provides a glimpse into the minds of those who suffered with mental illness. The needlework-stitched words of a mute schizophrenic speak volumes. Pottery, paintings, drawings, and other art on display gave patients both therapy and an outlet to express pain, joy, and hope.

Could you swallow a nail? How about 453 of them? One patient in the asylum did just that. This is one of many startling exhibits that earned the Glore recognition as “one of the 50 most unusual museums in the country”, and mentions in national publications as well as television programs (including The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, PBS, and The Science Channel).

Dr. George C. Catlett, the hospital’s first superintendent, explains that the hospital was dedicated “to the noble work of reviving hope in the human heart and dispelling the portentous clouds that penetrate the intellects of minds diseased.”

Remember the “Bucket Challenge” where volunteers had friends pour buckets of ice water on them for charity? (There are probably dozens of videos still on YouTube that will make you shudder or shiver just to watch. Maybe you yourself were a brave participant and know what a shock to the system the experience is.) Well, back in the day, patients who were agitated due to the symptoms of one mental disorder or another were restrained and subjected to wrapping in sheets soaked with very cold water for one to three hours. Sound weird? Indeed, compared to treatment methods today, it was barbaric.

But how or why would anyone consider this a suitable place to meet? Martha Clark and members of her group who attended the Missouri Community Forestry Council Meeting last year can’t stop talking about it. Clark said many walked up to her at this year’s MCFC event in Springfield to tell her what a valuable
experience meeting at the Glore had been for them: “People were just really thrilled to tour the Glore,” she exclaimed. “I was looking for something unique to the area. It wasn’t easy for some to understand; few had ever been in a facility for the mentally ill.” The catered MCFC event lasted about three hours and gave the 100 or so guests a night to remember.

What’s more, the Glore is in the same area as several other museums. The museums of St. Joe also include the Black Archives, a Doll Museum, and the 43-room Wyeth-Tootle Mansion. All of these are fascinating to tour, and some have meeting space as well. The parlors of the Wyeth-Tootle (1879) provide an elegant backdrop for parties, rehearsal dinners, receptions, showers, and intimate weddings. For corporate events, the mansion is an ideal setting for training sessions, holiday parties, mixers and retreats.

St. Joseph Museums—Glore Psychiatric Museum
Kathy Reno, facilities rental: 816.232.8471, x13

AKC Museum of the Dog, St. Louis

You might want to try and book this unique spot for a meeting in the next 12 months or so because the American Kennel Club is going all uptown with it sometime in 2018. The AKC Museum of the Dog is relocating back to New York City sometime next year, although no one is sure exactly when. The AKC realized in 1985 that its home in the New York Life Building on Madison Avenue was getting as cramped as a doghouse that used to be big enough for a Saint Bernard puppy. So, in 1987, the museum was relocated to the idyllic setting of Queeny Park in Town and Country, an upscale suburb of the Gateway City.

There the museum resides in the antebellum Jarville House (1853), a beautiful example of Greek revival architecture where the Edgar Queeny family, for whom  he park was named, once lived.

Following the move, it soon became evident that even more space would be needed, and in 1990 an addition was completed that brought the museum’s space to 14,000 square feet, all dedicated to art created with man’s best friend as the inspiration. (And if your dog is friendly, the facility is dog-friendly in return.) The gift shop occupies the former carriage house, and the new wing includes the Constellation Room, 3,100 square feet of space for meetings and special events. Most gatherings are canine-related: dog clubs, awards and honors for the dogs working with first responders, and so on. On more than one occasion, weddings have been held for dog lovers who wanted to include Rover or Fido in the wedding party.

Museum staffers say that not many meetings beyond the canine market segment are held there, but there’s no reason “that dog won’t hunt.” Your attendees wouldn’t be animal-lovers if they didn’t enjoy the exhibit at the museum through Sept. 24: “Canine Impressions: Dog Show Scenes II”, a collection of dog-show oils by Terry d. Chacon. Chacon’s works also include bronze sculptures and custom jewelry art. (The museum is closed Mondays.)

AKC Museum of the Dog
Jan Judt, special events coordinator: 314.821.3647

Titanic Museum & Attraction, Branson

The owner of this museum knows a little about the legendary “unsinkable” ship that struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage in April 1912: he co-led a $6 million expedition to the site of the sunken Titanic, diving multiple times to discover and uncover the history of the ship 2½ miles beneath the ocean waves. John Joslyn and his expedition crew took hundreds of photos, including some of the most famous photos used in film documentaries and shows about the disaster. One of the most spectacular attractions at the Branson Titanic Museum is a two-story halfscale replica of the ship. Inside are many artifacts from the ship’s ill-fated voyage, including a propeller suspended overhead and the RMS Titanic’s impressively opulent grand staircase. There is also a full-scale recreation of a first-class stateroom.
Can you think of a more unusual spot for an occasion than here (well, except maybe the Glore)? Fortunately, you can attend without worries about getting wet, suffering from hypothermia, or drowning. These were all likely ends if you were on the actual ship when it went down, especially if you were male. Yes, the captain went down with the ship, and women and children were helped into the lifeboats first. More than 1,000 people, mostly male passengers and crew, perished.

While you can’t “rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic,”  there is one inside a case in one of the fascinating galleries of the museum. And there are many other artifacts, decks to stroll, and interactive stations where you can see and hear stories from survivors. Several sections of the deck tilt at the various angles at which the ship was oriented as it listed and then started to plunge. See whether you can keep your footing!

Historic disaster notwithstanding, this is a wonderful place to hold a meeting or event as the staff researches your group to customize your occasion, and not just the menu. For example, a group of tire salesmen would find out whether there were tires onboard. ( the answer is yes, on the vehicles below decks that were being transported across the pond.) Suffice it to say that the sophistication of tire constriction was nothing like today: 1912 was decades before steel-belted radials.

Through June 11, the 20th anniversary of James Cameron’s epic adventure film Titanic (1997) is being celebrated with an exhibit of costumes created for the movie.

Titanic Museum & Attraction
Kristina Hagey: 417.335.3763

We’ll keep an eye out for other unusual venues for your next meeting. We don’t always bat a thousand during our research, but we keep looking. (We were disappointed that the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City doesn’t allow outside groups to meet there, but we can certainly understand
why. That said, anyone who visits the Money Museum gets a bag of money to take home! Caveat: It’s worn-out currency that has been shredded.)

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.