Would you visit a museum in a psychiatric hospital? #WorldMentalHealthDay #DarkTourism

The Oregon State Hospital Museum is a private, 501(c)3 non-profit museum dedicated to telling the stories of the Oregon State Hospital and the people that have lived and worked here.

The  2,500 square foot museum, located in the oldest building on the Oregon State Hospital campus includes permanent and changing exhibits.  The museum is currently run by volunteers and supported by the generous donations of community members and competitive grants.

Logo of Oregon State Hospital Museum

Mission: Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health bears witness and gives voice to the experiences of people who have lived and worked at Oregon’s psychiatric hospital by educating visitors, challenging stereotypes and stigma, and preserving the historic record.

Vision: The vision of the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health is to provide a setting which will educate and enlighten visitors about the history of the Oregon State Hospital and the experiences of the people who lived and worked there.


If Walls Could Talk

Asylum Architecture in Oregon: This exhibit looks at the changing architecture of the Oregon State Hospital and how treatment methods have impacted architectural design. The exhibit includes blueprints, architectural features, and photographs from the Museum’s collection.

One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest Exhibit

The current exhibit in our changing exhibit gallery looks at the story behind the award winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, that was filmed on location at the Oregon State Hospital.  The exhibit follows Oregon author Ken Kesey’s story as it migrated from book to stage play to film. 

The exhibit explores what it meant to film a movie about mental health in a real hospital, the blurred lines between film crew and hospital community and the controversies it dredged up.

A preview of their newest exhibit: CHEMICAL REACTIONS is scheduled to take place this weekend.

From a marketing lens the obvious question to ask becomes why would anyone visit such sites and museums and how does one even promote such places? The answer perhaps lies in understanding the concept of Dark Tourism.

According to Wikipedia Dark Tourism has been defined as tourism involving travel to places historically associated with death and tragedy. More recently, it was suggested that the concept should also include reasons tourists visit that site, since the site’s attributes alone may not make a visitor a “dark tourist” The main attraction to dark locations is their historical value rather than their associations with death and suffering.

As per a paper by Duncan Light in Science Direct Dark Tourism tends to be used as an umbrella term for any form of tourism that is somehow related to death, suffering, atrocity, tragedy or crime. As originally formulated, it is a phenomenon rooted in the circumstances of the late twentieth century. Thanatourism is a more specific concept and is about long-standing practices of travel motivated by a specific desire for an encounter with death. 

The term ‘dark tourism’ was coined in 1996 by Lennon and Foley, two faculty members of the Department of Hospitality, Tourism & Leisure Management at Glasgow Caledonian University,[1] and the term ‘thanatourism’ was first mentioned by A. V. Seaton in 1996, then Professor of Tourism Marketing at the University of Strathclyde.[7]

While promoting such sites and museums that deal with an element of tragedy, death the key is to remember that the intent is not to sell something as a ‘voyeuristic tourist experience’ but as a ‘visit to educate, reflect and build empathy’.

But such initiative does not mean everything has to be boring and too serious. Here is Oregon State Hospital Museum promoting a movie night whose proceeds would go a long way in supporting the museum efforts.

Promotional material must highlight the context of the dark narrative and editorial content goes a long way in establishing the relevant back stories and nuances. At the 9/11 Memorial Museum victims names appear in one of nine groupings that are marked out by raised letter headings on the Memorial. The story of the nine groupings can be found on their website.


There is of course a genuine worry with dark tourism about trivializing serious issues of our past, history with unbecoming touristy intentions and behavior.

Truth is we cannot control every response but we can with effecting marketing promotional material trigger reflections amongst visitors around expected dos and dont’s at such sites. And that is a good place to start from.

One possible solution to consider : Rather than pedantic instructions draw people in with interrogative, open ended questions that aid self realization and in turn promote responsible behavior at dark sites.

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