If only walls could talk … or maybe we would not want to know what the walls of the Missouri State Penitentiary would have to say.
As the doors creaked shut on what was once the Bloodiest 47 acres in America, the tour guide informed us that we were now locked in.
Perched on the edge of my seat, I felt myself begin to get sucked into what seems to be useless, yet fascinating history of the Missouri State Penitentiary.
The Missouri State Penitentiary dates back as far as the Alamo and served Missouri for 168 years, once housing as many as 5200 inmates at a time. Now you see why we may not want to know what the walls could say.
I could tell you all the interesting facts that I learned inside the prison, but that would take the joy out of your tour, so instead I will share with you what to expect, what to ask, and how to prepare for your tour of the Missouri State Penitentiary.
What to Expect at the Missouri State Penitentiary
Upon arriving at MSP for the history tour, you will be asked to sign a waiver form. This is not to freak you out. MSP is owned by the State of Missouri and while the prison is safe, it is old and not in working condition, so this form is just a precautionary.
Once you have signed your papers and paid the entrance fees, you will be asked to take a seat in what was once the entrance to MSP. This is where you will meet your tour guide, who may have an intimate knowledge of the site. You see, tour guides for MSP are often former Missouri State Penitentiary workers.
The guides are truly the best part of the tour, as they are completely unscripted, and share the raw truth of what they saw or learned from their days at MSP.
The tour is about two hours long and can be rather graphic depending on what questions that are asked and what guide you may have. They say no two tours are ever the same.
Inside MSP, you will have a chance to see the inside of the jail cells, including the cell where former Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston was housed before he was a professional boxer.
You also have the opportunity to enter the dungeon area. This is where it can get graphic as you will hear stories of how the inmates were housed in small cells, with no light, very little food, and a two-bucket system that sounds like torture itself.
At the end of the tour, visitors can sit inside the Gas Chamber – where 40 inmates were executed, 39 by gas and 1 by lethal injection. I can assure you, if you are an emotional kind of person, when you sit down in those chairs you will feel a dark eerie feeling.
What to Ask
This is the history tour, but being that this is an unscripted tour, you will hear history that is often unknown to general public and only known by those who were inside MSP.
MSP has some dark history; executions, escapes, the 1954 Riot, and the gruesome stories of how the women were once housed.
However, MSP has some funny history and you can spend just as much time laughing as you can in shock.
Interesting things to ask:
The tale of the Elephant Man – who claimed to have stolen an elephant from the St Louis Zoo.
Mike the Cat – the only cat known for sneaking contraband inside a maximum security facility.
The barber shop that was once ran by inmates. Ask who was given free haircuts and shaves.
Big Nose Kate – the women’s activist that made life better for female inmates.
The employee lunchroom, and be sure to ask if they ever made an inmate mad.
Ask to see prison art – the painting that still remain from former inmates.
How to Prepare for your Missouri State Penitentiary History Tour
Prepare for a tour? I know I have you scratching your head now, but yes, there are few things that will help make the tour easier to understand, and a few things that you need to know before you go.
Before you go on your tour, I suggest you visit the Missouri State Penitentiary Museum, located at the Jefferson City Visitors Center. Inside the museum there will be actual artifacts from the prison, along with replicas of a jail cell, and a walk through of the prison’s history. Visiting here first will help you understand your tour and MSP’s history, which can give a you an in depth look at what went on behind prison doors.
What to wear – I was completely misdressed during my visit. Without thinking I wore sandals and long pants. During the tour you will do a lot of walking on uneven surfaces, in dark rooms, and sometimes wet areas. I suggest dressing to match the temperatures and wearing good close toed walking shoes.
Buy your tickets in advance or have cash in hand. At this time they do not have a credit card machine at the prison and only accept cash.
The tour is not for young children – yes, the tour is family friendly, if you are touring with older kids. They do not suggest it for kids under the age of 10. As a mom of a 10 year old, I would say I would not suggest it for a child under the age of 12.
Take your camera,as there are plenty of opportunities for unique photos – like pictures in the gas chamber!