A few years back, I saw a video clip on touring the Missouri State Penitentiary, so when I got the opportunity to tour it, I grabbed my best gal pal Jess and hit the road to Jefferson City, Missouri. Together we decided we wanted to do the late-night ghost tour, although I have heard the history tour can be just as spooky and very informative.
Our tour did not kick off until 9 pm, so we kicked our night off with drinks and dinner at one of the hippest joints in Jefferson City. Prison Brews Microbrewery and Restaurant sets the theme for a Missouri State Penitentiary tour, the restaurant in decorated to look like a jail, the staff is friendly, and the eats are outstanding. I chose a burger and beer — I’m not much for beer, but the Prison Brews’ “Go To Jail Ale” was quite tasty. I highly suggest trying their fried green beans and sweet potato fries, but found that if you ask the server what their favorite is, you most likely will not go wrong.
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After dinner, my gal pal and I headed down the street for our tour of the historic Missouri State Penitentiary. I had the idea of what MSP would look like, but in reality, I was dead wrong. This place is creepy just walking up to the doors. It could have just been the adrenaline running, but I think I was shaking before the doors even slid shut. Jess and I were the only two on the ghost tour; the tour guide said this was unusual, but I felt lucky as it gave us more one on one time to learn about the prison and all the ghost sightings.
Oldest Prison West of the Mississippi
The Missouri State Penitentiary opened in 1836, the very same month that the Alamo fell and was 100 years older than Alcatraz; it remained open until 2004 and was the oldest prison west of the Mississippi. There was over 2,000 deaths inside the prison grounds, 40 executions, 39 by gas, and the last execution was lethal injection to George Mercer in 1989. The Missouri State Penitentiary has a deep history from the famous people that were imprisoned there, to the 1954 riot, the great escapes, and the stories behind a few of the inmates housed there. James Earl Ray (famous for killing Martin Luther King Jr.), Charles “Sonny” Liston known for learning to box inside MSP and after leaving on parole winning the 1953 National Heavyweight Championship, and a few others gave MSP a famous name.
Ghost Tour a Spooky Experience
After returning from my gal pal road trip, everyone kept asking if I saw a ghost. I did not see a ghost; however, I did feel a very strong presence inside parts of the prison. The first building we entered during our tour was the were the women were housed. It could have been sympathy, or the fact that I had studied a bit about women’s rights, but when we entered the area where Kate Richards O’Hare and Emma Goldman had been housed I could feel something strong about me. The conditions that women were imprisoned in were not fit for animals, let alone a human being. While they were prisoners and considered convicts many of their crimes were petty crimes and they were soon released, often they were released with scars and diseases from prison. While on the tour the guides would share stories of the inmates, or stories from other former prison workers, as we entered the second building, they shared a story of a young man that had killed his siblings just because he did not want to babysit them.
This young man was later murdered (by fellow inmates) inside the prison while passing by the area that he had once been housed in I could feel a dark eerie feeling almost as if you could feel the pain that he must have suffered all those years knowing that he had murdered part of his own family.
The final place I could feel something strong (although once again I may have anticipated this) was while I sat inside the gas chambers at MSP. Knowing that 40 other people had lost their lives inside that very same room that I sat in was a lot to take in. Hearing the stories as to why they lost their lives, many you have to wonder if they actually deserved to lose their lives, and the one story that tugged at my heart was the story of Bonnie Brown Heady, the only woman executed inside of MSP. Bonnie was charged with kidnapping and murder of a child. It is said that while she did the crime and was guilty but she did it all because she fell for the wrong guy — a tragic story in my eyes.
Would I return to tour MSP? Yes, I would love to return and do the history tour of the prison, as well as another ghost tour. I believe that there is a presence inside MSP, but I also believe that once you learn more about the prison you will understand and take in more of what is going on.
Our tour of MSP lasted approximately two and half hours, and while there was a lot of walking involved, there were also chances to sit and rest if needed. While I did not see anything scary or gross, I would not suggest this tour for younger children; the stories that are told can be of an adult nature.
For more information on touring the Missouri State Penitentiary, visit their website or contact the Jefferson City Visitors Bureau.