A visit to Jefferson City, Missouri, isn’t complete until you tour the original, 1836 Missouri State Penitentiary, located seven blocks east of the Capitol. In 1967, the “Missouri State Pen” was named the “bloodiest 47 acres in America” by Time magazine.
When this prison opened in 1836, the Battle of the Alamo was going on in Texas and Andrew Jackson was in his second term as president. The Missouri prison had already been housing convicts for 100 years when Alcatraz began taking inmates. Before it closed in 2004, Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) was the oldest continually operating penitentiary west of the Mississippi River.
The Missouri State Pen was decommissioned in 2004; all inmates were transferred to more modern facilities. The administration building was demolished to make room for a new federal courthouse.
Some of the older sections of the State Pen are open to the public for tours, operated by the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Tour guides are past corrections offers or guards who worked within the walls of MSP. On occasion, a past inmate may be on the tour, recounting what is was like to serve time there. Prison related gifts and souvenirs are available.
The tours showcase the history of MSP as well as the early penal eras in the United States. Tours may include: the control center; the upper yard; cellblocks in housing units A (the oldest remaining cellblock on the grounds; built in 1868) and other housing units; the dungeon cells; the industry area; the exercise yard; and the gas chamber (where 40 inmates, men and women, were executed. Double executions were carried out three times.). Visit cells of famous inmates such as heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and James Earl Ray (who escaped from MSP and eventually assassinated Martin Luther King Jr).
For available tour times, tour details and schedules, go to www.MissouriPenTours.com. Reservations for scheduled tours (they fill-up quickly, so plan ahead) can be made on the website, and by contacting the CVB’s prison tour department at 866-998-6998. Reservations are required for all tours. Every person on the tour must have a reservation.
Because of the nature and subject of the tours, no children younger than 10 are permitted. Photographs are allowed, but no video may be taken. No smoking. No food allowed. Because of the age of the facility, these tours are not wheelchair accessible. All attendees must sign a waiver of liability. Persons younger than 18 must have guardian’s signature on the waiver.
This attraction reserves the right to refuse admission to anyone. You may experience low visibility, damp or wet conditions, uneven ground, stairs and extreme temperatures. You should not enter if you suffer from asthma, heart conditions, are prone to seizures, have physical ailments or any type of condition that prohibits you from walking or standing. Do not enter this attraction if you are intoxicated, wearing any form of cast, medical brace, are using crutches or a wheelchair, or have any type of physical limitations.
In addition to the tours listed below, special and group tours may be arraigned by contacting the CVB well in advance. Tour buses are welcome.
Standard Tours: Two-hour Tour and an In-depth Four-hour Tour.
Special Tours: Twilight Tour—the two-hour tour, at night. Lanterns provided.
Special Subject Tours: Tours focused on specific themes, such as Sonny Liston, or the riot of 1954.
Ghost Hunt Tours: Hear about the history and strange occurrences, and check out unusual activity in MSP.
Twilight Ghost Tours: Explore MSP at night and learn the history of strange and unusual occurrences behind the walls.
Open Paranormal Investigations: Start with the standard tour, and then spend the night at MSP to investigate paranormal activity.
Private Paranormal Investigations (maximum of 16 people)—this group tour is the same as the open paranormal investigation, but is designed for organized paranormal investigation teams.
Photography Sessions: A brief guided tour followed by a guide-led, open photography session.