Rural Missouri Magazine

Missouri State Penitentiary
Jefferson City, Mo.

by Jason Jenkins

The limestone walls that surround the historic Missouri State Penitentiary in downtown Jefferson City have done their job well over the years. When the prison was in operation, they kept inmates in, and in the nearly five years since it was decommissioned, they have kept the public out.

Now, however, anyone who wishes to take a glimpse behind the walls has the opportunity. The Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau has partnered with the Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment Commission to offer hard-hat tours of the oldest continually operating state penitentiary west of the Mississippi River.

When MSP opened in 1836, the Battle of the Alamo was underway in Texas and Andrew Jackson was president. Alcatraz wouldn’t accept inmates for another 100 years. In the 1930s, MSP was the largest prison in the country.

Today, visitors can tour historic housing units, including Unit 3 seen on our cover and Unit 4, where heavyweight champion Sonny Liston was incarcerated in Cell 33. Other famous inmates include gangster Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd and James Earl Ray, who escaped MSP in 1967 and later was convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King Jr.

Little has changed since inmates left in 2004. In fact, the names of those who lived in the cells of Unit 4 can still be found on a board in the unit’s office. The two-hour walking tour also includes the dungeon cells and the gas chamber where 40 men and women were executed, 39 by cyanide gas and one by lethal injection.

Tour admission is $12 per person. Schedule a weekend tour by contacting the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau at 573-632-2820 or 800-769-4183.


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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