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5 Reasons to Explore the Missouri State Penitentiary

Do you love history? Do you believe in ghosts? So do we. Here’s why you should do time in Jefferson City, Missouri. Lock up your tour today.

Presented by Jefferson City CVB June 1, 2021

Housing Unit 1 was built in 1905 and now serves as the main entrance of the property. This building houses cells where female inmates resided.

1. MSP was the oldest continually operating prison west of the Mississippi River.
The Missouri State Penitentiary received its first inmate back in 1836 because he stole a watch. His arrival occurred shortly after the end of the 13-day Battle of the Alamo. The penitentiary continued to accept any type of inmate since it was the only prison closest to the Western Territories, which had no prisons at the time. MSP continued operation for 168 years on 47 acres surrounded by limestone walls. At its peak in 1935, there were a recorded 5,300 inmates who resided on the property. Thirty years later, MSP was named “the bloodiest 47 acres in America” by Time magazine.

Cell 45 in Housing Unit 3. Typically, two men would share this small space as they served their sentence.

2. Several notorious inmates walked these halls.
In the 168 years MSP operated, thousands of inmates roamed the hallways. Some notable names that resided in the penitentiary include boxing legend Charles “Sonny” Liston, notorious bank robber Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and the assassin of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – James Earl Ray. Previous inmates are not glorified, rather, guides share the history, their stories and how they have shaped the world we live in today. Some inmates left the penitentiary for successful careers, while others chose a life of more crime.

All tours are guide led and offer unique insight into life at the prison.

3. Many of the tour guides worked at MSP prior to its decommissioning.
No audio tours here! All tours are guide-led, and many of them worked at MSP prior to its decommissioning. Their personal experience with the penitentiary offers a unique insight to what life and work at the facility was like. Their stories will make you laugh, gasp, and leave you speechless. What better way to learn than from someone who was there firsthand?

Cells that were built around 1848, which were part of the long-buried Centennial Hall. It is believed to be the oldest existing building on the MSP property. Book a 3-hour history tour to learn more.

4. 168 years of history can be learned in 2-3 hours.
Visitors will learn about infamous inmates, the Riot of 1954, escape attempts and female inmates on the 2-hour tour. The 3-hour tour will cover Death Row, Housing Units 2 and 5, and the recently restored Centennial Cells in addition to everything covered on the 2-hour tour. If you want to fully immerse yourself in the history of MSP, this is the tour for you. In conjunction with the tours, make sure to visit the MSP Museum located in the Col. Darwin Marmaduke House (the former warden’s home) to learn additional information about the famous prison. The museum houses memorabilia as well as a replica cell that demonstrates the living conditions.

Are you afraid of the dark? Death Row in Housing Unit 3 is a paranormal hot spot. Many unusual experiences have been recorded in the pitch-black hallways.

5. The prison goes bump in the night… all year long.
Contrary to popular belief, the penitentiary is haunted all year long, not just in October. Whether you want to learn the ghostly stories of inmates that some say still roam the halls or you want to roll up your sleeves and learn to ghost hunt or investigate paranormal activity, our ghost and paranormal tours are a great way to experience the otherworldly side of MSP. A 2-hour ghost tour will discuss the history of the facility and highlights the strange, unusual, and unexplained occurrences behind the walls. The 3-hour ghost hunt will provide you with basic insights into researching paranormal occurrences and gives ghost hunters ample time to use their hunting equipment to make contact. If you’re brave enough, gather some friends to conduct your own investigation on a 5- or 8-hour overnight tour. Many sightings and unexplainable occurrences have been recorded here!

Are you intrigued yet? Book your tour at MissouriPenTours.com. The tour season runs March to November.

For accommodations, places to eat and other things to do in Jefferson City, go to VisitJeffersonCity.com.

We look forward to welcoming you!

Traveling to Jefferson City, Missouri

  • By car: fastest route is 12.5 hours via I-45 S
  • By plane and rental car: 2-hour flight, 2+ hour drive
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Kansas City International Airport (MCI)
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL)