Monday, October 25, 2004

Missouri State Penitentiary

Original Entrance to the Missouri State Penitentiary

The original entrance of the prison.

My youngest son and I toured the Missouri State Penitentiary yesterday as did thousands of others. The open house was held for the public both Saturday and Sunday (10/23/04 & 10/24/04). It was interesting to see the other side of the walls. I am a native of Missouri, and although I did not grow up in Jefferson City, I remember being driven by the State Pen a few times as a kid and it does tend to make an impression on one. Having lived in Jefferson City for the past 17 years and driving by it many times in adulthood, it still makes an impression on one today. Seeing the inside and hearing some of the history makes it no less of an intriguing place, although there is still no question, it is not a place one would have wanted to be confined to. It is hard to believe that just 5 weeks prior there were men serving their time in the same areas that we were walking through, yet their existence had to be much different than ours, as my son and I walked freely about the grounds. We were not allowed to enter every building and every location, yet we were not subject to being written up for stepping out of bounds either and were allowed to freely leave the grounds.

If interested you can find pictures that I took while inside here on my photoblog, A Visual Life. (I got them posted, but still need to try to get some text with the photos.)

Below are the dates that were highlighted on a page handed out to attendees. The prison was decommissioned last Thursday. It had been the oldest working prison west of the Mississippi River prior to its closing. The 1,355 inmates housed at the facility were moved to the new Jefferson City Correctional Center on September 15, 2004.

Missouri State Penitentiary Timeline

1831 Governor John Miller suggested a prision be built in Jefferson
City to help ensure the city remained the seat of Missouri Government.

1833 January 3rd, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill
25 to 24 to establish and build a penitentiary in Jefferson City.

1834 Construction began on the firs State Prison west of the Mississippi River.

1836 February 29th the first inmate, Wilson Eidson was received from
Green County.

1841 Officer William Ballard was killed during an escape attempt.

1842 In May, the first femail inmate, Amelia Eddy, arrived from St.
Louis County.

1861 Generals John C. Fremont and U.S. Grant placed union troops in
MSP shops making war materials.

1885 Six major shoe factories and numerous other industries,
including the largest saddletree factory in the world, contribute to
the Jefferson City economy utilizing inmate labor.

1893 MSP is considered one of the most efficient prisons in the
county housing and feeding inmates for 11 cents per day. (I wonder if
this was a typo and should have been country, but not sure.)

1900 The Jefferson City Star Tribune declared the Missouri
Penitentiary the "Greatest in the World". By then, on average, 2,200
convicts lived behind the walls.

1905 Officers John Clay and Ephriam Allison are killed by inmates
escaping from the penitentiary. Deputy Warden R.E. See is seriously
wounded and died a few months later.

1911 February 5th, MSP convicts save thousands of documents when the
Missouri State Capitol is destroyed by fire.

1918 Officer Eli Jenkins died in the line of duty.

1922 Inmate Harry Snodgrass gained the title of "The Most Popular
Radio Entertainer". He was known as "King of the Ivories" in his
radio broadcast from the dome of the capitol building.

1924 Officer James Hart is killed during a daring escape.

1925 Charles Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd arrives at MSP.

1932 MSP becomes the largest prison in the United States with 5,200 inmates.

1937 Missouri Gas Chamber constructed by inmates. It would be the
location of 40 executions.

1940 The first school in the penitentiary began with over 700 inmates in class.

1950 Chares A. "Sonny" Liston enters MSP and learns to box.

1954 A major riot occurred focusing national attention on MSP.

1955 The first classes were conducted for new officers. The 40-hour
course was the start of formal training for new staff.

1967 MSP is called "The bloodiest 47 acres in America" by TIME magaine.

1975 Lt. Harold Atkinson is killed in the line of duty.

1979 COI Walter Farrow is killed in the line of duty.

1989 MSP death row ends with all Capitol Punishment inmates moved to
the new prison at Potosi.

1991 The name is changed from Missouri State Penitentiary to the
Jefferson City Correctional Center.

1995 The nations first drug and alcohol treatment therapeutic
community is started in a maximum security prison.

1998 A replacement facility is approved by the Missouri Legislature
and Governor.

2001 Groundbreaking for the new JCCC occurs and the name of the old
institution is changed back to Missouri State Penitentiary.

2003 The first Victims Ceremony of its kind in the nation is held
with inmates honoring crime victims inside the penitentiary.

2004 On Wednesday, September 15th, 1,355 inmates are moved from the
Missouri State Penitentiary to the Jefferson City Correctional Center.
The Missouri State Penitentiary served Missouri as the oldest prision
west of the Mississippi River over 168 years.


Anonymous said...

Yes MSP is an awesome site. I worked there and I got to see it everyday. Im glad you got to experience the prison. at the new prison there is a wall dedicated to MSP with all kinds of artifacts and all. You may want to take a look at it.

Anonymous said...

i agree, MSP was an intresting place. i wish more people would take the time to see or even read about it. i am doing a paper on it and have talk to many people who work there. my dad worked there and now works at JCCC. MSP is a very intresting place to learn about and see.

bonj said...

Thanks for posting. I am sure there are some stories that none of us will ever hear about things that happened in the old penitentiary.

Anonymous said...

I was working at MSP in 1975 when they found Lt Atkinson. I worked in H Hall, or Housing Unit 1, at the time, and the morning after wondered why all the vehicles were in the parking lot at 0545 in the morning. You could have cut the air with a knife that day, as tensions were very high. They had discovered Lt Atkinson's body the night before after a call from his wife wondering why he had not come home from work. He was in an empty cell covered with matresses somewhere around F or G Hall. He was located because someone heard his radio as they passed the cell. The perpetrators were taken to old death row. Their cells were sprayed down with mace several times a day and they were hit with slappers until they confessed. I often wondered if they did it. SGT Jones later talked me into taking advantage of my GI Bill and returning to college. He was very convincing. Lt Atkinson was very much liked by other CO's as well as many of the inmates. He was a fair man and was only about six months from retirement, if my memory doesn't fail me. They later brought some female inmates from Tipton, or maybe it was earlier, for hitting the Major there over the head with a pipe and setting his pants on fire. They were on old death row for a time. Ellen Rainwater, a full blood Cherokee, was one. She wasn't hard to look at, and possibly related in some fashion, as I also have some Cherokee blood in my ancestry. But, that's another story. I later re-entered the military and retired with thirty-four years service in 2004.

Anonymous said...

I think all of the stories sound so neat. I would like to take a tour, do you know if you still can?

Bonj said...

Not that I am aware of.