1836 Missouri State Penitentiary — Hard Hat Tours

Hard hat tours cover the history of the Missouri State Penitentiary and the lives of those incarcerated there from 1836 to 2004.


An Inmate at MSP
Early Inmate at MSP

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.

The Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) was decommissioned in 2004. It is open to the public for hard hat 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. Hard hats will be loaned to participants. Prison related gifts and souvenirs are available.  

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 prison was 100 years old when Alcatraz began taking inmates. Before it closed in 2004, MSP was the oldest continually operating penitentiary west of the Mississippi River.

The tours showcase the history of MSP and the early penal eras in the United States. Tours may include: the control center; the upper yard; cellblocks in A-Hall (the oldest remaining cellblock on the grounds, built in 1868) cellblocks in other housing units; the dungeon cells; the industry area; the exercise yard; and the gas chamber (where 40 inmates, men and women, were executed). Step into the cells of famous inmates such as heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston, and James Earl Ray (the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr.).

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.

Reservations are required for all tours. Every person must have a reservation. 

Tour buses are welcome. In addition to the tours listed below these photos, other special and group tours may be arraigned by contacting the CVB well in advance.

This building houses the gas chamber.
Inside the Gas Chamber, where 40 inmates, men and women, were executed. (Double executions were carried out three times.)
“The hole” — the dungeon cells below A-Hall.

Standard Tours

Two-hour Tour:  $12.

In-depth Four-hour Tour:  $35.

Special Tours for 2011

Twilight Tour:  $17.  The two-hour tour, at night. Lanterns provided.

Special Subject Tours:  $17.  Tours focused on specific themes, such as Sonny Liston, or the riot of 1954.

Ghost Hunt Tours:  $25.  Hear about the history and strange occurrences, and check out unusual activity in MSP.

Twilight Ghost Tours:  $25.  Explore MSP at night and learn the history of strange and unusual occurrences behind the walls.

Open Paranormal Investigations:  $100.  Start with the standard tour, and then spend the night at MSP to investigate paranormal activity.

Private Paranormal Investigations (maximum of 16 people):  $1,600/group.  Same as open paranormal investigation, designed for organized paranormal investigation teams.

Photography Sessions:  length and price vary. A brief guided tour followed by a guide-led open photography session.               

For available tour times, tour details, schedules and reservations, go to www.MissouriPenTours.com. Contact the CVB’s prison tour department at 866-998-6998.

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