Missouri State Penitentiary Posts Record-Breaking Season

Jefferson City’s visitors often come to experience the history of Missouri’s capital. The city possesses some of Missouri’s most stately attractions; the Missouri Governor’s Mansion, the Missouri Supreme Court Building and the majestic Capitol. In 2009, when the Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) began hosting tours of the old Missouri State Penitentiary, the vision was to cultivate the incredibly historic site into an attraction that could hold its own alongside the longtime favorite spots. Today, that vision has become a reality.

Missouri State Penitentiary inmates march on the grounds circa 1900.

Missouri State Penitentiary inmates march on the grounds circa 1900.

In 2012, tour attendance at the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) once again surpassed the expectations of the Jefferson City CVB. 19,121 visitors toured the attraction; nearly 2,000 more visitors than 2011. The addition of the 2012 attendance numbers brings the cumulative prison tour attendance to more than 50,000. More than half of the visitors enjoyed a two-hour History Tour, but the number of visitors coming for a Ghost Tour continues to increase, growing from 20 percent of total tours in 2011 to 25 percent in 2012.

Apparitional the movie

Photo of the movie, “Apparitional,” filmed at MSP. Photo courtesy Jefferson City News Tribune.

MSP is also getting a reputation as a great spot for the artistic to find inspiration. Photographers aspiring to catch the perfect shot of the eerie façade come through regularly; the prison was featured in an episode of the hit television show “Ghost Hunters”; C-SPAN highlighted MSP in its visit to Jefferson City and in November, and the site served as a backdrop to a new type of production: a fictional suspense-thriller from Los Angeles Picture Palace Films. “Apparitional” will tell the story of a group of ghost hunters who find a haunted location with a grisly past that proves to be more than they bargained for. The movie’s director, Andrew P. Jones, was inspired when he found the esthetics he was looking for at MSP and the sort of teamwork and cooperation needed to make his project a success in Jefferson City. In the long-term, “Apparitional” will help to raise awareness of what sort unique attractions can be found in the heart of Missouri.

Missouri State Penitentiary Museum

Missouri State Penitentiary Museum

This spring, the vision of the Jefferson City CVB will come full circle when the Missouri State Penitentiary Museum opens at 100 E. High St. Not only will visitors looking to be inspired by history in Jefferson City have the opportunity to tour the prison site, soon they can spend an afternoon reading about the background of MSP and marveling at the large-scale graphics that serve as a visual depiction of how the prison evolved over time. The Missouri State Penitentiary Museum will provide a new type of experience for the many school groups and bus tours that come to see the prison as well as the individual tourist looking to expand their knowledge about the Missouri State Penitentiary.

In the meantime, the Jefferson City CVB is looking for artifacts and memorabilia to display in the Missouri State Penitentiary Museum. If you know of someone who has a one-of-a-kind item that might fit into the museum’s concept, please contact Sheila Sanford by phone at 573-632-2820 or email at sheila@visitjeffersoncity.com. The 2013 Missouri State Penitentiary tour season will begin, weather permitting, on March 1; the reservation calendar is available at MissouriPenTours.com.

Follow the Missouri State Penitentiary on Facebook at Facebook.com/missouripentour or on Twitter at @MissouriPenTour.

Written by Ryan Winkler-Burns, communications manager at the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.