During the 1800s, as America grew westward, additional jail facilities became necessary. The Missouri State Penitentiary, the biggest and most effective maximum security prison in the region, provided the solution for individuals living in the southwest when it came to this problem. It was around for about 150 years and was known as “the deadliest 47 acres in America.” It was a place where many famous people stayed.
The Missouri State Prison is being built.
After Missouri was made a state in 1821, there was discussion over where the capital should be. Jefferson City’s precarious hold on the title in 1831 prompted Governor John Miller to propose that a Missouri State Prison be built there. He believed that the building would guarantee that the city would continue to serve as the state’s capital.
The initiative received a $25,000 budget from the state assembly.
“America’s bloodiest 47 acres”
Wilson Eidson was the first prisoner to be admitted formally to the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1836. For the first four years of operation, there were 15 prisoners there, along with a warden, a guard, a brick-making foreman, and his helper. Eleven of the 15 prisoners, all but one of whom were serving larceny sentences, were from St. Louis. A man was stabbed by a lone outlier following a drunken altercation.
Amelia Eddy, the first female prisoner at the penitentiary, arrived there in 1842. The vast bulk of the female detainees arrived during World War I, despite the fact that it housed women for the duration of its years. Even though some people were detained for serious crimes like murder, most were accused of breaking immigration, conspiracy, or naturalization rules, which matched the growing fears of the time.
Long after the Missouri State Penitentiary had begun operations, construction work continued, and A-Hall, which housed offenders from the post-Civil War era, was one of the projects. Prisoners who also worked in other industries contributed to the effort in substantial part. The largest saddletree plant in the world as well as six significant shoe companies were among the places I worked.
In 1937, a gas chamber was built using stone from the jail quarry. There were 40 executions carried out here, and death row convicts were housed in a facility underground. Until 1989, when death row was abolished at the Missouri State Prison , this practice persisted. Together with the significant number of assaults that occurred, this contributed to Time’s labeling it “the bloodiest 47 acres in America.”
A riot broke out on September 22, 1954, after convicts ambushed two guards. Four prisoners died as a result of the riot, which was put down by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis, Jefferson City, and Kansas City police departments, as well as the Missouri National Guard. Four security guards and 29 additional people were hurt in the incident, which cost an estimated $5 million in damage.
In September 2004, the Missouri State Penitentiary was shut down. The 1,355 people who lived there were moved to the newly built Jefferson City Correctional Center.
The Missouri State Penitentiary held a number of well-known prisoners during the course of its 168 years. Among them was Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, a bank robber from the United States whose exploits were widely covered in the media in the 1930s. Later, a squad of agents from the Bureau of Investigation killed him.
Charles “Sonny” Liston was another well-known prisoner who entered the facility in 1950 to spend time on four charges of robbery with a dangerous weapon and four counts of larceny. Liston was discovered while serving a prison sentence.After witnessing him in the box, a St. Louis newspaper publisher requested his parole from the Board of Probation. In 1964, he faced Muhammad Ali in a fight.
James Earl Ray, who killed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was also a prisoner. Katie O’Hare, who later worked for Missouri State Prison reform, was also there, as was John B. “Firebug” Johnson, one of the most well-known criminals who ever went to the Missouri State Penitentiary.
A spooky tourist destination
The Missouri State Penitentiary is currently open for tours, and the Jefferson City Convention & Visitors Bureau has a museum with artifacts, exhibits, and pictures of the building.
A pre-Civil War cellblock was found by representatives of the penitentiary, the Division of Adult Institutions, and the Department of Corrections in the middle of the 1980s. The six cells, known as the “Centennial Cells,” are thought to be the property’s oldest still-standing buildings, according to studies. Work on preservation started in 2019 and was finished in August 2020.
The penitentiary is regarded as one of the most haunted jails in America, and several paranormal investigators have gone there. Visitors to A-Hall have described experiencing weird motions in the dark, smelling body odor, touching ghostly hands, and seeing an apparition of a man walking along the catwalk. Also, technology can go wrong, and recorders have been known to catch voices that aren’t human.
People have also reported hearing loud pounding, hearing objects move, hearing ghostly footsteps, and experiencing dread and grief while strolling around the old facilities. There have been rumors about “Fast Jack,” a phantom who roams the Control Room while sporting a white lab coat and a clipboard. He is thought to have been a trustee who served in the hospital at the penitentiary.
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