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THE GAS CHAMBER

The last stop on the Missouri State Prison tour is the gas chamber where 39 men and one woman were put to death. Inside the building is a big white metal tank with a submariine-line door and two chairs inside. Prisoners entered via the door on the right, the crime victim’s witnesses entered through the door on the left. Around the right side of the building is another door for family of the prisoner. And up on the roof is a tall, white smokestack to vent the gas when the execution was complete.

Guards would bring the prisoner over ahead of time and put him or her into one of two tiny holding cells inside. This gave the witnesses time to enter without bumping into the prisoner outside, and gave the prisoner time to stare at the big white tank, just outside the holding cell.

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MISSOURI STATE PENITENTIARY

The old Missouri State Pen in Jefferson City is billed as “the bloodiest 47 acres in America.” That may or may not be true but it’s certainly one of the creepiest places I’ve visited in a quite a while. The prison opened for business in 1836, when Missouri was the western edge of the United States. Beyond Missouri, it was all frontier territory.

If you committed a crime out in the territories, you were usually hung for your efforts. Occasionally, though, somebody would commit a crime that didn’t quite warrant hanging but yet was too serious to just be ignored. That’s where this place came in: they’d ship you back here to serve out your sentence. The prison opened with 40 one-man cells but within a few months there were 43 prisoners and it remained overcrowded until it closed in 2004. And that, by the way, that date — that’s what I find most disturbing. This hell-hole was open until 10 years ago! And calling it a hell-hole is being nice.

The prison is open for tours now, at least parts of it are: history tours, ghost tours, ghost hunting overnight adventures. Being too close to Halloween, we couldn’t get tickets for a night-time tour or ghost tour so we settled for a 10 am Saturday morning tour. The weather cooperated by being windy, grey, and cool.

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MOStatePen2014-3658-2It’s ironic: now people line up to get in to the prison.

MOStatePen2014-3656Mike, our tour guide, giving us an intro to the history of the place. He did a great job, btw. If you take the tour, hope to join one of his tours.

 

MOStatePen2014-3695The cells go up four levels.

 

MOStatePen2014-3694MOStatePen2014-3697-3MOStatePen2014-3699Two great big movie projectors were bolted to the floor of the main hallway of Building 4, for showing weekend entertainment.

 

MOStatePen2014-3725-2MOStatePen2014-3727 Such a nice place to call home.