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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The 47 Bloodiest Acres in America

Main Entrance of Missouri State Penitentiary
In 1967, Time Magazine christened Jefferson City’s Missouri State Penitentiary “The 47 Bloodiest Acres in America.” Aptly named, it tells the true story of bloody assaults, murders and riots.

It gives a real sense of time and place to learn that the penitentiary opened during the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 and during Andrew Jackson’s tenure in the White House. The year that Alcatraz began taking prisoners, the Missouri facility celebrated its 100th birthday.

Sonny Liston - Cell #33
The prison operated continuously from 1836 to 2004 and housed a number of infamous criminals. James Earl Ray escaped from the prison and later assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. Championship boxer Sonny Liston developed his fighting skills as an inmate. Pretty Boy Floyd served time for a robbery.

Women inmates lived in conditions that horrify us today. In the early years, they received far worse treatment than the men. No facilities were available to them. In 1891, a judge actually pardoned a baby that came to the prison with the mother. I plan to cover some of their stories in future blog posts.

Forty people succumbed to gas-chamber execution; many experienced the “dungeon” cells where they lived in total darkness twenty-three hours per day. “Firebug” Johnson spent eighteen years in a dungeon cell.

Today visitors can tour the prison, hear the stories, see the cells of famous inmates and even experience the total darkness of the dungeon cells. Special ghost and paranormal tours offer a different viewpoint than the history expeditions. Most tours are either two or four hours; however, there is an all-night paranormal experience.

If you live in Missouri, or travel through the state, a tour of the Missouri State Penitentiary is an experience that interests all ages. Check out for more info.

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