A Day in the Slammer - Tourist style.
JEFFERSON CITY - Now the good guys can visit where the bad guys lived. The Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce Tuesday unlocked the cells for the new season for tours at the Missouri State Penitentiary. After more than 15,000 attendees last year, the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau expects the attraction to grow in popularity.
"This place is 100 years older than Alcatraz, so when we looked at the numbers, Alcatraz has over 2 million visitors each year," Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Steve Picker said. "We knew that there was a lot of interest, and we found that out the first year with 3,270 people coming through. Then last year, over 12,000."
The Missouri State Penitentiary opened in 1836 and closed in 2004. More than 100,000 bad guys served time in the prison - Missouri's only maximum security prison until 1989. Sprawling over 37 acres above the Missouri River, the Penitentiary served as the home for famous prisoners like James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassin.
"This is part of our history, and you can't change history," tour guide Mark Schreiber said.
As interest grows in the Missouri State Penitentiary tours, organizers plan to offer more tours with more perspectives. Organizers added a paranormal tour to the slate this year, where guests can ghost hunt on prison grounds. For the adventurous, the Penitentiary also offers overnight stays.
"I think it's just the general interest of what's behind these walls," Picker said. "Something that you've never had the opportunity to see before."
Schreiber did have the opportunity to see the prison first hand. From 1968 to 2004, Schreiber worked in the prison. Now, he serves as chief tour guide.
"I felt like that after we left the prison in 2004, that this was part of our sociological history that should be shared with their individuals," Schreiber said.
Schreiber and his fellow guides offer tours Saturdays and Sundays from March until November. Two-hour tours cost $12 per person, while four-hour tours cost $35. Private and specialty tours are available upon request.