Event Finish Time: 6:00am
The oldest prison West of the Mississippi has 175+ years of death, violence and darkness still lurking the hallways. As featured on SyFy Network’s Ghost Hunters and Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, the “The Bloodiest 47 Acres in America” will never fail to disappoint those seeking answers from the paranormal world!
Hundreds of investigations have taken place within the walls of Missouri State Penitentiary, each team collecting evidence and experiences that will chill you to the bone! Full-bodied apparitions, disembodied voices, inexplicable sounds and horror inducing stories still linger in the shadows just waiting to entice the newcomer who dares to enter.
The blood that tainted the grounds of Missouri State Penitentiary did not wait until the doors had closed before crying out for vengeance. Stories of guards who heard disembodied voices and saw objects moving about of their own volition have been collected over the years. Will you be willing to stand your ground as the chains begin to rattle and voices began to shout, “GET OUT!?!?!”
Join us to explore the massive structure including death row, the dungeon, the cell blocks and the gas chamber where 40 notorious criminals took their last cyanide filled breath. Will you be brave enough to venture a lone vigil in the depths of darkness that swirl around this former prison?!?
Missouri State Penitentiary was commissioned in 1833 and the construction was completed in time to receive the first inmate, Wilson Edison, in 1836. The first female inmate was received in 1842. During the 168 years of its operation, MSP housed several infamous prisoners that helped shaped the history of not only the local community but also the prison landscape across America.
At Missouri State Penitentiary, the inmates were expected to “give back” to society. They achieved this goal through several different industries during the years of operation. As early as 1840, prisoners were building homes for the community under the watchful eye of armed guards. Many of these houses are still standing. The Post-Civil War era brought in more industries that were seeking “cheap” inmate labor which included large shoe factories and the country’s largest saddletree factory. Inmates were also used to salvage records and thousands of documents when the Missouri State Capitol caught fire in 1911. And they also proved their productivity by constructing the gas chamber from stones in the prison yard that would go on to end the lives of 40 inmates between 1937 and 1989.
Unrest in the prison system was witnessed across the United States from 1953-1954 and Missouri State Penitentiary was not immune to the riots. On the evening of September 22nd, two of the inmates distracted the prison guards by faking an illness. As soon as the guards were sent in to investigate the situation, they were overpowered by the inmates and their keys were stolen.
As the two convicts ran from their cell they released their fellow prisoners along the cellblock with the other cellblocks soon to follow. A group of inmates began smashing windows and chairs throughout the dining hall and another group began set everything flammable on fire.
By midnight, Missouri Highway Patrol, the local and neighboring city Police and National Guard had surrounded the Penitentiary. Four of the buildings were fully ablaze, convicts were throwing bricks and starting more fires. Nearly 2500 rioters were running loose and wreaking havoc with in the walls. In the confusion an inmate in solitary confinement was tortured and murdered by the other inmates.
The gathering of Civil Servants gained control through sheer force of will and a little assistance by persistent gunfire (including machine guns). They were able to force out small groups and subdue the ringleaders. Due to the riots and the day-to-day life of the prisoners, Time Magazine named Missouri State Penitentiary “the bloodiest 47 acres in America.”
As new facilities were built, the Penitentiary slowly weened its inmates into other facilities including the shutdown of death row in 1989. It closed its doors for the final time in 2004.
There have been several notorious inmates that have served at Missouri State Penitentiary including a former Union General, the first known train robber, 1930s gangsters, world champion athletes, activists that brought about prison reform and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassin.
John B. “Firebug” Johnson: His notoriety came into play after he was an inmate in the 1880’s. Johnson made several attempt at escape but his most infamous attempt included him setting a fire that destroyed more than $500,000 worth of property and the deaths of several inmates. With his conviction of Arson, he was given an additional 12 years on his original sentence and was locked in the dungeon for several years. After he was released, Firebug wrote a book entitled “Buried Alive for 18 Years in the Missouri Penitentiary.”
Katie Richards O’Hare: O’Hare was the Chairperson of the Socialist Labor Party who was indicted under the new Federal Espionage Act in 1918 for a speech that she delivered in Bowman, North Dakota. Her federal sentence began in 1919 where she was sentenced to work 50 hours a week in a clothing factory and refused the right to communicate with her family. President Woodrow Wilson commuted her sentence in 1920 and she would later receive a full pardon from President Calvin Coolidge. Her brief sentence would alter the future of the prison system as she redirected her efforts to prison reform efforts. In 1939 she was appointed by the California Governor to be the Assistant Director of the California Department of Penology and her reform efforts had a major impact on the penal policies of California as well as across the US.
Emma Goldman: Goldman was another activist that was serving at the same time as Katie O’Hare. The charges she served time for ranged from inciting a riot to advocate the use of birth control to speaking out in opposition to World War I. Her bold manner of challenging injustice was influential on such agencies as the forming of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. An outspoken woman was apparently considered an agitator worthy of the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and Anthony Comstock as they pursued her throughout much of her life. When she was released in 1919 she was told to leave even though she could not pay her $10,000 fine because of the way she would often stir up rebellion among the female prisoners.
Harry Snodgrass “King of the Ivories:” During Snodgrass’ time at Missouri State Penitentiary he earned the moniker “King of the Ivories” due to his accomplishments as a pianist. The local radio station would feature Snodgrass along with the prison band known as the “Peaceful Village Band.” The popularity of the show led to several telegrams from all over the US, Mexico and Canada that spoke of the brilliance of Snodgrass’ talent. Fans rushed to his rescue when they heard that his sentence had been commuted by Governor Sam Baker and that Snodgrass would be leaving the prison destitute. They were able to gather over $2000 for him. After his release in 1925, Snodgrass traveled with a Vaudeville Act and went on to make several records for his label. He was also granted a full pardon in 1926.
Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd – Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd served time at Missouri State Penitentiary from 1925-1929 for a $12,000 St. Louis payroll robbery. His notoriety increased after his release as Floyd and his gang terrorized the Midwest. Known for his bank robberies and murders, by 1933 he was wanted in several states and known as “the most dangerous man alive.” Law Enforcement was warned that he was armed with machine guns and wore a steel vest for protection. They were able to slip through the arms of the law for quite some time until they were apprehended at a farm. Floyd’s vest did not save him that day as he was shot dead on the spot in an attempt to flee.
Charles “Sonny” Liston – Although Liston arrived at Missouri State Penitentiary a listful and illiterate convict, he would leave with a promising future and go on to be quite successful. Serving time for two charges of robbery with a deadly weapon and two charges of larceny, it didn’t take Liston long to find his passion and strength within the prison walls. Learning to box would become Liston’s ticket to freedom. A publisher of a St. Louis newspaper witnessed Liston’s boxing and realized that he had the potential to excel professionally in the sport. After contacting the Board of Probation and Parole, he asked to have Sonny released to him and assisted him in his climb to glory. He won the Golden Gloves Amateur Boxing Tournament and then went on to win the National Heavyweight Championship in 1953.
James Earl Ray – James Earl Ray served time at Missouri State Penitentiary for the armed robbery of a Kroger Store in St. Louis. He had been given a 20-year sentence but he wasn’t the type of man to sit around and wait for parole. Ray was very familiar with the prison system having already served time in Joliet, Pontiac and Leavenworth so almost immediately he began planning his escape. It took 7 years and many failed attempts, but he was eventually successful. In 1967 he arrived for his job in the prison bakery early and other inmates helped him into a large bread box that was used for shipping. When the truck came to pick up the delivery, the driver loaded several boxes including the one that carried James Earl Ray and drove them off the grounds of the Penitentiary.
Nearly a year later on Thursday, April 4, 1968, Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr.
Your ghost hunt at Missouri State Penitentiary includes the following:
Guests are strongly advised to bring extra warm clothing with them.