OUR OPINION: Prison tours must follow proper path
Monday, January 24, 2011
Imaginative ideas require proper execution.
The popularity of historic tours of the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) site inspired an idea for the host, the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
But the bureau will face the critical test of capitalizing on the attraction without transforming it into a trite, theme park.
When the new tour season begins March 1, the bureau will offer a range of specialty tours, in addition to the customary tours focusing on the history of the facility, opened in 1836.
New opportunities will include ghost tours, ghost hunts and paranormal investigations. Twilight tours and photography tours also will be offered.
In addition, specialty history tours will focus on the 1954 riots, escape attempts, executions, boxer Sonny Liston and gangster “Pretty Boy” Floyd. Liston and Floyd both were inmates at the prison.
CVB Executive Director Steve Picker is acutely aware of the dilemma. “Every tour will have a historical component. Our goal is not to trivialize anything about MSP.”
Equally encouraging is the attitude of Marie Lacey, a Jefferson City Paranormal Investigators member who will help the CVB coordinate the ghost tours. “The last thing we want to do is be disrespectful,” she said.
By agreement with the site’s owner, the state Office of Administration, an added benefit of the expanded tours is proceeds will be used to maintain and repair historic buildings at MSP.
Limited funds have impeded preservation, allowing time and inaction to cause continued disintegration.
If this trend continues, ironically, benign neglect eventually will eliminate what has become one of the Capital City’s more popular attractions.
We believe the specialty tours are innovative, practical and beneficial. Similarly, we find the organizers’ approach to be both appropriate and respectful.