MSP museum captures prison’s history

Exhibit designer Cindee Herrick and Tisha Spencer, graphics designer with Firehouse Design, talk with guests Tuesday at the open house of the Missouri State Penitentiary Museum on the second floor of the Convention and Visitors Bureau on High Street in Jefferson City.

Exhibit designer Cindee Herrick and Tisha Spencer, graphics designer with Firehouse Design, talk with guests Tuesday at the open house of the Missouri State Penitentiary Museum on the second floor of the Convention and Visitors Bureau on High Street in Jefferson City.

Inside the recreated cell, Evan Napier added his own writing to the wall behind the iron bunk bed.

The dry-erase wall is a popular feature of the Missouri State Penitentiary Museum, which opened Tuesday on the second floor of 100 E. High St.

Napier and his wife, Kacie, both Department of Corrections employees, were excited to attend the museum’s opening. Next, they hope to take the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau Hard Hat Tour at the decommissioned prison site.

The bureau hopes the long-awaited prison museum will augment the tours and will be another draw for visitors to spend time downtown, said communications manager Ryan Burns.

The museum is the result of funding from the Discover Jefferson City Foundation and a grant from the Missouri Humanities Council, as well as a design concept by curator Cindee Herrick and much of the bureau’s staff.

The photo-heavy displays are divided into prison industries, contract labor/private industries, inside the walls, and control and counter-control.

The Napiers were fascinated by the many photos of the people and activities within the prison. They also were interested in what was and was not similar to today’s system.

On the wall beside the imitation cell was a list of terms under “Talk like a Con,” with many references still used by inmates and officers, Evan Napier said.

“It was neat reading about people, like the famous inmates,” Kacie Napier said.

From hearing stories from older coworkers and reading the history of the old prison, both of the Napiers agreed they would have liked to have the experience of working during the old prison’s hey-day.

“That place has so much history; it’s fascinating to learn about,” Evan Napier said. “It’s crazy to think how brutal the punishments used to be compared to now.”

History tells of hangings and beatings. But today, officers don’t even carry batons.

Such details are what the bureau expects will draw local folks as well as out-of-town visitors.

“We felt the time was right,” Burns said. “There’s an extreme amount of historical information out there.

“It’s our job to start gathering that information because we facilitate the tours.”

Although the museum’s location above the bureau offices is not ideal, the hope is some day to relocate the displays and panels somewhere on the MSP site.

The next step for the museum will be to develop a docent program. Volunteers are welcome.

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