A Very Real Surprise Found on a Ghost Tour

‘If you look at the white floor and the end of the hallways, you may see the shadow.’ Then much louder, ‘Hello! Can you let us know you are here? Can you hit a cell door? We won’t hurt you, but want to know if you are with us tonight.’

The Missouri State Penitentiary opened in 1836 in Jefferson City, Missouri along the banks of the Missouri River as the only prison west of the Mississippi. After 168 years of housing prisoners, the prison was decommissioned in 2004. Today, the prison provides a variety of tourist attractions including the ghost tour I took Saturday night as a part of my mom’s 60th birthday party.

Maybe it was our glow bracelets or maybe we were too loud or maybe we are just too positive, but whatever it was, we did not have any ghosts come to visit . . . that we are aware of! Even though we did not have a visit that night, I can’t help but think about all the souls that once walked those halls and how their stories may still haunt us today.

As a part of the Ghost Tour, the guide shared many stories and accounts of the true history of the MSP. The accounts of the women who came or ended up pregnant while serving their sentence (many were allowed to work at various homes in the area). Many of these women delivered their babies at MSP, and these children grew up in the prison. Even though babies today are put into protective services, many will have residual challenges – physically and emotionally – for the state their mother was in at their births.

Our guide also shared the history of some infamous prisoners like James Earl Ray. Working in the prison bakery, Ray removed the baked goods from a large wooden crate and went out in the bakery delivery truck. Only a few months later, he shot and killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How different could our history be if this man had a different job while at MSP – a job which did not allow for his escape?

You may wonder if the ghost tour is the real deal or some act. What I can tell you is I have had a lingering feeling since Saturday night. As I continue to reflect, I realize that there were a few ghosts that visited me. I have truly been haunted by the condition of this prison and that it was only decommissioned in 2004. It really made me think about prison reform and question if we have really come that far in this area of our ‘civilization’?

This tour also makes me fear the ghosts of future students. These are the ones that I interact with each day that struggle in many ways. These are the students that I know need me or one of my staff or their other teachers to reach them. If not, I fear these students are destined to be contained in horrible places like MSP for most of their lives due to poor decision making or the lack of impulse control or an anger that never completely leaves them. These ghosts are very real, but I also know many trying to eliminate any future prison spirits – I walk beside these Ghostbusters in the halls of our school each day.

If you are interested in a ghost tour or a history tour of MSP, check out https://www.missouripentours.com/

10 thoughts on “A Very Real Surprise Found on a Ghost Tour

  1. Well-done! You moved from a factual recounting to an introspective look on the ghosts that haunt you. I’ve taught those types of students and still wonder if their lives turned out different than they predicted.

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  2. I love how you compared ghosts to the memories of students that stay in your mind. Yep, those “ghosts” of former students do haunt me. In retrospect, of course I would do things differently, but now I’m equipped with years of experience and additional training by mentor teachers. Then sometimes, I am rewarded with positive, pleasant outcomes of such students.

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  3. Wow that is a very strong and poignant slice, all those memories and all those prisoners from the past. Sounds like an interesting birthday party choice! Liked learning about James Earl Ray and his escape, had no idea about that, so sad. And your finishing up with your students maybe haunting a similar institution in the future, made it all so real. I do hope the Ghostbusters win out! I once visited Robin Island where Nelson Mandela and so many others were imprisoned, off Cape Town. I’ll never forget that bleak prison and it helped me to realise all the more, what a great man he was, to survive it all without bitterness.

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    • There were so many other prisoner stories that I found very interesting. I think we will try the history tour in the future. It is hard to believe anyone recovers from such locations.

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  4. I see your connections. While I’ve never been on that tour, more often that not recently I e been concerned for a student’s current path, their mental state, their future. It’s a complicated world and the students see and think much more about it than I did.

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  5. I chose you because of your ghost story. I stayed for your history lesson. And, I will continue to reflect on your words long after our moment together has passed. Thank you for your thoughts and words. From the sounds of it, you too are a reflective practitioner and your students must be getting all the best from you.

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    • I am sorry I did not have a better ghost story, but even the dark silence, tiny cells, and sheer volume of people the prison was made to hold was a bit haunting. Our group was split with some wanting a longer, even overnight, paranormal stay and the others wanting more history. I believe it is very valuable to reflect on all that surrounds us and see what we can learn and apply to our lives today.

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