Monday, May 30, 2022

Day 99: It was only a matter of time.... prison!

July 28: Today was expected to be another very hot day, and I decided to wait it out with another zero day. I was not, however, planning to stay stuck in my hotel room all day. Oh, no.... No... today, I planned to book myself into prison! 


Today I'd tour the Frontier Prison Museum!

Yes, you heard that right. I headed to the Frontier Prison Museum for the first tour of the day at 9:30am. They provided an hour-long guided tour through Wyoming’s first state penitentiary. It first opened its doors... or rather, I suppose, locked it's doors in 1901 and incarcerated about 13,500 people during the next 80 years of its history.

The penitentiary closed its doors... or, I suppose, opened them? The terminology is a little confusing when it comes to prisons. ;o) In any case, the prison closed to inmates in 1981. It sat vacant until 1987 when the location was used as the setting for the movie Prison. I've never seen the movie, but our tour guide assured us that it wasn't very good. I'm still tempted to watch it someday just to see how many of the scenes I recognize.

Filming the movie actually damaged parts of the prison since, at the time, the old prison wasn't considered a historical site (a designation that applies today), and our tour guide happily pointed out artifacts from the filming, including cutting a giant hole in the wall of the courtyard where the inmates could go outside.

While the prison was active, 14 men were executed: 9 by hanging and 5 in a gas chamber. The inmates who hung were hung on a Julien gallows, a device I had never even heard of before but basically required the inmate to hang themselves. It saved the state from having to pay a hangman, or having the hangman feel guilty about killing someone later and avoid any social stigma that might have been attached to the job. 

The original Julien gallows were dismantled and removed when the state changed executions to use the gas chamber instead, but the museum has replaced it with a reproduction. There's also a miniature version at the beginning of the tour so the tour guides could show exactly how it works. Kind of interesting, definitely morbid.

The gas chamber at the facility, however, is the original one where five men were executed, but us mere visitors were not allowed to go into it or sit in the chair and take mock photos of us being executed.

This is the gas chamber where 5 inmates were executed.

There was one kid in my tour group who seemed to have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with the prison and everything to do with it. He'd ask the tour guide questions about what kind of guns the prison guards used and other strangely specific details. When the tour guide admitted that he wasn't sure, the kid then went into a small soliloquy about the most likely types of guns they would have used and why.

I whispered to another person in our group that it seemed like he was already planning his own escape from prison when he grew up. He seemed like a born serial killer. Or maybe the cop who likes to catch serial killers if you want to give it a more positive slant. =)

The kid was kind of funny, albeit a little creepy. I was glad I didn't have to sleep in the same room as him! I don't think I could have slept well.

At the end of the tour, they led us through their gift shop--but of course, that's the standard thing for tours--but our guide told us if we bought a book, they could stamp it with a rubber stamp which read, "Stolen from Wyoming Frontier Prison." 

I didn't want to buy a book, but I asked if it was possible to get my journal stamped, and he was happy to oblige. Awesome! So my journal is now stamped that it was stolen from the prison. =)

I did buy some postcards there, and if you got a postcard from me from Rawlins, it most likely came from the prison museum. (I did get a couple of free ones from the Chamber of Commerce, however, so if it's about the CDT itself, you got a Chamber of Commerce postcard!)

Anyway.... after tour the museum, I headed over to the library to print maps of the CDT through Wyoming. I finally had paper maps again! Woo-who! I was very excited about this. I hadn't had any paper maps since Creede, 37 days ago.... All my Colorado maps had been trapped in my bounce box since then.

Then I wandered over to Burger King for a quick lunch, another quick stop at Walmart to pick up a couple of items I had forgotten to buy the day before, then back to my hotel for the rest of the day.

While walking back from the downtown core, I did run into Bugs who was just walking into town, so we chatted for a couple of minutes. She was the only other hiker I bumped into during my wanderings, though, and I recommended visiting the prison if time permitted.

Back at the hotel, I thought it would be funny to put on a temporary tattoo and tell people it was a "prison tat." I went to prison in town, and left with a prison tat. =) I'm so silly, I know.....

If I recall correctly, this is where inmates got their hair cut.

The artwork in the cafeteria was done by one of the inmates.


Wise Wanderer said...

The artwork is kinda sad - obviously, by someone whose life could have gone a different direction. I hope the kid obsessed with guns doesn't also take a wrong turn. Interesting museum.

Anonymous said...

The kid sounds like a gun enthusiast and wanted to demonstrate his knowledge.

You can see a miniature Julian hanging machine here -

sun7flour said...

Almost 25 years ago my husband and I camped outside Rawlins at a free campground and visited the prison museum. We loved it, he thought it was better than the Alcatraz tour. We immediately purchased the movie from ebay when we got home. As lovers of 'B' horror movies it wasn't bad. I think it was one of Viggo Mortenson's first movies. Definitely fun to watch and say we were there. The gas chamber was creepy morbid, at that time you could sit in it, and my husband did. However, I declined to take his picture.