The Missouri State Penitentiary is no stranger to tears or sorrow.
But is the place haunted by some of the souls who've lived, suffered and died within its walls? Some correctional officers and offenders believe they have witnessed ghosts at the prison.
Historian Mark Schreiber, who began his criminal justice career at the penitentiary in 1968, doesn't believe in ghosts, but doesn't discount others' stories, either.
Major Roger Boyd was a rookie officer one cold, dark night in 1976 when he saw something he believes was a ghost.
He was working the midnight to 8 a.m. shift in Housing Unit No. 2, a monstrous WPA building constructed in the midst of the Great Depression. The interior structure is laced with long hallways encased in wire mesh cages to prevent falls.
He'd just started his shift.
"It was quiet as a church," he remembers. "I paused to make a turn when I thought I heard footsteps."
It was as if someone was following him. It sounded as the footsteps were only a pace or two behind.
"Every time I stopped, I heard one or two soft steps," he said. "I looked down the stairs and it looked like a flash of gray. A blanket, I thought someone was trying to cut through the wire to get through to the windows."
Shaken by what he saw, he sent for help from the yard rover, but nothing unusual was found.
"The count (of prisoners) was good," he said.
A few nights later, another young recruit had a similarly strange experience, one he never told Boyd about.
"He was white as a sheet and he never came back," said Boyd. "I don't know what he heard that first night. I don't know, to this day, what really happened."
In his 28 years at the prison, Boyd has never seen anything else I would characterize as paranormal.
But it's not the only story of ghosts haunting the prison.
Schreiber said some offenders and correctional officers believe they witnessed an apparition appear in the old shoe factory, formerly the J.S. Sullivan Saddletree factory, about two years ago.
"They say they saw a figure, an offender who was a middle-aged Caucasian male, go real fast through the facility, several times," said Schreiber.
Although the figure was not scary, he was not solid, either.
Other inmates and staff say they've seen specters in striped uniform in the prison's oldest residence hall. The figures walked in lock step formation with one hand on another's shoulders—a march that hadn't been required in decades.
Schreiber said diaries and written accounts of life inside the walls document the appalling conditions that existed in the prison's history. Even today, the penitentiary shocks visitors with its dank, mildew decrepit interiors and brooding architecture.
He's documented 3,000 deaths, going back 168 years, but thinks there were more—likely buried on the grounds.
"They kept terrible records," he said.
Corporal punishment was swift and severe. People sent to Fulton returned. Cholera, typhus, tuberculosis and other fevers raged through the facilities, unchecked.
"We buried you as fast as we could," said Schreiber.
Many of those graves are thought to be unmarked and shallow. When earth work begins on the prison site, Schreiber believes convict graves may be found both in the clay pits of the prison quarry and under a ball field.
He doesn't deny the deep sorrow that affects the lives of both inmates and correctional officers at MSP.
"If we believe in life after death, we certainly know there is another dimension that isn't explained. Who's to say? If any place is haunted it ought to be this place."
Schreiber added: "If there is such a thing, then the Missouri State Penitentiary is a prime location. And if it doesn't exist here, it certainly would be interesting to know why it doesn't."
"If all the tears that have ever been shed in this place, and about this place, were collected here, they would fill these walls and overflow. That's true not just about the men and women who've been incarcerated here, but for the staff who've worked here, too," he concluded.