Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Texas Prison Museum still a hit with TDCJ employees and tourists alike

By Duane Stuart, Backgate Website

   It may not be even half as large as a Houston or even Austin historical Museum, but nestled in Huntsville next to Hwy 45, the Texas Prison Museum can give them a run for their money when it comes to Texas history. Former TDCJ Warden (Retired) and Director of the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, Jim Willett sent the Backgate Website an update on some of the happenings going on over at the Museum this summer. Willett, who authored the book " Warden" published by Bright Sky Press, retired after 30 years of TDCJ service. Many of those years spent overseeing the death chamber at the Huntsville " Walls" prison unit where Texas puts those condemned to death.

I toured the Museum some time back and found it to be interesting and very representative of the history of the Texas prison system. From the 1800's to present, exhibits reveal the true stories of Bonnie and Clyde and Clyde's escape from a Texas prison. Old sparky, the seemingly innocent wooden chair that took the lives of some of the worst Texas had to offer, sits quiet in a corner of the Museum for the curious to inspect. It's well maintained and stocked with hundreds of items of Texas penal history. TDCJ employees should make it a mandatory trip, and tourists always enjoy themselves as well. If you get a chance to drop by, make the effort.

From Jim Willett...

Old Sparky pictured at the museum
"Things at the Texas Prison Museum have been in a state of substantial growth in the
number of visitors over the last few years.  Last year we had over 29,000 people
visit our museum.  Thus far this year we are ahead of the same time period last
year.  And if spring break was indication, we are in for a very busy summer."

"Over the last three summers we have seen a lot of families taking day trips.  I have the
good pleasure to tell you that we have been able to maintain much of our pricing
over the years. We still charge the same admission prices as when we opened at our
current location, over nine years ago: $4 for adults, $3 for anyone over the age of
60, $2 for those 6 to 17, and anyone under 6 is free.  We also have discount rates
for TDCJ -ID employees, military personnel, groups, and AAA.  The gift shop is still
full of great buys.  For instance, we still charge the same $22 for key chains that
we did in 2002." 

Collage of items from the Texas Prison System at the museum
"While some displays are a fixture, such as Old Sparky, others are rotated from time
to time.  Recently we changed out our audio booth, for instance. We'd run a piece
from Witness To An Execution for a couple of years and have changed it to a piece
with Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian on some experiences that they had while
recording audio and video in the Death Row at the Ellis Unit in 1979.  It is very
interesting material and there is a new book for sale that part of their work, IN

"Photographer Barbara Sloan's popular display, Last Statement, is due to be upgraded
with new material near the end of June.  Barbara has done a really fine job of
capturing the feelings, both in word and picture, of the families affected by the
death penalty cases.  Two other recent additions to our displays are one on the
tracking dogs, with some pictures dating way back, and another on the convict Milt
Goode from the late twenties and thirties.  He helped start the Texas Prison Rodeo
after escaping twice." 

"Items are regularly being added to other displays, especially the ones on the Prison
Rodeo, and the Contraband displays. We've continued to add to our books available 
for sale and our T-shirts, as well. Our T-shirts are of good quality with competitive pricing. 
We carry a good stock of inmate-made leather goods and key chains for the correctional staff
of TDCJ-ID. "

"We are still open seven days a week, 10 - 5 Monday through Saturday, and noon to
five on Sundays.  So come on by and stay a while."

Check out the Texas Prison Museums site HERE for directions and details ! 

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