Day Trips: Texas Prison Museum

Slammer school in Huntsville


Photos by Gerald E. McLeod

The Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville isn't a "feel good" institution. Almost all aspects of the subject matter hit you in the gut with an uneasy feeling.

The museum doesn't glorify the system, nor demonize its charges. It lays bare the inhuman restraints used in the past and the makeshift weapons fashioned by the inmates. If nothing else, the museum's replica of a two-bunk cell illustrates that prison is not an ideal living arrangement.


The star of the show is "Old Sparky," one of the Texas prison system's electric chairs. Used from 1924 until 1964, it led 361 men to meet their maker by what was referred to as "riding the thunderbolt." On the wall around the electric chair are impact statements from the families victimized by those put to death in the chair. The words of the children, parents, and siblings affected by the crimes of the condemned can be heartbreaking.

If there is a bright side to the exhibition, it is the creativity shown by some of the incarcerated. Besides their talents for fashioning weapons from the likes of steak bones and hiding shanks in flip-flops, many showed artistic skill in woodworking, leather tooling, and painting. One inmate used coffee grounds to create a picture of Bonnie and Clyde (Clyde was a former guest of the prison system).


The Texas Prison Museum is off I-45 at 491 SH 75 N. in Huntsville. The exhibits are open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm. Admission begins at $4. Goods made by inmates are available for sale in the small gift shop. For more information, go to www.txprisonmuseum.org.


1,457th in a series. Follow “Day Trips & Beyond,” a travel blog, at austinchronicle.com/daily/travel.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas Prison Museum, Huntsville, Old Sparky, Bonnie and Clyde, Crime Month 2019

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