Having a great time. Wish you were here!

We send postcards (or we used to) to show others where we’ve been. Or we collect them to remember where we’ve been ourselves. Vendors print and sell them so we can do both.

Which begs the question: Exactly when did prisons and penitentiaries become tourist attractions?

  • 14-Day Free Trial

To be fair, the “Garden Beautiful, Inside the Walls, San Quentin Prison, California,” is picturesque, just like the back of the postcard says. Though it doesn’t say anything about tours being available.

san quentin gardens


If you prefer your prisons from the outside, at a distance, you can opt for San Quentin from the shoreline

san quentin shoreline


True, Johnny Cash did imbue Folsom with a certain cachet.

folsom prison

At least this Louisiana postcard has a little history: “The Court Yard and Prison Rooms in the Cabildo at Chartres and St. Peter’s Streets. Note the tiers and cells, and the wide galleries around them. The room, with the door standing open on the ground floor, is the cell in which the pirate LaFitte was incarcerated after his capture by the Americans. Later on his services were accepted by General Jackson and he participated in the Battle of New Orleans, where he covered himself with glory, subsequently receiving a pardon from the Congress of the United States.”

louisiana prison


But who buys a triptych of the federal prison at Atlanta, even with that fine new wing and guards and warden’s home?



In case you were wondering, “The Kansas State Prison was established in 1864. Has 2,000 acres for general farming. Industries are binding twine, coal, brick, clothing shop, tobacco and rug manufacture.”

kansas state prison


Talk about backhanded compliments: “Montgomery, Alabama: Kilby State Prison, one of the finest and most modern in the world, is named after former governor Kilby and was erected during his administration.”

kilby prison


This postcard for the United Sates Penitentiary, Atlanta, includes driving directions on the back: “One of the largest and costliest prisons established by the Federal Government. Take South Pryor to Federal Prison cars on Peachtree or Whitehall Streets.”

atlanta us pen


Maybe it’s the entire picture appearing to be smudged with smoke, but would anyone be surprised if the arch over the drive leading to the state pen in Walla Walla, WA, read “Abandon all hope ye who enter here…”?

walla walla pen



Do they build prisons with turrets anymore? (They should.)

neb state pen turrets



Nevada State Prison, Carson City, had its own claim to fame, according to the back of the card: “The smallest State Prison in the United States and famous as the first Penal Institution in the world to adopt the lethal gas method of humane execution.”

nevada state prison


Now that’s something to write home about.




Which side of the walls were your ancestors standing on? Start a free trial.