What to do with old LCF?

Officials Consider Prison Museum at retired Lansing Correctional Facility

Preservation Efforts of LCF By Peggy Bair

Local historian Ken LaMaster has helped spark recent interest in preservation efforts at the old Lansing Correctional Facility. Parts of the prison date back to the mid-1800s and were built by prisoners. ©2023 Photo by Peggy Bair/HeartKC

The fate of the old Lansing Correctional Facility edged closer to preservation Wednesday, Aug. 9, as Kansas state Sen. Jeff Pittman joined Lansing City Administrator Tim Vandall, local historian Ken LaMaster, and LCF officials on a tour of the facility to assess how it might be used as a museum.

Kansas Sen. Jeff Pittman toured the old Lansing Correctional Facility Wednesday, Aug. 9, with officials Randy Bowman, executive director of Public Affairs with the Kansas Dept. of Corrections, back, left, Lansing City Administrator Tim Randall, and local historian Ken LaMaster. ©2023 Peggy Bair/HeartKC

Prisoners formerly housed at the old facility were transferred to the new facility in 2020, leaving the old LCF buildings mostly unoccupied since then. A few administrative offices and some storage spaces are all that remain. The old facility was set to be mostly demolished until it was given a stay earlier this year as officials explored options. The size of the entire old prison is 642,397 sq ft., of which 96,467 sq ft is proposed for salvage.

Local historian Ken LaMaster, left, and Kansas Sen. Jeff Pittman visit with Deputy Warden Nicolaus Ball, right, during a tour of the old LCF building. ©2023 Peggy Bair/HeartKC

The concept of creating a prison museum has precedent. Retired prison facilities have been turned into museums many places in the world. One of the most famous is Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, which sees 1.6 million visitors annually and generates about $60 million in annual revenue for park partners. Another one is Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Tours at that facility include a variety of experiences for visitors, such as history tours and ghost tours. Potentially, Lansing, Kansas and the surrounding area would stand to gain from a museum attraction from visitors also seeking hotel, restaurant, and shopping in the area.

Lansing city administrator Tim Vandall said that Lansing would love to bring that revenue to its city.

“It will be interesting to see how it (a museum) is structured,” Vandall said. “The city’s interest would be in tourism, something to bring people to town to help our businesses, restaurants, hotels.”

The historical significance of the facility sparked the interest of local historian and former LCF correctional officer LaMaster. When he heard of the potential demolition of the old prison site, he said he contacted state Rep. Pat Proctor and Sen. Jeff Pittman.

“In the budget for the corrections department, there was $10 million to bulldoze (the old LCF) last year,” Pittman said. The senator asked the Ways and Means Committee to put the demolition on hold. “I said, ‘Let me give everybody an opportunity to save 15% of this thing and keep it around.’ They said okay,” Pittman explained. “I went over to the house and the senate and they all said, ‘Let’s push it off for a year.’” Pittman said that year delay has about five to six months left.

Kansas Sen. Jeff Pittman examined a “closed door” cell, (also referred to as solitary confinement) at LCF during Wednesday’s tour. ©2023 Peggy Bair/HeartKC

LaMaster said a museum prison tour would be a draw for the community and provide an educational and historical perspective unique to LCF. The prison was famously the last stop for , convicted murderers whose story was made famous by Truman Capote’s novel, “In Cold Blood.” In 1965, the two convicted murderers were executed in one of the Lansing Correctional Facility buildings that is still standing. No executions have taken place in Kansas since, even though Kansas still is a death penalty state.

Kansas Sen. Jeff Pittman, left, discusses the history of a building with local historian Ken LaMaster, during a visit to a particular site that formerly housed the gallows at LCF. The last prisoners to be executed at the facility were the two convicted murderers Richard Eugene “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, executed by hanging in 1965 for the deaths of four members of the Clutter family. http://genealogytrails.com/kan/finney/clutterfamilymurders.html

LCF was also the location of a 1970 prison concert by country singer Johnny Cash who visited Lansing and the nearby women’s prison on the same day he gave a concert at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

Other potential ideas for such an attraction would involve tours explaining the history of the role of correctional officers. Raising awareness of how the prison system has evolved is one of LaMaster’s hopes for a museum project.

“The historical value of the institution is paramount to the community. It means not only are you preserving the past and learning from it but, when you learn from the past, you can move forward to the future,” LaMaster said. “The evolution of prison guard to modern day corrections is paramount to not only the field of corrections but how it relates to the communities around it – and how it relates to understanding society.”

Pittman plans to visit the Missouri State Penitentiary tours and museum site to gather more information about how that facility operates. Pittman emphasized that any plans for the old LCF are still fluid. He said another extension may need to be requested to give planners and stakeholders enough time to form a solid proposal for the old LCF facility.

“It’s going to be in the budget for next year,” Pittman said. “There’s lots of different models out there. But in Missouri, they’ve taken a facility like this and turned it into a museum. We’re going to get a committee together, have some meetings. We’re here today to get a little bit of an overview, get some pictures inside, get a layout so that when we get together with some other stakeholders, we’ll have some things to talk about.”

As the Aug. 9 LCF tour wrapped up, Kansas Senator Jeff Pittman kneeled before a grave in the LCF cemetery, a site where about 225 prisoners are buried. ©2023 Peggy Bair/HeartKC

©2023 Peggy Bair/HeartKC Link to this story may be shared. All copy and photo content copyright ©2023 by Peggy Bair/HeartKC Express written permission required for further publication or use. pasbair@gmail.com Reach Peggy Bair by cell 913-944-7005