About The Museum
Former Angola Warden Burl Cain recognized the importance of Angola’s history. In 1996 he called together a group of interested people, including some of the assistant wardens and presented his ideas about creating a prison museum at Angola. His goal was to which would document the history of Louisiana’s prisons in order to not repeat the horrors of the past. The Bank of Commerce offered their former bank building to house the museum, right outside the gates of the penitentiary. Mrs. Nadine Tanner, Warden’ Cain’s administrative assistant at the time, was directed to implement the project. The museum officially opened in 1997 and an advisory board was created consisting of corrections’ practitioners, scholars and museum professionals. After a board meeting in which the members “passed the hat” for the needed fees to file for incorporation and non-profit status with the state and the Internal Revenue Service, the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation was created in 1999 and is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Receiving more than 120,000 visitors a year from the US and from more than 20 foreign countries, the museum features permanent and changing exhibits, in addition to a traveling exhibit which have been displayed in more than a dozen museums and libraries across Louisiana, over the last two years. Since its inception, the museum foundation has facilitated the placement of Angola’s first cell house, known as the Red Hat, on the National Register of Historic Places and the state’s recent donation of a circa 1940s prison tower and a cell room that are key exhibits in the Smithsonian’s forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
The only prison museum in the country operated within an active prison, the museum will soon has recently expanded to include a second building situated “behind the gates”. The Hospital Receiving Station opened in 1951 to process incoming prisoners to Angola, the only prison in the state at the time, maintain many of the original functions as exhibits. This new addition feature architectural plans of the 1951 building, hospital procedures, admissions processing, death row, cell blocks and the original electric chair. The Receiving Center, as it was formerly called, now also offers the Big House Cafe’ for tour busses and visitors to the museum.
Photo Left: Guard on the Wall. Louisiana Penitentiary, Baton Rouge, LA, circa 1900.
Photographer: Andrew Lytle, Jr.
Henry L. Fuqua, Jr. Lytle Photograph Collection and Papers, Mss. 1898, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, La.