The Old Jail
St. Augustine, Florida
This place has received a makeover since we last visited. The exercise yard and stockade are gone, as are nearly all of the broken-down, striped-suit-wearing, black-faced dummies that used to populate it. Real people wear the striped suits now, local actors hired to lead the tours and apparently told to "be scary" when they do so.
As a result, this has become a Florida version of the Witch Dungeon in Salem, Massachusetts, or of any haunted mansion or alien autopsy attraction, where the help cackles, stomps, bangs things, and contorts their faces in an effort to make you uncomfortable.
The jail was built by the same company that later built Alcatraz, and was bankrolled by oil-and-railroad billionaire Henry Flager. The pink stucco exterior has been restored, and the prison again looks the way it did originally -- pleasing to the eye, like a hotel. It housed convicts until 1953, when it became a tourist attraction.
The jail has a restored gallows and a "birdcage" cell that makes a nice photo-op. Inside, the highlight of the tour is an animatronic sheriff Joe Perry, who gives a short speech from atop the maximum security cell block, holding a hangman's rope. After his talk, the jail fills with the disembodied recorded voices of unhappy prisoners (actually, more actors), and you are left to find your own way out.