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Journeys of Discovery: Tennessee’s Alcatraz

Correspondent Tom Wilmer reports from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. He visits with Brian May, who along with his partner operates prison tours, concerts, a theater, restaurant and distillery. 

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee, opened in 1896. The 'Big House' was notorious for prisoners working twelve-hour shifts in adjacent coal mines. This is the place where Martin Luther King’s assassin was incarcerated. Designed to hold 584 inmates, more than 1,200 were often crammed into the cells.

The prison closed in 2009, but today it lives on as a historical site, replete with a moonshine distillery, a restaurant, and live-music concerts with performers such as Dwight Yoakam. Overnight paranormal adventures inside the prison walls have become the rage. Open to the public for less than two years in its new incarnation, “Brushy" has quickly become a popular Tennessee tourist destination and a significant employer in the Upper Cumberland region.

You are invited to subscribe to the Lowell Thomas Award-winning travel show podcast, Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, featured on the NPR Podcast DirectoryApple Podcast, the NPR One App & Twitter: TomCWilmer. Instagram: Thomas.Wilmer. Member of the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Underwriting support provided by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

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