Prime real estate: Lock in your investment with an 1897 jail!

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About a month ago, I wrote a post in which I noted that, even as the mortgage crisis gains steam, there are still some bargains to be found in real estate. Granted, my suggestions centered around ghost towns, abandoned monasteries, deserted islands, and empty factories, but tough times sometimes require a little creativity!

Speaking of which, if you're in the market for a classic Victorian home with a top-notch security system, tons of space, and a great location, look no further! The Somerset County jail, in Skowhegan, Maine, is currently up for sale. Built in 1897 and renovated in 1984, the 14,000 square foot prison is built of sturdy brick, is surrounded with a razor-wire fence, and has room to sleep 100 of your nearest and dearest. It is located in the heart of downtown Skowhegan, and has no zoning restrictions. It has two floors, a full basement, and is an absolute steal at only $200,000. If you're interested, here's the listing.

The jail's realtors have suggested that it be renovated and turned into a gallery, restaurant, artists' colony, school, or other public-use building. With that in mind, the people for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA) has proposed that the county lease it for use as a "Lobster Empathy Center." The idea is that visitors could sit in grubby glass-enclosed jail cells with rubber bands strapped around their hands, which would give them an idea of what it is like for a lobster to live in a cramped supermarket aquarium. One wonders if footage of lobsters tearing into rotted underwater carcasses will be part of the tour.

PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk explained this plan by saying, "Mainers have been dragging lobsters from their ocean homes for generations [...] It's time for them to learn that these fascinating animals deserve more than being treated as mere commodities." However, as Somerset County Commission Chairman Philip Roy noted, Skowhegan is located more than 53 miles (as the crow flies) from Rockland, the lobster fishing center of Maine. The town draws little, if any, of its income from the lobster trade, which makes it an odd choice for an anti-lobstering center. Apparently, PETA is taking the position that, since Maine is a major lobstering state, all Mainers are culpable for crimes against lobsters (Lobsterity? Lobsterkind?).

Personally, I would argue that humans should hold off on creating a lobster empathy center until the little aquatic cockroaches can ask for it on their own!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Right now, he's jonesing for some boiled PETA member with a side of butter. Yum!

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