The Old Idaho Penitentiary is a weird place to visit. That’s not to say it’s not worth visiting, it’s absolutely worth stopping by. It’s just… weird.
“Why is it so weird?” you ask.
It’s weird because somehow it has both a Disney-like-imagination-land zeal and some intense real-life creepiness.
Now, don’t let that brief review scare you off. If nothing else, this place is packed with so much wild Idaho history that you’re sure to go home with a few fun facts to be pulled out of your back pocket at a later date. For example, when you run out of things to talk about with your visiting aunt.
The Ol’ Pen (as I like to call it) opened its doors to prisoners in 1872. And here’s what’s really crazy… The complex remained open for 101 years, until 1972. When you see the penitentiary in person, you’ll understand why this is so mind-blowing. It does not look like any sort of modern-day prison. For one thing, the penitentiary is made out of sandstone.
And who do you think got the honor of building that sandstone slammer?
The prisoners themselves of course.
Now, being such a delightfully weird and creepy place, when I went to the prison I dusted off my retired Ouija Board to chit-chat with the ghosts of Ol’ Pen past.
I’m kidding. I would never do that.
But, that said, there are apparently a number of people who believe ghosts actually roam the penitentiary grounds. So much so that several paranormal groups have visited the complex to use their spirit-reading machines to demystify or rather re-mystify the place.
So, something you’re probably wondering—what did the prisoners do to get thrown behind bars?
Well, get this, one of the most famous inmates was Harry Orchard. Orchard murdered former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg. Oh, and killed more than 17 other people.
Another famous inmate was Lyda Southard. She is believed to have murdered four husbands.
The penitentiary was closed in 1973 after serious riots. I’m not sure what that all entailed. But, sounds serious.
Now I know you’d probably be happy to hear me describe the entire penitentiary in full, down to how plumbing works in sandstone, but I’m going to let you check it out for yourself.
So, if you’re in Boise and you’re tired of hiking, don’t hesitate to visit the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. It’s pretty weird.
Here’s the link to their website for more information: https://history.idaho.gov/location/old-penitentiary/