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2445 Old Penitentiary Rd, Boise, ID 83712, USA (Boise, Idaho)
Old Idaho Penitentiary
This former-territorial prison is located in Boise, Idaho and is famous today for its role in the early incarceration history of the state, including many famous inmates, as well as its reputed haunted history. Construction on the facility began in 1890 (seven years after the federal government officially organized the Idaho Territory) to help offset the overcrowding of two small jails in Lewiston and Idaho City. The site was chosen for its proximity to a nearby sandstone quarry, which would provide many of the building materials for the prison, as well as be a source of labor for the inmates.

The original structure consisted of a single cell house that could house around 42 prisoners in separate cells. It was completed on January 24, 1871, but because of a monetary dispute between the territory and federal government, it would take until March 21, 1872 for the first eleven prisoners to arrive. The original stone entrance of the facility incorporated the "Pennsylvania System" (see Eastern State Penitentiary) of reform that emphasized isolation, labor, and religious reflection as a means to seek penitence and remorse from the inmates. Like others that incorporated the system, it was eventually abandoned due to high suicide rates and the increase in mental illness. The original cell house was condemned in the 1930s and converted into the prison's chapel.

Known today in historical reference as the Old Idaho Penitentiary, it is colloquially referred to as the Idaho State Penitentiary or the Idaho Territorial Prison (its official name before Idaho was granted statehood in 1890). During its term of service, it housed over 13,000 inmates including 215 women with a peak population of 600 at any given time. Due to the constant influx of new prisoners, overcrowding was a consistent issue. To properly house the growing population, the officials expanded over the years by building additional cellblocks and other needed structures - often years after they were originally needed.

The inmates often constructed the additional structures by hauling the sandstone blocks from the nearby quarry back to the prison to construct the buildings, retaining walls, or whatever else was needed. Prisoner labor and the quarry sandstone were also used to construct the nearby Idaho State Capitol. Various factories, a bakery, gardens, an orchard, and more were constructed so that the prison could be self-sustaining and the prisoners did the majority of the work.

Aside from all of the manual labor that was said to leave the inmates exhausted at the end of the day, living conditions at the prison were difficult. While the sandstone structures provided shelter, they were often freezing during the harsh winters and unbearably hot during the summer months. The prisoners slept on mattresses that were stuffed with straw and often were forced to share their cells due to overcrowding.

The crimes that brought the inmates to the prison ranged from fairly minor offenses to the far more severe. Early inmates included James Oscar Baker and James Whitaker. Baker was convicted in 1885 of shooting and killing a man that got into a brawl with Baker's father at a Soda Springs saloon, while Whitaker was incarcerated in 1912 for the murder of his mother who had forced him to help with the family laundry. The two were unusual cases in the sense that Baker was merely ten years old and Whitaker was eleven. Baker would only serve one year before being pardoned for the crime and placed in foster care. However, Whitaker served nine years for his crime before being paroled and eventually pardoned. While their ages make them noteworthy, they were far from the most famous inmates to serve time in the Old Idaho Penitentiary.

Diamondfield Jack
Famous hired gunman Diamondfield Jack spent time in the Old Idaho Penitentiary and was initially sentenced to die there. Born Jackson Lee Davis, he received his nickname for telling anyone who would listen about his plans to mine for diamonds. He never found any, but the name stuck. By 1895, Jack was hired by the Sparks-Harrell cattle company that worked lands in southern Idaho and northern Nevada. He was hired to keep sheepherders off company-claimed cattle land and was told to only fire his gun to scare off sheepherders that brought their flock on to the property or wound if necessary.

Within a year, Diamondfield Jack had shot and wounded a local sheepherder by the name of Bill Tolman and quickly made his way to Nevada in case Tolman died of the injury. He didn't, but Jack made the mistake of bragging about killing sheepherders for money, which would come back to haunt him. By 1896, he was back in Idaho again working for the cattle firm. Around the same time, two sheepherders had been shot and killed in Twin Falls County. Due to his overzealous boasts and presence in the area at the time, he became the top suspect and again fled the state.

He was found in the Arizona Territory in 1897 doing time at the Arizona Territorial Prison for an unrelated shooting incident. He was brought back to Albion, Idaho where he was put on trial for the two murders. Despite the lack of witnesses or evidence, Diamondfield Jack was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to hang on July 4 of that year. He earned a reprieve when men by the names of James Bower and Jeff Gray confessed to the crimes for which he had been convicted. However, there was doubt whether the men were telling the truth and his execution was only delayed.

In 1899, the Idaho Legislature declared that all executions would be held at the Idaho State Penitentiary (see Executions below) and Jack was transferred to the prison to await his sentence to be carried out. Towards the end of the year, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that Jack was a county prisoner and he was once again transported back to Albion, Idaho. Sparked by public outcry over Jack's innocence, his sentence was again extended and ultimately commuted to that of life imprisonment in 1901. He was once again transferred back to the Idaho State Penitentiary to serve his time.

A couple years after the other men took responsibility for the crime, Diamondfield Jack finally received a pardon in 1902 and was released from prison. He moved to Nevada where he became a successful mine operator of gold and silver and helped establish several camps, including one called Diamondfield. Jack reportedly later squandered away his fortune and died in obscurity after being struck by a cab in Las Vegas in 1949.

Henry "Bub" Meeks
Another prisoner of note also arrived the same year as Diamondfield Jack. On November 7, 1897, Henry Meeks entered the Idaho State Penitentiary to begin serving his 35-year sentence for bank robbery. Meeks is perhaps better known as Bub (some sources list his name as Bob) Meeks, a one-time member of the infamous Wild Bunch gang that featured none other than Butch Cassidy. Together with Cassidy and Elzy Lay, Meeks robbed the bank in Montpelier, Idaho. While Cassidy and Lay were able to escape, Meeks was captured and put on trial.

At the time, the Wild Bunch gang was still growing in stature and only after the robbery would Harry Longabaugh (also known as The Sundance Kid) join up. They were alternatively known as the "Hole in the Wall" gang, which was colloquially used to describe several other gangs that shared hideouts in the Hole-in-the-Wall Pass in Johnson County, Wyoming.

The trio held up the bank on August 13, 1896 and reportedly pulled in a haul worth over $7,000 with little violence. According to some accounts, Meeks was the only one of the robbers to not wear a bandana over his face because he served as the lookout standing outside, which made for easy identification later. He was arrested on June 15, 1897 in Fort Bridget, Wyoming on an unrelated robbery charge and brought to Idaho for identification. With a positive identification, he was put on trial and convicted of the crime that September and was sent to Idaho State Penitentiary two months later.

Once in prison, Meeks sentence was reduced to 12 years following a series of letters of recommendation written on his behalf, including one from the cashier of the bank he had robbed. However, it would not be enough to dissuade Meeks from attempting to escape. On December 24, 1901, Meeks grabbed a horse by the name of Old Selam (see Escapes from the Prison below) and made for the nearby hills. Unfortunately for him, his progress was slowed by a minor snowstorm that also left behind tracks for his pursuers to follow. He and the horse were recaptured and sent back to the prison on Christmas Day.

By February 2, 1903, he was ready to try again and made a desperate run from the prison's front gate. An alert Deputy Warden R.H. Fulton quickly brought his escape attempt to an end by firing a shot that hit Meeks just below the knee on his left leg. The wound would turn out to be fairly dramatic and his leg had to be amputated. Within the next two months, Meeks reportedly attempted suicide twice; once by stabbing himself with a pair of shears and again by climbing a 35-foot wall where he yelled, "Hurrah for Hell!" and then jumped. He only received minor injuries for his effort.

Given his suicide attempts and increasingly erratic behavior, Meeks was ultimately transferred to an asylum in Blackfoot, Idaho. He managed to escape that facility within a few months by overpowering his physician and stealing another mare, but again would be tracked down - this time at his family's ranch. However, his family was reportedly concerned by his mental state and Idaho authorities decided to leave his fate to them. They checked him into the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston, Wyoming where he died on November 22, 1912.

Harry Orchard
Another famous inmate at the Idaho State Penitentiary came in the form of Harry Orchard who was charged with the assassination of Frank Steunenberg, a former governor of Idaho. During his time in office, Steunenberg had made decisions that appeared to side with mine owners and were considered a direct betrayal of union supporters. He was killed on December 30, 1905 when a bomb that had been rigged to his front gate in Caldwell exploded. Harry Orchard was arrested for the crime a short time later when evidence related to the murder was found in his hotel room.

The case took a dramatic turn when Pinkerton detective James McParland, who had helped bring down the famed "Molly Macguires", obtained a confession from Orchard after informing him that he could avoid hanging by coming clean. Orchard did and also implicated Bill Haywood, Charles Moyer, and George Pettibone of the Western Federation of Miners in hiring him to assassinate the former governor, as well as seventeen others.

With only Orchard's word, the three men were arrested and the case drew national interest. Haywood was the first to be tried and none other than famed-lawyer Clarence Darrow represented him. At the same time, well-known German-American psychologist, Hugo Münsterberg, attended the trial to observe Orchard's testimony and apply his lie-detecting skills to the case. Convinced that Orchard was telling the truth, Münsterberg returned to the East Coast where he made the mistake of informing a Boston reporter of his conclusions. The next day, the papers ran Münsterberg's assertion that Orchard was not lying despite the fact that the trial was still in progress. Critics pounced on the opportunity and derided Münsterberg for attempting to sway the outcome of the trial.

It had little impact however, as Haywood was acquitted of the charges based on the flimsy evidence against him. Pettibone, too, would be acquitted and the remaining charges against Moyer were dropped. The trial against Orchard proceeded and he was found guilty of the charges and received the death penalty. After a plea from McParland, the sentence was commuted to life in prison. He began his sentence in 1908 and was reportedly offered parole in his later years, but turned it down and decided to live out his life inside the prison's walls. Orchard died on April 13, 1954 at the prison after serving 46 years - the longest term ever served at the Old Idaho Penitentiary. He is buried in nearby Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise.

Idaho's Lady Bluebeard
One of the most infamous female inmates that served time at the Old Idaho Penitentiary was a woman dubbed "Idaho's Lady Bluebeard". She is known today as Lyda Southard, but she was born Lyda Anna Mae Trueblood and has the notorious reputation of being one of Idaho's most prolific serial killers.

Between the years of 1915 and 1920, she was believed to have killed four consecutive husbands in a series of "Black Widow"-type murders for their life insurance policies. She is also believed to have been responsible for the death of her own baby as well as her brother-in-law in the same time frame. However, it would be the death of her last husband, Edward F. Meyer, which would ultimately land her in the penitentiary. According to the police reports, Lyda had extracted arsenic from flypaper by boiling it and used it to poison (either through soup or apple pie depending on the source) the victims. By the time that she was captured in Hawaii in 1921, Lyda had a fifth husband, Petty Officer Paul Vincent Southard, from which she took the name Southard.

Lyda was taken back to the state of Idaho where she was found guilty of second-degree murder for the death of Meyer in 1921. Since the only conviction of murder that could result in death penalty in the state of Idaho was the first-degree variety, she received a sentence of ten years to life. Interestingly enough, no woman has been executed by the state of Idaho in its existence and only one woman currently sits on death row. However, the story of Lyda Southard did not end with her incarceration.

By most accounts, Southard took fairly well to prison life. At the time, few women actually populated the woman's ward of the prison (built in 1920), so she essentially had it to herself and was able to fix up the various rooms to fit her lifestyle. Oddly enough, she was also given the duties to act as something of a nursemaid to the warden's wife, which included cooking. Ultimately, she tired of the prison life and hatched a plan. She set her sights on an inmate in the men's prison by the name of David Minton who happened to be close to the end of his sentence. According to reports, her seduction paid off and three weeks after Minton's release, he returned to the prison to help her escape.

On May 4, 1931, Southard pried the bars loose from her cell window and shimmied down a rope made of bed sheets to an awaiting Minton who helped her escape. Minton was ultimately tracked down over a year later in Denver, Colorado. Following her escape, she had broken it off with Minton and had already married a sixth husband in the form of Denver resident, Harry Whitlock. Because of her betrayal, Minton happily passed along her whereabouts. Unsuspecting of her past, Whitlock had already taken out a life insurance policy with her listed as the primary benefactor. Fortunately for him, Southard read the news that Minton had been captured and quickly fled town before she could make good on the policy. Police quickly caught up with her in Topeka, Kansas and she was returned to the Idaho State Penitentiary. Whitlock quickly filed for an annulment.

Surprisingly enough, that was still not the end of her story. In 1933, a local newspaper investigation into prison conditions uncovered a minor scandal. Apparently, the then-warden of the prison, George F. Rudd (possibly the same warden whose wife Southard had tended to), had granted Southard several unusual favors. She had been allowed to visit her sick mother unguarded outside prison walls. In addition, she had been allowed to take daily outings to a nearby resort, complete with rides to and from, as well was allowed to see movies in Boise. For his part, Rudd admitted that she had been allowed certain liberties, but had never betrayed his trust. He resigned shortly thereafter.

On October 3, 1941, Lyda Southard was paroled from the prison. Two weeks later, Time Magazine ran an article about her release under the headline, "Flypaper Lyda". She reportedly went to live with her sister in Nyssa, Oregon for a few years, but returned to Twin Falls and married yet again, this time to Hal Shaw. Some accounts report that two years later, Hal Shaw disappeared without a trace. Lyda later moved to Salt Lake City, Utah where she died on February 5, 1958 from a heart attack. Her body was transported back to Idaho and is today buried at Sunset Memorial Park in Twin Falls under the name "Anna E. Shaw".

The crimes of Lyda Southard were forever immortalized in the 1994 book, Lady Bluebeard: The True Story of Love and Marriage, Death and Flypaper, by author William C. Anderson. They were also related in the form of the murder ballad, Lyda Southard's Famous Apple Pie, which appeared in the collection, Way Out in Idaho: A Celebration of Songs and Stories, compiled by author Rosalie Sorrels. (See Available from below)

Escapes from the Prison
Southard was not the only inmate that attempted to escape the prison, nor was she the only one to be captured and brought back. The sometimes-harsh conditions of the prison and the lifestyle took its toll on prisoners and some were desperate for their freedom. In total, there were over 500 escape attempts from the Old Idaho Penitentiary and of those, only an estimated 90 inmates were never recaptured. The majority took advantage of their work detail that took them outside the prison's walls and to nearby prison farms, road camps, and construction sites where they attempted their run to freedom.

That is not to say that there were not attempts from inside the prison's walls. Attempts included everything from digging tunnels to cutting through the bars of their cells. Some even attempted to make a false key that would open their prison cell doors. Yet another hid out in a barrel of garbage that was taken to the nearby prison hog farm. It is reported that 50 men and seven women (including Lyda Southard) actually escaped from inside the walls of the prison. Most were recaptured.

One of the most famous escapees of the prison wasn't even an inmate. A horse by the name of Old Selam arrived at the Idaho State Penitentiary sometime around 1901. He had reportedly grown the reputation as a good riding and driving horse, but came to the prison to serve as a carthorse in his elder years. Even with old age setting in, Old Selam quickly claimed the title of the prison's fastest horse. Perhaps this is why he would be involved in two escape attempts within days of one another in December 1901.

On Christmas Eve, 1901, Bub Meeks (see Henry "Bub" Meeks above) mounted Old Selam and attempted to flee the prison. They were recaptured and returned the very next day. Only five days later, Old Selam was found to be missing yet again along with inmate Samuel Bruner, who had been serving time for grand larceny. No one is quite sure how Bruner had escaped, nor was he or Old Selam ever found again. In 1976 after the prison had been closed, the Southwest Idaho Trail and Distance Riders decided to honor the legacy of Old Selam with the now-annual Old Selam Endurance Ride. Though initially established to retrace the escape routes of Meeks and Bruner, the ride was moved in later years after the land surrounding the Old Idaho Penitentiary was closed to equestrian use. Today, the Old Selam Endurance Ride is the oldest existing endurance ride in the state of Idaho.

Though the horrific crimes of Lyda Southard did not result in the death penalty, others were not spared the fate. In the prison's history, ten executions were carried out from 1878 through 1957. In the state of Idaho prior to 1901, all executions were carried out at the county level, sometimes open to the general public. The only exception to the rule was crimes committed on the federal level, which was to occur behind prison walls. In the case of the Old Idaho Penitentiary, only one man met this criterion.

Fort Hall resident and Bannock Indian tribe member, Tambiago, was arrested for the murder of Teamster Alexander Rhoden. Allegedly, Tambiago had been enraged at the imprisonment of his brother for assault with intent to murder a white man in December of 1887 and decided to get his revenge by killing the first white man he encountered. Rhoden would be his unfortunate victim. Tambiago was executed by hanging inside the prison near the old territorial building on June 28, 1878 - making him the first to die by capital punishment at the then-Idaho Territorial Prison.

By 1899, the Idaho State Legislature had decided to move all executions away from the prying eyes of the public and into the prison. It would take another two years for this to go in effect. Between the years of 1901 and 1926, six more inmates would meet a similar fate to that of Tambiago. All had been convicted of murder and all died by hanging. Interestingly enough, these executions were carried out at the prison's famous rose garden, which were maintained and cared for by the penitentiary's inmates. The garden was established to encourage inmates to learn landscaping skills and occupy their time, which offers a strange contrast as the site of executions. The garden is still maintained by the historical society and looks much the same as it did during its prison years.

In 1937, one inmate cheated the hangman. Douglas Van Vlack has been sentenced to die for the kidnap and murder of his estranged wife and two policemen who had made the mistake of pulling over Van Vlack's car after the initial kidnapping. On the day that the sentence was to be carried out, Van Vlack broke loose from his guards and scampered up three tiers of prison cells and into the rafters of the cellblock. There he walked across a beam to the opposite side and sat for thirty minutes considering his fate. When prison officials had retrieved a fire net, Van Vlack suddenly cried out, "I have a right to choose the way I die," and then jumped to concrete thirty feet below. He did not immediately die but was injured gravely.

Ironically, there was still some consideration to proceed with the execution despite the fact that the inmate was unconscious and was more than likely going to die from his injuries anyway. Warden William H. Gess ultimately decided to call off the execution and Van Vlack passed away five hours later on December 10, 1937. The case caused a minor scandal and prison officials were accused of downright stupidity or colluding with Van Vlack in order to avoid his fate at the end of a rope. Ultimately, Warden Gess would be discharged from duty for incompetence.

By 1951, executions had been moved to the 2 Yard inside the Old Idaho Penitentiary. This site would only be used once, but would be the site of a double execution on April 13, 1951. On that day, Troy Powell and Ernest Walrath were hung for the murder of a grocer in Boise by the name of Newton Wilson. What made this case unusual were the young ages of the convicted. Walrath was 20 at the time of his death, while Powell was 21, making them the youngest inmates to ever be executed in the state and the only double execution in the prison's history.

Idaho's Jack the Ripper
In 1954, a Maximum Security cell house was constructed complete with a gallows room on the second floor. The last execution to take place in the Old Idaho Penitentiary was also ironically the first in the gallows of 5 House. Raymond Allen Snowden was executed for the murder of Cora Dean, which occurred in Garden City on September 23, 1956. A detective magazine at the time dubbed Snowden, "Idaho's Jack the Ripper" for the pure viciousness of the crime.

Dean's body had been found with around 30 stab wounds, though the coroner had determined that her throat had been slashed first. Immediately afterwards, Snowden had reportedly thrust the blade into the base of the skull and severed her spinal cord. According to reports, Snowden had threatened a former girlfriend in the past that he would sever her spinal cord, which is what immediately made him an immediate suspect. The murder weapon was located in a gutter in front of nearby Hannifin's Cigar Store in Boise (see Hannifin's Cigar Store). Employees of the store confirmed seeing Snowden enter the establishment that evening and use the restroom. It was enough for an arrest.

There are accounts that Snowden boasted of two more murders, though he was only convicted of the murder of Dean. The conviction was for first-degree murder, which made him eligible for the death sentence. On October 18, 1957, the sentence was carried out and Snowden was hung for the crime. According to some accounts, it took over fifteen minutes for him to die. The next execution in the state would not be until 1994 when the Old Idaho Penitentiary had been closed for years and would be carried out by lethal injection; making Snowden the last prisoner to be executed inside the prison's walls and last person hung in the state of Idaho.

As Snowden's execution was carried out, inmates reportedly protested by pounding on the walls, shaking their cell doors, and stomping on the floor. The conditions in the prison had greatly deteriorated and the prisoners were frequently growing angrier over the harsh life. While the prison has been the site of riots before, things were about to escalate.

Riots in the Prison
Despite incarcerating prisoners for over 63 years, it would take until 1935 for the first major disturbance at the prison to occur. As time passed, the facilities at the prison began to deteriorate and prison officials struggled to keep up. Not helping the matter was the increase in prisoner population that often led to overcrowding that could only be offset by building further cell houses to house the growing numbers. Things boiled over in 1935 as prisoners rebelled in the prison's dining hall. Records now indicate that it was merely a "near-riot", but it was just the start of things to come.

Unruly prisoners were becoming a problem in 1952 when prison officials decided to make a statement. Four so-called "ringleaders" were placed in solitary confinement for infraction of the rules, which led to severe unrest. Prisoners in the multi-purpose building began rioting and were only subdued by tear gas some five hours later. In 1966, counterfeit money was found to be circulating in the prison and the authorities decided to close down the Commissary as result. 300 prisoners decided to strike and staged a non-violent protest that lasted one day.

Things really came to a head in the 1970s and two riots were the beginning of the end of the prison. The Idaho State Legislature had already appropriated funds for the construction of a more modern correctional facility just south of Boise but construction was not moving along fast enough.

On the night of August 10, 1971, conditions and overcrowding combined with an unseasonably hot summer in Idaho led to the largest riot the facility had seen. In the ensuing chaos, inmates firebombed four buildings (ultimately destroying the Social Services building) and stabbed two fellow prisoners who had to be rushed to the hospital. The situation was brought back under control when state director of inmates, Raymond May, agreed to meet with a six-inmate council and met their "justified" demands. Four days after the incident, guards discovered the beaten and stabbed corpse of convicted murderer, William Henry Butler, rolled up in a floor mat in the prison gymnasium.

On March 7, 1973, the inmates once again rioted and this time the dining hall and chapel (the original stockade) inside the prison were heavily damaged by fire. As result of the riot, prisoners started being transferred to the now-completed Idaho State Correctional Institute in Kuna, just south of Boise. The damage caused by the fires was never repaired and still can be seen by visitors to the prison as a reminder of its history.

The Closure
The March 1973 riot was the last straw and pushed authorities to hurry the planned transfer of inmates to the new Idaho State Correctional Institute. By December 3, 1973, the transfer was complete and the now-empty prison was officially closed. It is estimated that around 110 inmates died while serving time at the Old Idaho Penitentiary. The prison was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 17, 1974 for its significance as a territorial prison. The Idaho State Historical Society took over maintenance of the facility and opened to the general public to tour and view the various museums inside.

Dennis the Cat
In the 1950s and 1960s, the inmates had another unusual task, aside from being in charge of tending the grounds and caring for the rose garden, in the form of caring for the unofficial mascot of the prison. Dennis was an all-black cat with a patch of white fur on his chest and was born on May 30, 1951 inside the prison's chicken farm. He was discovered there by an inmate and smuggled into the main yard. The inmates of the prison immediately adopted Dennis and gave him plenty of attention and made sure that he was well fed. By all accounts, Dennis lived a happy, long life until passing away in 1968. The inmates cared for him even in death by pouring a concrete tombstone over his grave and marked the site with a stainless steel plaque constructed in the machine shop. The grave of Dennis the cat still exists to this day and can be found behind the old shirt factory building.

Ghosts of the Prison
Of the famous inmates to have resided in the Old Idaho Penitentiary, some suggest that Raymond Snowden never left. Snowden's spirit is said to still reside in the prison's walls and might be the reason for the reports of paranormal encounters in the so-called 5 House. Then again, there are also claims that Snowden haunts Hannifin's Cigar Store in Boise where he allegedly discarded his murder weapon and was seen entering the bathroom on the night of Cora Dean's murder. Regardless, he is believed to be just one of the many ghosts said to haunt the Old Idaho Penitentiary.

Another presence in the facilities has been suggested to be former inmate George Hamilton. Though reportedly an alias, Hamilton was convicted of highway robbery in 1895 and sentenced to serve seven years in Idaho State Penitentiary. During his term, Hamilton designed and supervised the construction of the dining hall inside the prison. As a reward for his efforts, he was granted a pardon in 1898 that carried the condition that he had to leave the state of Idaho. On the night of his release, he committed suicide in Nampa - some say because he was despondent over having to leave Idaho. The dining hall he designed was heavily damaged in the 1973 riot.

Visitors to the Old Idaho Penitentiary have reported a whole myriad of experiences. Apparitions and shadow figures have been reported, as well as hearing disembodied voices and heavy footsteps when no one else is around. According to reports, some guests have caught a fleeting glimpse of an inmate still tending to the flowers in the rose garden. Still others have reported being touched or shoved by unseen forces. The most predominant feeling reported is the sense of dread or oppression throughout the facility, though most predominately near solitary confinement (dubbed "Siberia" by the inmates) and the gallows. The stories of paranormal activity at the prison have not gone unnoticed. The former prison was recently featured on an episode of the Travel Channel television series, Ghost Adventures.

The Prison Today
The Idaho State Historical Society continues to maintain the facilities of the prison and offers various options for tourists. Aside from guided and self-guided tours inside the facility, they also host a range of exhibits and museums including a history of weaponry (donated to the society) and a prison tattoo gallery. Guests can tour some of the more infamous areas of the penitentiary such as the women's ward (that housed Lyda Southard), solitary confinement ("Siberia"), the gallows (where Ray Snowden met his end), and the historical rose garden. For more information, please visit the Historical Society's site below.
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Related Sites
Idaho State Historical Society: Old Idaho Penitentiary
The Idaho State Historical Society's official Web page on the infamous Old Idaho Penitentiary that was in operation from 1872 to 1973.
Wikipedia: Old Idaho State Penitentiary
Wikipedia's entry on the reputedly haunted Old Idaho Penitentiary located in Boise, Idaho.
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See Also on
Blog: This Date in History at the Old Idaho Penitentiary (12/30/08)
Blog: The Death of Idaho's Lady Bluebeard (02/05/09)
Blog: The Incarceration of a Wild Bunch Member (06/15/09)
Available from
It Happened in Idaho (It Happened In Series)
Idaho Snapshots
Idaho Off the Beaten Path: A Guide to Unique Places
Encyclopedia of Haunted Places: Ghostly Locales from Around the World
Weird Hauntings: True Tales of Ghostly Places (Weird)
Diamondfield Jack: A Study in Frontier Justice
In Search of Butch Cassidy
Butch Cassidy: A Biography (Bison Book)
Lady Bluebeard: The True Story of Love and Marriage, Death and Flypaper
Way Out in Idaho: A Celebration of Songs and Stories
The Confessions And Autobiography Of Harry Orchard (1907)
Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America
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Old Idaho Penitentiary Entrance
Photo of the entrance to the reputedly haunted Old Idaho Penitentiary in September 2010.
From: TheCabinet
Old Idaho Penitentiary: Watch for Ghosts
Photo of a warning left behind by a previous visitor at the Old Idaho Penitentiary - September 2010.
From: TheCabinet
Old Idaho Penitentiary: Raymond Snowden
Mugshot of "Idaho's Jack the Ripper," Raymond Snowden, at Old Idaho State Penitentiary - 09/10.
From: TheCabinet
The Cellblocks of Old Idaho Penitentiary
Photo of one of the many cellblocks inside Old Idaho Penitentiary in September 2010.
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The above content is for informational purposes only. Before making any travel arrangements, it is highly recommended that you contact those in charge of the property to check for updated availability and hours of operation. While we do our best to keep this information updated, we cannot guarantee that it is completely valid and up to date. Any destination marked "Closed to the Public" is marked that for a reason and we discourage any visits or attempts to gain access to that facility. Similarly, take note of any "Travel Advisory" that may be associated with a destination. Finally, treat any location and its local residents with respect. Any vandalism and/or unruly behavior is completely despicable and only ruins the experience for future visitors.

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