As I was planning on being in Boise for an extremely short period of time, I jammed packed my day with all sorts of budget activities. I proved just how out of shape I am in a hike to table rock, walked through the Capital City Public Market, and checked out Freak Alley and the State Capitol Building. My final stop on this whirlwind trip through Boise was the one I was the most interested in, the Old Idaho State Penitentiary.
The Old Idaho State Penitentiary was built before Idaho was had even become a state and served as a functioning state penitentiary for just over 100 years from 1872 to 1973. It started with just one building that could only hold a handful of inmates and grew over the years to become a complex that included 5 male cell houses one women’s cell house, a multipurpose building, and the “false front buildings” which include a barbershop, hospital, commissary, and trusty dorm. Over the 100 years the penitentiary housed over 13,000 inmates.
Normally the Penitentiary is open from 10am to 5pm and admission is $6. However, as I was visiting Halloween weekend the Penitentiary was closed during the day to prepare for its “Frightened Felons” event. This annual Halloween party at the prison features actors dressed up as the most famous inmates that have been housed there, paranormal experts telling the stories about the hauntings at the prison, costume contests, food, dancing, and the biggest cell block is turned into a haunted house. Admission to this event is $20 and while I normally would not go to an event like this without a big group of friends, I really wanted to see the prison so I decided to go
As my hike to Table Rock started at the trailhead behind the Old Idaho State Penitentiary, I had already seen the building by day. However, at night, even without any Halloween decorations it has a very ominous aura. It is an older building locted in the middle
As far as decorations go, they were really smart keeping the decorations pretty minimal. As a prison it is pretty creepy to begin with and adding your traditional Halloween decorations could have easily pushed it from being scary to cheesy. They also lit it well providing just enough lighting to be safe but not too much to take away from the overall ambiance.
Adding to the feeling were the actors they had spread out through the different buildings. The actors were in character as some of the most famous inmates that were housed in the penitentiary and knew the inmates backstories, but as they were answering questions in a friendly non-threatening manner they were not very creepy. What was creepy however, was the presentation about all of the hauntings and ghosts stories they told about the prison. Whether or not you believe in Ghosts the fact that there was an inmate who believed he was being haunted by the spirit of a man he had secretly killed that he threw himself off a 4th story cell block twice or that Ray Snowden (Idaho’s Jack the Ripper) housed there until he was hung there in 1957, it can’t be denied that there is a erie feeling about the place, as there were some extremely gruesome things that happened there and it housed some extremely bad people. This feeling is intensified when you hear about how terribly some of the inmates were treated; solitary confinement consisted of a 3 foot by 8 foot room that had a pinhole of access for sunlight and just enough room to lay down and the “cooler”which was a room that was very likely fit for maybe two people snugly where they would house up to 6 people at once. All of this horror really had me on edge and left me ready for the Haunted Cellblock.
There was a long line for the haunted cellblock but there was a lot to look at while you wait.
I learned one thing while I was at the haunted cellblock is that haunted houses are more fun when you go with a group of friends. While the haunted cell block was really well done it just didn’t seem to grip as much as a haunted house typically would because I wasn’t with a big group of my friends laughing at people freaking out. That being said it was extremely scary as you walk through the 4 story cell block there was never a moment where you felt you were safe from something jumping out at you.
Overall, I found the Old Idaho State Penitentiary extremely interesting and Frightened Felons extremely well put together though I would have had more fun if I was with a group of people. If you find yourself in Boise, the Old Penitentiary is a great cheap way to spend a few hours. For $6 which includes the guided tour it is a steal that won’t get you locked up. (I know bad jail pun I couldn’t help myself).