Idaho State Penitentiary came to the Idaho territory quickly as a result of the lawlessness of the frontier. The Penitentiary was a functioning prison from 1872 through 1973. The territory was less than ten years old when the prison was built, east of Boise. Idaho State Penitentiary began as just a single building and grew to many buildings, surrounded by a seventeen-foot wall that serves as a punishment to prisoners who were forced to mine the stone and erect the wall.
In the hundred years Idaho State Penitentiary operated, it housed over thirteen thousand inmates, but the maximum population was around six hundred. Two hundred of the inmates were women. Some famous inmates were housed at Idaho State Penitentiary. One was Ray Snowden, referred to as Idaho’s Jack the Ripper. Snowden was the last person hanged in Idaho and the only person to die in the gallows. The second is Harry Orchard who was sentenced to forty-five years in prison, the longest sentence imposed at Idaho State Penitentiary, for the assassination of the governor in 1905. Finally, Lyda Southard was imprisoned for killing many of her husbands for their life insurance proceeds.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the prison now serves as a museum and arboretum. The museum features different types of weapons and inmate history, including mugshots and histories. Many travel from all over after hearing Idaho State Penitentiary’s designation as one of the most haunted buildings in the state and one of the most violent prisons in America. The reputation stemmed from the 1930s when prisoners rioted and burned down sections of the prison due to overcrowding and poor conditions. There was no plumbing and poor ventilation for a large portion of the prison’s history, resulting in disease running rampant. The summers were like being crammed in a stifling oven and winters were bitter cold.
Now visitors to the Idaho State Penitentiary are able to walk among the buildings, including the Territorial Prison (1st section), New Cell House (death row inmates), Rose Garden (prisoners were executed by hanging), Administration Buildings, Dining House, Cell Houses, Woman’s Ward, Cooler (solitary confinement), and recreation area. Visitors get to imagine what it was like to be imprisoned there. Fortunately, this task is made easier by the prisoners who seemed to have stayed in the prison, long after their sentences were over.
Visitors report extreme paranormal activity in the dark hallways and empty cells. They are overcome with unexplained sadness, anxiety, and dread. People have reported being touched and hearing whispers. Many unexplained noises can be heard in all areas of the prison, some of the most terrifying being screaming and crying. One of the most active areas in Idaho State Penitentiary are the old execution chambers where dark energy and anger can be felt- some think it can almost be touched. The fact the prison was left in nearly untouched condition leaves visitors feeling like prisoners could return at any second and that they are intruding on some kind of sacred ground with each footstep at Idaho State Penitentiary.