View Finder Idaho

The long hallways and cells of the Idaho State Penitentiary
  • View Finder Idaho State Penitentiary

    A prison isn’t necessarily the first thing you think of when planning a road trip, but then again, what could be more exciting than stepping foot, albeit temporarily, in a building that has seen some of the American West’s most frightening criminals. Built over two years beginning in 1870, the prison received its first 11 inmates from the Boise County Jail in 1872. It continued to house over 13,000 inmates, including 215 women, until its closure in 1973. The prison is now a fully functioning museum and part of the State Historical Society dedicated to preserving and promoting Idaho’s cultural heritage, meaning visitors can follow in the inmate’s footsteps and learn what it meant to be a prisoner in 20th century America.

    The prison was once home to some of the state’s most famous criminals, most noteworthy being Albert Horsley, better known under his pseudonym of Harry Orchard. Famous for the 1905 political assassination of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg, the case was one of 20th century America’s truly sensational stories, gaining national coverage and resulting in Horsley receiving the death penalty. The sentence was later changed to life in prison — of which he served 46 years in Idaho State.

    Raymond Allen Snowden was another notable inmate. Better known as "Idaho’s Jack the Ripper," he was executed in the prison’s gallows in 1957 for the murder of Cora Dean. Snowden has become the subject of various American TV ghost hunting programmes, with witnesses describing the sound of a man’s last gasp of air still haunting the gallows to this day; it's not a visit for the fainthearted.

    The museum features 30 historic buildings and special exhibitions, including the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit of Arms and Armaments a show dedicated to “the memory of all those who served and fought, and especially those who paid the supreme sacrifice." It’s a day out like no other, one that feels equally weird as it does exciting, but regardless of this, it’s definitely one you need to lock in.