Saturday, June 22, 2019

In the Pen - Temporarily

John's cell-phone rang, though he didn't recognize the number, he went ahead and answered it.

Of course, it was a telemarketer, "Hello, this is No-Name, and I am calling about solar power for your house."

Sounding very quiet and serious, John interrupted the bothersome robo-seller, "I'm sorry, I can't speak right now. I'm in prison." It seemed apropos -- it was a cell-phone call, after all.

Mr. No-Name, apologized and hung up. When does that happen? A bothersome salesperson just hanging up?

Of course, the prison John was speaking about was the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho.

Not a particularly inviting facade...
Laureen and John had traveled to the City of  Trees, to visit daughter Kelly and her husband Travis. Sightseeing is a must and one place on the top of the list was the Old Idaho Penitentiary. What more could an explorer and researcher desire then to spend quality time with family in a dank, dark, cold, and possibly haunted prison?

Travel Channel ghost hunters always
look better in green light.

This solid rock penitentiary is so well known for its hauntings, that a paranormal group from the Travel Channel visited and performed their paranormal rituals. The crew from Ghost Adventures studied, listened, viewed, filmed, and tried just about everything else these paranormal ghost hunters do - usually with green night vision goggles (we really enjoy that dramatic piece) and concluded that it could be haunted.

Cell-block constructed in 1911
There was a heaviness to the place. One felt strange anxious feelings, as we traipsed around the cell blocks where men and women spent some of their worst and often final years on this planet of ours. In one cell block where very young men were held, even as young as fifteen or younger, the feelings of oppression and sadness were overwhelming. The cold stone walls only accentuated the feeling of hopelessness these inmates must have felt, cooped up day after day serving their varied sentences for crimes for which they had convicted.
Solitary - about as dank as it could get

Now, many of these inmates deserved to be in prison for some pretty heinous crimes. One such deserving soul was Lyda Southard, who had a penchant for killing several of her husbands to collect on their life insurance. And there was Harry Orchard, convicted of assassinating the former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg with a bomb outside the gentleman's home in Boise in 1905. Orchard confessed that he was a hit man for the miner's union and they, the union had a beef with the former governor.

Other crimes committed in the early years of Idaho also warranted lengthy prison sentences: murder, robbery, burglary, horse stealing, larceny and the such, but some would seem rather silly to lock someone up in the twenty-first century. Polygamy, cohabitation without being properly married, homosexuality, and plenty more offenses which shocked the public morals at the time the prison was operating.
The ones who spent their eternity at the penitentiary - in a way
No matter the crime - laundry had to be done -
John in front of the prison's laundry facility

Different times also meant different crimes.

The penitentiary was built using prisoner labor, and the sandstone, which makes up most of the sprawling prison, was mined from the nearby foothills. As the prison population rose, so did more buildings using prison labor. As one warden stated, "It was better to use free labor than cost the state to house the people who the prison had to be built for."

Constructed started in 1868 and a public ceremony touting the state of the art prison was held on July 4th of 1870.
That's some good construction - and cheap too!

The date seems a bit ironic for celebrating the completion of a prison.

The prison stayed in the business of incarcerating criminals for 101 years. Over 13,000 inmates spent time there, but with no more than 600 at any one time which was the maximum it could contain.

Ten inmates were executed in the prison - the last being Raymond Snowden. He had been out drinking with his date, Cora Dean, on September 23, 1956, when they got into an argument and he ended up stabbing the mother of two, thirty times with a pocket knife. He left the dead woman beside the road, only to be found the next morning by a paperboy making his deliveries in Garden City. Snowden was convicted of murder and executed on October 18, 1957 by hanging. It is said, Snowden dangled at the end of the rope in agony for fifteen minutes before succumbing to his penalty.

So, maybe Snowden is still hanging around the penitentiary, scaring visitors.

Are Laureen and Kelly seeing a dangling ghostly Snowden?
In 1973, riots broke out over the outdated systems - poor plumbing, unhealthy water, very little heating or cooling offered by the old buildings, and so in December of that same year. the penitentiary closed for good.

Guard Tower
The penitentiary now stands as a historical landmark in the state of Idaho. It is a fascinating site to explore, to look into the cells where prisoners spent their days and nights, to read many of the inmates personal histories - some sad and some tragic - both for the inmate and their victims.

The penitentiary also has a museum sporting a marvelous collection of weapons from the earliest days to modern weaponry.

 John and daughter Kelly in front of a Gatling gun - impressive weapon
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