Saturday, September 23, 2017

HGB Ep. 223 - Old Idaho State Penitentiary

Moment in Oddity - Bug Spray Attracts Bigfoot

Do mosquitoes tend to bug you when you are searching for Bigfoot in the woods? Are you having trouble attracting Bigfoot to come out of hiding? Well, a woman in North Carolina has solved your problems with her Bigfoot Juice. It would seem that Allie Megan Webb created her environmentally safe, Bigfoot attracting bug repellent quite by accident. Her husband, who is a member of Bigfoot 911, asked his wife if she could make her home brewed bug spray less "feminine smelling." She tried a few concoctions to get a woodsy smell. Bigfoot 911 tried out the bug repellent several times and Webb noticed that there was a direct correlation between the use of her bug spray and Bigfoot sightings reported by the research group. She figured it must attract Sasquatch and when asked how she knows it works, she said, "How do you know it doesn’t work?” Good question, although we have to admit that it couldn't be that simple to finally get Bigfoot to come out of hiding. If it is, then that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Kennedy/Nixon Debate Televised

In the month of September, on the 26th, in 1960, the first-ever televised presidential debate occurred on CBS between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. During the 1960 presidential election, America was engaged in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Nixon was a seasoned lawmaker while Kennedy was a young senator. When the two men met before the cameras, Nixon had a slight lead in the polls. His experience was a plus and the fact that Kennedy was a Catholic caused some people to not want to vote for him. But Nixon was older and he had suffered an infection that landed him in the hospital prior to the debate. When he was released, he had lost weight and looked frail. Nixon was offered make-up, but he refused to wear any. Kennedy had a nice tan, which could even be seen on the black and white television. Nixon sweated profusely, while Kennedy looked freshed-face and young. People who listened to the debate on the radio, thought that Nixon had won, while those who watched it on television thought Kennedy had won. The damage was done for Nixon because most Americans gravitated towards Kennedy after the debate. Today, it is standard for debates to be televised and most Americans would probably agree that there are far too many.

Old Idaho State Penitentiary

The Old Idaho State Penitentiary was in use for over a hundred years and had more than 13,000 prisoners pass through the gates. As was the case in most prisons that were built in the 1800s, conditions were brutal with a complete lack of sanitation and ventilation. All variety of criminals were housed here and many were executed on the gallows that were set up first in the Rose Garden, and later inside the prison walls. Violent riots have had their place in the prison's history. All of this negative energy seems to have absorbed into the sandstone walls and now reflects back haunting energy. Guests and employees claim to have experienced paranormal activity. On this episode, we are joined by the hosts of the Not Alone Podcast, Sam Frederickson and Jason Moitoso, to discuss the history and hauntings of the Old Idaho State Penitentiary.

Boise is located in southwestern Idaho, about 41 miles east of the Oregon border. It is believed that French Canadian trappers named a river for which the city of Boise in Idaho derives its name. The river was called "La rivière boisée", which means "the wooded river." The federal government later established Fort Boise here when it was still a territory. The area was near the Oregon Trail and the fort was meant to protect the trail. Boise was incorporated as a city in 1863.

In  1867,  the  United  States  Congress  provided  for  the construction of the Idaho Penitentiary and the Idaho assembly codified it into territorial law in 1869. In September 1870, the Idaho Statesman reported, "The penitentiary looms up like the frowning walls of some impregnable  fortress. Distance  lends  enchantment. This building will be ready for the reception of guests in a very little while. The man who would commit a felony within sight of its gloomy walls ought to spend the remainder of his days within them." Construction began outside Boise City on the prison in 1870 and took two years. It was built from sandstone that was quarried from the nearby ridges using convict labor. Initially, the prison was a single cell house known as the territorial prison. A 17-foot high wall was built around the perimeter. The first prisoners were eleven inmates that were brought over from the Boise County Jail.

The jail was clearly too small and construction on other buildings began. A new cell house was built in 1889 and had three tiers with cells built from steel. The third tier was used to house inmates on Death Row because it was closest to the future Rose Garden where the gallows were located. The Administration Building was completed in 1894 and this housed the armory, a visitation room and the warden's office. A year later, the building that housed the commissary and blacksmith shop was completed. It would be renovated in the future to include a barber shop starting in 1902 and a hospital in 1912. The Dining Hall was built in 1898 and in 1899, Cell House 2 and 3 were finished. These houses featured cells that could hold two men, their bunks and a honey bucket for their waste.

Women were brought to the Idaho Penitentiary as well. There was no separate place for them, so the male inmates built a wall around the old warden's home and the woman stayed in there. There were seven two-person cells inside along with a kitchen and bathroom facilities. The 1920s brought more expansion with a Multipurpose Building that had a bakery, shoe shop, license plate shop, shirt factory, laundry and recreation room. There were also communal showers here. The Cooler was built at this time as well. It had cells that could hold four to six men, but it was used for solitary confinement. Siberia was added in 1926 with 12 3'x8' cells that were designed to hold one man. Cell House 4 was added in 1952 and Cell House 5 was completed in 1954. This building was used for Maximum Security inmates and the gallows was moved inside of this building. There were ten executions at the prison. Six of them were held outside where the Rose Garden is located today. The other four took place inside Cell House 5.

Conditions throughout the years were poor, especially in the very beginning. The sandstone walls were bad insulation. The sandstone retained the heat in the summer and was bitterly cold in the winter. As we mentioned earlier, the toilets in the cells were just buckets. Plumbing didn't reach the prison until the 1920s. There was no real sanitation then and with no proper ventilation, disease spread easily. Add to that the brutal nature of inmate on inmate abuse and abuse from the guards. The prisoners fought back in the 1970s with two violent riots. The first occurred in 1971 and lasted three hours. There was $25,000 in damage and one inmate was killed. The riot that followed in 1973 was far worse and ended with a fire that destroyed many of the buildings. The original building that the prison started with eventually became the chapel in the 1930s. Prisoners burned that chapel and then the dining hall to the ground. After the riot, the prisoners were moved to a more modern penitentiary and the Old Idaho Jail was closed down.

It was almost as if the jail was frozen in time. Visitors can see paintings that inmates created on their cell walls, calendars still hang on some of the walls, the walls are still discolored from the smoke and fire and other belongings were left behind. The Penitentiary was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It offers tours and is a museum today. There are thirty historic buildings on the site and several special exhibitions are offered, one of them being the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit of Arms and Armaments. Events and programs are held year round and these include Halloween events. The prison was featured in 2017 on an episode of the Lowe Files.

Several infamous inmates spent time here. One of them was Lyda Southard, otherwise known as Lady Bluebeard. She was one of America's first female serial killers. She was an insurance killer much like HH Holmes. She killed four of her husbands, her daughter and a brother-in-law. She used flypaper to make arsenic and that is how she killed her victims. A chemist who was related to her first husband began to suspect foul play when other husbands started dying and he asked another chemist and a doctor to help him test the body. With their findings, they convinced the Twin Falls County Prosecutor Frank Stephan to exhume the other bodies. Lyda was living in Honolulu with her fifth husband when she was arrested. She was extradited to Idaho. Her trial lasted 6 weeks and she was convicted of second degree murder. Her sentence was ten years to life. She escaped from prison and ran to Denver where she took on a false identity and worked as a housekeeper for a man she eventually married. He would be the one to lead the police to her and she was arrested again and returned to the Old Pen. She later was out on probation and eventually died of a heart attack in 1958.

Another was Raymond Allen Snowden, who was dubbed "Idaho's Jack the Ripper." Snowden was convicted of murder in 1956 and sentenced to death by hanging at the Old Pen. He had murdered a woman named Cora Dean. She was local and a single mother to two children. Snowden claimed that the couple fought, he backhanded her and she then kicked him. He completely snapped after that and used his two-and-a-quarter-inch pocketknife to stab Cora 35 times. Before his hanging, Snowden confessed to murdering two other women. He met his fate a little after midnight on October 18, 1957.

Harry Orchard was an inmate who died in the prison in 1954. He had been in the prison for 50 years. He had been convicted of the murder of Gov. Frank Steunenberg. During his trial he confessed to many crimes. He claimed to have been a union terrorist and his deeds had killed 17 people. He also claimed to be an alcoholic, a bigamist, womanizer and gambler. The calm way he reported all of this, stunned the courtroom room. Although sentenced to death, a judge recommended his sentence be commuted to life in prison, and the Board of Pardons agreed. His sentence was the longest sentence served by any Idaho State Penitentiary inmate.

An interesting death was that of Douglas Van Vlack. He had received the death penalty for the kidnapping and murder of his estranged wife.  He was sentenced to hang at the prison on December 10th in 1937. He visited with his mother on December 9th and then shortly thereafter slipped past the guards and climbed into the rafters of his cellhouse. When the guards found him, he shouted, "My  mother  told  me  it  was  all right for me to choose the way I wanted to die.  I’ll never hang on that  rope." He then dove head first   onto the concrete below and died several hours later. Van Vlack is believed to haunt the former Death Row and is usually seen as a greenish ball of light. Batteries drain quickly in here.

All variety of paranormal activity has been reported at the prison. Employees report feeling negative energy, weird noises and shadow figures. The most active location is Cell House 5 where inmates were executed and the many spirit hanging out here seems to belong to Snowden. Solitary Confinement is the next most active area. Cold spots are a common occurrence and people claim to have seen full-bodied apparitions. The Rose Garden has spirit reports and cold spots as well attributed to the inmates hanged on the gallows here.

Is the Old Idaho Penitentiary haunted? That is for you to decide!

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