Best historic spot

June 14, 2013 

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IDAHO STATESMAN FILE

OLD IDAHO PENITENTIARY

2445 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise, 334-2844, history.idaho.gov

At the doorstep of the Boise Foothills and under the cross on Table Rock, the Old Idaho Penitentiary feels miles away from reality.

Something is different inside these walls - something the mind constantly struggles to figure out as it's bombarded by the sight of cold steel bars, varying degrees of dark interiors and, most mysterious of all, the anxious sound of silence. Perhaps it's the spirits of those imprisoned here between 1872 and 1973, the soulless stone and metal that once confined society's outcasts, or a mixture of empathy, pity and fear. You know no one is locked up, but there's a tiny relief gained by peering into each cell to see it empty.

The Old Pen is vacant, but each cell's character is very much alive. Etchings on the walls of death row and "Siberia" (solitary confinement) plead, cackle and rebel. In another cell house, "Molly Lane, 1354 Hancock St., Quincy, Mass." is written underneath a bed folded onto the wall, and like a Rorschach test, the mind stretches to solve what it cannot: What did Molly look like? How are Quincy, Mass., and Idaho related? Is the address for love letters or vengeance?

The Old Pen affects everyone differently - some leave and triple-check to make sure they're at least a mile-per-hour under the speed limit, and others hear the roars of inmates listening to Johnny Cash singing "Cocaine Blues" at Folsom Prison. Which one are you?

HONORABLE MENTIONS

• Boise Train Depot, 2603 W. Eastover Terrace, 608-7644, parks.cityofboise.org

• Basque Block, 600 block of Grove Street in Downtown Boise, 343-2671, thebasqueblock.com

• Silver City, Silver City Road off Idaho 78, south of Murphy in Owyhee County

• Historic Hyde Park, North 13th Street between Sherman and Brumback streets, Boise

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