Sue and I were back in Boise, ID over Easter weekend for the last lacrosse tourney of the season. Given the continued value implosion in the residential real estate market and the amount of time I am spending here to watch young women beat each other with sticks, I think I will just buy a condo off of Main Street, buy season tickets to the Idaho Stampede and live here until Kenna graduates from Whitman College next spring and puts away her mouth guard for the last time. It has to be a better value than blowing through my Hilton Honors points and my Alaska Airline miles…but at least we now get the 10th floor VIP suite upgrade at the downtown Hampton AND the complimentary bag of M&Ms. Nothing like the thrill of traveling enough to reap the rewards of Platinum status!
After a quick Bombardier Q400 puddle jump from Seattle on Alaska subsidiary Horizon Air (might be the only domestic US airline that offers complimentary regional wine and microbrews to all passengers on every flight…perhaps reason enough to fly all over the NW to these games), we grabbed the rental, checked into our “penthouse suite” and headed off to our favorite restaurant, Fork. The place is always packed and I am too dull to ever consider reservations, so we now simply prey upon the poor souls in the oversized bar and pounce at the first sign of movement to pay a tab. We were out-witted by a couple of cougars this time around who had the audacity to actually sit down at four-top the moment the somewhat shocked young couple motioned for their bill. The things we can learn on the road…next time!
A few minutes later, we found our perch at the bar. I bellied up, but Sue is actually not big enough to do that, so she just kind of sat down. To her absolute elation, they were pouring L’Ecole cabernet sauvignon by the glass, her favorite from Walla Wall, WA. I opted for a surprisingly clean and citrusy chardonnay from Snake River valley, ID vintner, Cinder Cellars. Who knew Idaho grew more than taters? The menu is the worst part about this place. I never know what to do. The owners, Cameron and Amanda Lumsden, have made a commitment to be “Loyal to Locals.” The majority of all of their ingredients are sourced from local bakers, farmers, ranchers and even purveyors of spirits (75% of their adult beverages are produced in the Northwest, which makes me compelled to be loyal to locals by default), which makes for very interesting and very delectable menu options. Do I start with the tomato basil fondue and grilled cheese with garlic glazed Zeppole bread or the seared (local) lollipop lamb chops? And then do I move on to the wild mushroom and local herb pesto ravioli or the Idaho rainbow trout. I will not even mention desserts, but you can imagine! I do know that everyone has to get either the all natural rosemary-parmesan fries or the asparagus “fries” with dipping sauce. Needless to say we left stuffed and smiling as always.
Saturday morning and early afternoon were filled with victories over the University of Idaho and Central Washington. While Sue went off with some friends to one of her favorite outdoor stores, I made a quick pass through the seventy-five year old Boise Art Museum. While certainly not the MET or the BFA, the galleries were well hung with enough interesting work to spend a good hour or so. The East meets West rooms were particularly interesting in the way the very disparate art forms and styles where displayed side by side. Since I was all alone, I left the museum to find myself in a nearby brewery for what I considered to be a well deserved local ale and big screen view of the last few holes of day three at Augusta. That night we had another wonderful meal with lacrosse-parent-friends at Asiago’s. I will not put you through the pain of another food digression, but suffice it to say that Asiago’s is another keeper and Sue is still recovering from the chocolate-espresso flourless torte with raspberry coulis and homemade vanilla bean ice cream!!!
With about four hours left before our flight home, we headed to the foothills for a little trail work. Remember that Sue does not sit well! Boise is fortunate to have preserved over 135 miles of interwoven foothill trails for running, hiking and biking right in its backyard. The preservation projects dates back to the 1940’s when a handful of wealthy locals convened to discuss what might become of the old military training area. What foresight to salt away this treasure for future generations. The Rivers to Ridge partnership is a model for public/private cooperation and the trail system is now maintained primarily with over 2,000 volunteer hours each year. We have been on a couple of longer hikes in the past, but I had scoped out Table Rock trail #15 for our time-sensitive, pre-flight trek. It is a tough little 1.7 mile climb up to a very cool mesa-like formation in the midst of a bunch of gently rolling hills. Unfortunately, the top of Table Rock looks a lot like grandma’s old Christmas dinner table setting, adorned with an atrocious number of cell towers and a massive cross. I guess we call this progress. With my back to these 100+ foot candlesticks, the warmth of the sun, clear skies and views of the city 1000ft below made me wish we had more time to romp through the adjacent ravines. Instead, it was a quick sprint down to the parking lot.
The parking lot also serves the Old Idaho Penitentiary, a facility that opened as one of only seven or so territorial prisons in the late 1800s. We didn’t have much time, but I just could not be this close to one hundred and one years of history and not have a look. This National Historic Landmark was authorized by Congress in 1867, with construction beginning in 1870. “The penitentiary looms up like the frowning walls of some impregnable fortress…The man who would commit a felony within sight of its gloomy walls ought to spend the remainder of his days within them,“ wrote a reporter from the Idaho Statesman in September of 1870. The perimeter walls and most of the 32 buildings that were built over the years are still standing, many having been fully restored. The facility took in its first handful of “guests” in 1872 and finally closed down in 1973.
In the early years, between 1872 and 1947, the facility incarcerated at least 7,500 men women and children, as young as 10 and as old as 82. Every inmate’s information is captured in an incredible registry that can be accessed online. Men and women shared cell blocks until a women’s ward was built in 1904. This was the old west, a territorial prison housing gunfighters, cattle rustlers, bank robbers and syndicalists (they clearly did not like those early unionists!!!). In these early years, burglary, forgery and grand larceny put the most convicts behind bars, but incest (40), cohabitation (47), bigamy (19) and polygamy (11) claimed their share. (I just have to know, if you are going to go to prison for bigamy, why not go hog-wild and just move directly up to polygamy??? ) Over the years, convicts came from 46 surrounding counties and from the day the prison opened, a few were always on death row.
No soft peddled capital punishment here, Idaho was a hanging state until 1978!!! Initially the hangings occurred out in the courtyard, but a more formal and intimate gallows was built into one of the cell blocks, just steps from the death row inmates. Only one man was ever actually hanged in this room, the last man to be hung in Idaho in 1957. Touring the death row cells and the adjacent gallows (and
even the “drop room” below…yuck!) brought the Fred McMurray, Robert Vaughn western, A Good Day For A Hanging to mind. This 1959 classic film explores the vehement emotions of townspeople as some fight for the release “of an innocent boy” and others thirst for the violent end to a callus murderer’s life. It is the 1880s and the bank has just been robbed, the Marshall murdered and a young bank robber’s life is in the balance. Of the 13,000 who served time over the 101 year life of the Idaho Penitentiary, thirty lived on death row and only nine were ever hung to their death. One of the thirty awaiting his fate opted to plunge head first from the rafters onto the concrete floor of the cell block the day before his scheduled execution, rather than to succumb to the hand of the warden…he had told his mother that he would never be hanged
There are some great exhibits housed in the facility, a firearms museum and a prison tattoo display to name a couple, but like Alcatraz across the bay from San Francisco, the intrigue of the Old Idaho Penitentiary is the stark reality of the lives the convicts led in this stone fortress. The cells are left much the way they would have been
in 1973 when the prison shut its doors. An old dining hall is still without a roof, burned off during an inmate riot in the 1970. The six claustrophobic 3’ x 8’ cells of “Siberia,” the penitentiary’s solitary confinement building, each with only a bucket and a tiny skylight in the ceiling to occupy the detainees for as many as six weeks “in the hole.”
This is the stuff you see in movies and figure Hollywood is just being Hollywood again, but the stories here are real. There was John Burns (no. 498) who, in 1896, cut a hole in his sleeping friend’s overalls pocket and “extracted” two dollars which he spent on a round of drinks at the nearby
John Banks Saloon. Poor Mr. Burns spent seven months in the Pen for grand Larceny. In 1903, there was fifteen year old Ida Laherty (no. 901) who stole a team of horses from a Moscow, ID livery stable “at the request of a young gentleman.” She and the young man drove the team to Oakesdale, WA where the two parted company. Laherty drove the team on to Sprague where she was arrested and convicted. She spent three months in the Pen for horse thievery. And then there was seventeen year old Lester Thompson (no. 3288) who, in 1923, set fire to the floor of the Idaho Industrial School admin building. His prison intake records classified him as a “criminal type” because of the shape of his ears “being small and too close to his head.” Seven years after his release, Lester’s four year stint with the Pocatello “colored Giants” baseball team was cut short with second conviction.
As McMurray’s character, Ben Cutler, replies when reminded of poor Eddie’s (Robert Vaughn’s) age, “Do you think this kid is any less hardened? Since when is a young rattlesnake any less poisonous than an old one?”
Ahhhh…the old West!!!
Hope to see you on the road!