Nocturnal paranormal investigations lead dozens to an old prison in Idaho

Midnight paranormal testing is not for the faint of heart.

As the group stands in the dark in front of long-abandoned prison cells at Idaho’s Old Correctional Facility, the metal door slams shut when someone leaves the building.

“By the way, the door slams,” group leader Tina Hughes said as the others chuckled in the dark.

It wasn’t a ghost, but it was enough to get a few people to jump.

Hughes is a volunteer at Big River Paranormal, which occasionally conducts paranormal research with members of the public through what is known as the “Old Pen”. The Idaho Historical Society uses the proceeds from the tickets.

There is a good reason why people suspect that the place is haunted: at least 130 people died there from the prison’s opening in 1872 to its closure in 1973. Historians are still looking for evidence of more deaths.

The group is investigating paranormal phenomena at Old Idaho Prison, led by volunteers from Big River Paranormal .JPG

Madelyn Beck


Mountain West Information Office

The group is investigating paranormal phenomena at Old Idaho Prison, led by volunteers from Big River Paranormal.

Hughes began volunteering at Big River Paranormal about two and a half years ago after attending one of these events herself. On a daily basis, he is an accounting technician in Idaho.
And she was really afraid of the dark.

“I’m from a small town in Nevada. So we had coyotes and I was always told “watch out for the coyotes,” she said.

Now Hughes leads the teams through the Old Prison at night, pointing to the burned signs on the walls and ceilings and trying to communicate with those who may never have left. Night was best for this, she said.

“Things are quieter so you can hear a lot more of what is happening in the building or what may be happening around you. I mean, you can hear footsteps when you wouldn’t normally hear, because there are lots of people hanging around during the day, ”she said.

Tina Hughes stands in front of a cell, dimly lit by flashlights.jpg

Madelyn Beck


Mountain West Information Office

Tina Hughes stands in front of a cell at Idaho’s Old Correctional Facility, dimly lit by flashlights. He explains that they can ask prisoners questions, but that the spirits do not act on orders. “They’re not monkeys, they’re not clowns.”

Hughes had her own experiences there too. She was in a building on the property where riots broke out in 1973, accelerating the closure of the prison. Standing in a cell between the charred walls and ceiling, the man with her commented that it had gotten very warm.

“And just at that time my butt got touched. I’m like, wow, okay! ” she said.

However, she said it was more justification than terrifying: for her, it confirmed that someone was in the dark.

After the event is over and back at his desk, Hughes listens for hours of audio recordings of the investigation, trying to distinguish between sounds or words that may have been too quiet or unnoticed in person.

The recorders are part of a kit that each group takes, which also includes a camera and a device that measures temperature and electromagnetic fields.

Paranormal testing equipment includes cameras, sound recorders, and Mel meters that measure temperature and electromagnetic fields.

Madelyn Beck


Mountain West Information Office

Big River Paranormal’s paranormal test kits include cameras, sound recorders, and Mel meters that measure temperature and electromagnetic fields.

I joined Hughes investigators for a tour in October. They started in the same building where she reports that she was touched. We noticed there was a light on on the top floor which was strange.

This light then went out on its own. But then there was a metal gate. When we first entered it was closed. We opened it to go up to the top floor and check the damage and cells there. But when we got downstairs, that gate was locked.

“This is crazy, oh my god,” she said.

Other types of reported experiences include cold spots, touching and hearing voices when people are not around. Marie Johnston is the executive director of Big River Paranormal and quickly notes that most of the ghastly experiences in allegedly haunted places aren’t related to ghosts.

“You know, 95% of the cases we’re talking about have a logical explanation for this action. And it’s really important that anyone studying paranormal phenomena looks for these logical explanations before concluding that something is haunted, ”she said.

A burned out socket where there was a light bulb in the cell .jpg

Madelyn Beck


Mountain West Information Office

Hughes says that this burned-out nest was caused by fellow inmates repairing a light bulb so that it exploded on a cell dweller who they believed was a capus. “He wasn’t here when it broke out, but from what I was told, that’s what started the riots.” But they call it a burned-out cell. There is a lot of harm in this cell for this. The riots in 1973 accelerated the transfer of prisoners to the new, already under construction facility and the liquidation of the old penitentiary facility.

The Johnston team is also helping to investigate other sites, and she said it has conducted over 900 investigations in total. Big River Paranormal has approximately 20 volunteer people in Boise and many more in northern Idaho and Portland.

But Johnston agreed with the others saying Old Penn is possibly the most haunted place in Idaho.

“We’ve got a lot of activity out of here,” she said.

But just for visitors to know: daylight will not protect you from paranormal phenomena.

“We are open to visits every day and we constantly have people telling us that they have experienced something significant or changed,” said Jacey Brain, Visitor Service Coordinator at the Old Prison.

Brain had his own experiences near the gallows, including gusts of air and hearing voices when no one was around.

Looking at the history of the place, he said that even a few people imprisoned there reported haunting – though it’s hard to tell if they were haunted by ghosts or guilt.

“People who were imprisoned reported being haunted by a victim, partner or someone they met,” he said.

Brain explained that of the 130 deaths documented there, “ten executions and then everything else, from murder and suicide to disease and natural causes.”

There is an observation room where people could observe the hanged prisoners.jpg

Madelyn Beck


Mountain West Information Office

Returning with Hughes and her group, we heard a potential groan near what used to be death row where the last man was hanged in 1957.

Was that someone? Did anyone hear the groan? Hughes asked.

Luckily, when we heard it a few more times, it just felt like traffic sounds – much to this reporter’s relief.

The Old Pen night study of paranormal phenomena is on hold for the winter, as most do not want to spend hours in the cold. They usually run from March to October.

To check some electronic voice phenomena recorded in Old Pen or elsewhere, you can go here.

Old Idaho Jail by Night JPG

Madelyn Beck


Mountain West Information Office


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