An extraordinary system of cultural and historical resources.

Old Idaho Penitentiary Exhibits

Old Penitentiary Exhibits

J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit

Photo Credit: Clay Almquist

Crafty Cons

View never-before-displayed artifacts! The new "Crafty Cons" exhibit explores the fascinating history of hobby work at the Old Idaho Penitentiary and current Idaho State Correctional Institute (ISCI) facility. Items on display include a cribbage board made by the infamous murderer turned religious convert Harry Orchard, and a jewelry box crafted by an inmate currently incarcerated at ISCI. Don't miss your chance to see these rare artifacts and dive into the evolving ways crafty work is designed to help rehabilitate inmates.

J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit

Prepare to be amazed as you visit one of the nation’s largest collections of historic arms and military memorabilia at the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit:  Arms and Armament through the Ages, located in the Old Idaho Penitentiary.  The wide-ranging collection and dramatic settings illustrate the development of weapons throughout history.  Visitors can walk through a World War I trench and begin to understand the difficulties soldiers faced during that conflict or they can experience the drama of an American GI sneaking up on German soldiers in a bombed-out European house.  The collection includes ancient Luristan bronzes, medieval arms and armor, Revolutionary War firearms and swords, Civil War artifacts, and an 1883 Gatling gun on its original carriage. Pistols, rifles, machine guns, mortars, and cannons from many of the countries involved in World Wars I and II are also featured.

J. Curtis Earl dedicated the exhibit to "the memory of all those who served and fought, and especially those who paid the supreme sacrifice, in the defense of our great country in order to preserve our freedom and ideals as a free people." Mr. Earl hoped his collection would encourage "kids—both young and old–whose insatiable curiosity and interest in 'stuff' and 'things' of God's creation and man's ingenuity will be an inspiration to collect, keep and preserve certain and varied special treasures for posterity." He worked closely with Idaho State Historical Society staff members to ensure his gift would be of great educational benefit to the people of Idaho.  Open daily until 4:30pm; for more information contact (208) 334-2844.

Recoil Magazine Article on the J. Curtis Earl Exhibit 

Idaho Crime, Boise Time

Built in 1870, the Old Idaho Penitentiary is one of only four territorial prisons open to the public today.  Through this exhibit, discover this unique historical landmark’s link to Boise as it explores the reasons for selecting the city as its location and the use of area resources such as the Table Rock quarry. Visitors will learn about the sometimes harsh punishments and prison conditions of the past and what life was like for inmates and guards during the 101 years the penitentiary operated.  Actual artifacts used at the “Old Pen” enriches Idaho Crime, Boise Time.

Marked MenPrison tattoos

The Marked Men exhibit is located in the former Barber Shop at the Old Pen. It explores the history, meaning, and method of prison tattooing through the centuries and around the world.  Contraband tattoo artifacts and photographs of inmates from several state and federal prisons are included in the exhibit. 

WWI Idaho Forestry Soldiers: Call to Action

A new exhibition was opened in the J. Curtis Earl Weapons Exhibit, located within the walls of the Old Idaho Penitentiary.  Boise historian, Eve Chandler’s WWI Idaho Forestry Soldiers: Call to Action is now available to the public daily from 12pm-4:15pm. A collection of personal letters, photographs, and an oral history from the Idaho State Archives help highlight the journey of one soldier in particular, Idaho resident Willis C. “Buck” Brassey.  This exhibition provides a very personal insight into Idaho Forestry Soldiers and their crucial role overseas during WWI.













Idaho's Merci Train is not currently on public display. Please call us at (208) 334-2844 with any questions regarding this artifact.