Cruel shackles, shooting prize capture PBS attention at Old Idaho Penitentiary

The “Antiques Roadshow” crew was at the Old Pen Friday afternoon shooting the second of three field pieces for the popular PBS program’s first visit to Idaho. About 5,000 people are expected Saturday at Expo Idaho, hoping to be picked as one of 90 owners with goodies to make the show for the 2014 season.

Friday’s taping was at “3 House,” an 1899 housing unit that later served as a shoe factory and was remodeled to be the first cell house with indoor plumbing.

Chicago appraiser Gary Piattoni chose three items from the Old Pen’s collection: a ball-and-chain with a story, a less-well-know restraint and a medal won by a penitentiary guard in an 1895 shooting contest with the state militia.


piattoni mug

The most valuable item, Piattoni said, was the  “Oregon Boot,” or “Gardner Shackle,”  invented in the 19th century by J.C. Gardner, a warden in Oregon, to limit escapes. Weighing up to 28 pounds, the shackle was worn on one leg; prolonged use could cause severe hip damage. The shackle was out of use by the 1930s.

Piattoni put the value of a boot like the one in the Pen’s collection at between $2,000 and $7,000.

The ball-and-chain, which was discovered outside the prison in the 1960s, is thought to have been discarded by an escaping inmate. It lacks the shackle and lock. Piattoni put the value at $500.

The shooting medal would bring $1,500 to $2,000, he said.

“We were looking for things that had an interesting story, ones that would make a nice presentation and people could actually learn about other things the museum might have to offer,” Piattoni said. “Really, the goal is to educate and enlighten people and show them things they’ve never seen before.”

The Pen was worth the trip, he said. “This has been a great site to visit. I love it because it’s got great architecture, it’s got strong history. I can imagine it would teach children a very important lesson….It seems like the place might be haunted by the folks that were here.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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