Sitting on one of the last remaining undeveloped landscapes of the Gold Rush region, Folsom Prison holds a unique place both in the history of the West and popular music.
The museum is run by retired prison guards, who will tell you all about life in the prison. Contained in a small three-room building, the museum has hosted such Western history enthusiasts as Huell Howser and contains a great deal of ephemera from Johnny Cash’s historic concert, including a photo of inmate Glen Sherley writing Greystone Chapel, which appeared on Cash’s At Folsom Prison album.
The prison is also host to an animatronic prisoner (Sam) who will tell you about his life behind bars. While Sam is a light-hearted take on life behind bars, he used to have a “brother” who resided in one of Virginia City’s now defunct museums, who sat in a replica of one of Nevada’s first electric chairs, which you could have zap him for 25 cents. Other items include photos of the prisoners executed back when the prison performed hangings and records about the 1937 murder of warden Clarence Larkin.
While the museum’s immediate landscaping and buildings feel like an Old West state park, the area is also on tight security restrictions due to recent attempts to smuggle drugs in and out of the prison. The longtime art gift shop (where you could buy art produced by the prisoners) is gone as it was being used as a trafficking point in later years. Visiting the museum during the changing of the guards’ shifts also provides a sobering reminder that beside the history and beautiful landscape resides one of California’s maximum-security prisons.