Old Joliet Prison parking entrance and sign
The Old Joliet Prison is a place of wonder with a rich history, full of stories with torture and horror. The prison is no longer in commission, but it does leave quite a haunting legacy. The Gothic architecture of the prison was designed by Chicago’s very own W.W. Boyington, he also designed the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue, so if you encounter the buildings and they remind you of one another…now you know why.
Old Joliet Prison north entrance
When digging deeper into the history of the prison, there’s quite a significance the prison brings to the table for the state of Illinois and Chicago as well. The prison gained popularity when featured in such films as The Blues Brothers and White Heat, along with being on hit TV shows such as Prison Break and Bones. But history isn’t the only selling point of the prison. What’s an old decaying and abandoned prison without some chilling ghost stories? So let’s go to prison to find out.
A Blue Brothers gas pump inside the yard of the prison
Historical Facts and Findings
The prison has housed some of Chicago’s most infamous criminals. According to the website Windycityghosts.com, notorious bank robber Baby Face Nelson was incarcerated in Joliet Prison for a brief period, but made his escape during a transfer and made friends with other infamous gangsters of the Depression-era like John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd. Other notable high-profile criminals the prison has housed include John Wayne Gacy, also known as the Clown Killer, and murderer Robert Speck.
According to the website Windycityghosts.com, In the 1990s, conditions were deemed unsafe and unsanitary to the modern standards of prisons. In 2002, Illinois Governor George Ryan closed the prison for budgetary reasons. After the facility closed, it brought the attraction of vandals. The city of Joliet took ownership of the property and obtained help from Joliet Area Historical Museum. This caused the prison to become a million-dollar restoration project that turned it into a museum and began tours in 2018.
Brutal Treatment of Inmates and The Roaming Ghosts Left Behind
The tour doesn’t sugar coat the gruesome aspects of how inmates were treated in the prison, they include the unsanitary conditions that paved the way for deadly viral outbreaks, daring prison escapes, and executions. The prison was also known for housing Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The tour mentions about the hangings and electric chair executions that were conducted in the facility with such gruesome details.
Legend has it that the spirits of those who have been unfairly treated and convicted have been spotted. Some tourists have said to have felt a supernatural phenomenon from those who have not been properly put to rest.
A Night at the Yard
If you’re looking for a truly immersive scary time, then I suggest taking the flashlight walking tour which I took, hopefully the weather cooperates to make it a memorable night. At the visitors desk, you are greeted with a map and flashlight, you can also bring your own flashlight if you wish. Once inside, the hunt was on to find the most interesting aspects of the facility and discover the stories that lie await. After a windy and cold night of trekking around the prison yard, some of the locations told stories on their own and had some interesting facts about them. These locations were my favorite among the many, in no particular order.
The East Cellhouse and North Segregation Buildings
East Cellhouse inside and outside photos
North Segregation, also known as Death Row, inside and outside photos
The School and Chapel Buildings
The Old Joliet Prison is an entertaining way to spend the night, regardless if you’re seeking historical knowledge or ghost stories, it’s almost like you’ll be on a mission from God to looking for a good spooky time. The Old Joliet Prison is located at 1125 Collins St, Joliet, IL 60432. For more information visit www.jolietprison.org.