A fun thing I like to do on road trips is to seek out history with a touch of ghosts on the side. My first ghost tour was in Savannah, Georgia, and since then I have been hooked! Having plenty of time in the Midwest this summer, I decided to check off a bucket list place. Built in 1858 and closed in 2002, Old Joliet Prison sits on Collins St in IL, and it literally takes your breath away as you drive up. A limestone mammoth of a building, it was known as “Hell on Earth” and that most prisoners begged for the death penalty than be sent here. It housed famous prisoners like the Clown Killer, John Wayne Gacy, along with Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. It is also known for being showcased in the “Blues Brothers” film and the show “Prison Break.”
I looked online before heading over, as Covid runs the hours of operations with so much these days, and it said they were open. Now, I parked in the large parking lot, beyond their Joilet Prison sign, which seemed the obvious place to park. I can tell you that it isn’t. The front area of the Prison isn’t for the public yet, as they are working to restore the jail cell building. And since that’s the first building folks would have to walk through to get into the yard and beyond, this entrance is worthless. Also heads up, no public restrooms. They were kind enough to let me use a porta potty on site, but they don’t like to make it a known thing. Personally I thought you had to provide restrooms if you are a business of any kind, so there ya go. They had written their phone number and shoved it into the gate where you SHOULD be starting a tour and paying admission and the call led us to drive around the Prison, into the back, past a junkyard and then through a large gate that was open. They have zero signage on the corner which everyone must turn on to get to the back of the Prison, just know it is right there, as you see that first guard tower, that you turn. Also, you can park there…some folks for our ghost tour walked all the way back from the other sides parking lot…seriously it’s probably a quarter of a mile on a really uneven road so please just drive back there.
The daytime tour cost me $20 which was self-guided. They also offer Guard Tours, Haunted History Tours, and Photography Tours which can all be signed up and paid for on their site. Before you start, you must sign a waiver which I did at the Prison, but it goes much quicker online (which I did for the Haunted History Tour). I opted to try the daytime tour first and then the nighttime tour after that later that week so I could get my bearings on what I was looking at – plus you can’t read much of any of the signage in the evening. I was able to peruse and take my time looking and peeking into buildings while familiairising myself of the history. This tour is all outside except for the area you go into to see the prison cell blocks. They said that it is because of Covid that they were keeping everyone outside as much as possible, plus the staff can keep a better eye on those traversing the property. Yes, I had to wear my mask for both tours, but there were many spots where I was alone and took it off to breathe for awhile.
I roamed from building to building, hoping my eye would catch something. It was all very interesting, and I have to say I felt like I was in the movie “Shawshank Redemption.” I passed over the spot where the electric chair would’ve been and the visitors room where they watched. I walked along the area where the stockades once sat….such a sadness. All of these men had people who loved them, and what they all went through must have been horrific.
I toured for about an hour and a half, you could probably make it faster, depending on how much you want to read or look at. The creepiest part for me was the Cell Block area…right out of Walking Dead. Just walking into the area gave me a very heavy chested feeling, and honestly a little dizzy. It was so much colder in this building, and the smell was very much mildew. I stared thinking about the prisoners in their daily lives here, that this was it… that this was all of it. I feel that we visit places like this to remind ourselves of how truly lucky and blessed we are and to remember those that had it far, far worse.
I signed up for the Haunted History Tour ($35) right before my daytime one because I knew I would love a good hunt. Well, they will tell you that it is a “History” tour and not a “Paranormal” tour. So if you are looking to bring your ghost equipment for an actual hunt, you are allowed, but the tour moves pretty fast at times, so there wasn’t a whole lot of controlled time to sit and listen. I brought my SB7 box and it was hard to use it without the speaker, which I didn’t because I didn’t want to override the Tour Guide’s narrative and that’s just plain rude. I did the 8 pm tour, just starting to get dark, which is what I hoped for since it would be a 90 minute tour. They basically take you on a large circle of the Prison, starting with the Chapel area, to the Prison Cells, and then into the Hospital. I have to admit, walking the Prison yard, you feel like there are a hundred sets of eyes on you. By the time I walked into the Hospital (and for those of you who are Prison Break fans, this is the building they broke out of) it was already dark. The tour group was advised to use the flashlight on our phones to see into the rooms….and it was just about as creepy as you can imagine. A single hospital bed, the surgery lights, an abandoned x-ray machine….it was dark and it was every horror movie I have seen. I can see why they filmed anything here, it has the run down, creep factor down to a tee.
Next we headed to the Segregation building. The only other one we were allowed to go in. There is a tiny cell on the outside, showing what they lived in. The heavy doors in here we were warned not to close, on a past tour two teens did and were locked inside for 10 hours and the rescue team had to knock down a wall to get them out. It was a bit unnerving passing through each room- the rusty bed against the wall and the toilet in the corner. There only visual of life was out the small 5×5 window in the heavy, metal door frame. Those tiny windows freaked me out the most and I don’t know why. Through the ceiling we could see the second floor, tours don’t go up there anymore as the building has been compromised there and it isn’t safe to walk anymore.
The rest of the tour was outside, she had a binder full of photos of the famous criminals who were housed there along with a pic of the gallows and stockades. We concluded about just an hour and a half and you are free to take as many photos and video as you want, but not of her giving the tour. Meaning the entire tour ends up on YouTube is a no no. Anyways, this is something youd want to experience in the moment there and not on a screen.
So someone actually did ask me in the group about my opinion on the day tour vs the night tour. She had just come for the night one and wondered if shed see more or less during the day. So I am going to say that the daytime one was cool for me because it was the first time I had laid eyes on it- its that thrill and the “WOW” factor. You can explore or take a more in depth tour during the day, but right now, you can’t go into anything but the cell area. Maybe when more phases happen here in IL they will allow more for you to explore and see. The nighttime one was an actual history tour, sprinkled with the creep factor, which is what many, like myself, are there for. I think both are worth the money and it felt good to support the Museum during this difficult times when everyone is staying away. I also want to say I felt I was a SAFE option for those looking to do something outside but not near a lot of people. There were only about 6 people touring the ENTIRE Prison Yard when I was there during the day, and the ghost tour has a max capacity of 8 people because of Covid guidelines. I never felt “right next” to someone and it was easy to stay 6 feet a part from others on the tour.
I truly enjoyed the experience of the day vs night tours here and I highly recommend trying it out! A shout out to all of the wonderful people who work there, they couldn’t have been nicer or kinder, and we need more of that in the World. Check out the rest of my 2020 Road Trip HERE. Thanks for stopping by!
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Going from “What If? to “Why Not” is my life motto and I work hard at living that every day. I share everything from moving to Florida to live near Disney World to road trips across the States. I love the cool, quirky, and crazy stuff that I can find on my Adventures, and every dollar you donate helps support my efforts and hard work. Thank you to ALL who support me!