Visit Joliet, Stay for Ten to Twenty

Joliet working to turn prison into museum

Sure, it was once a place full of criminals, death, slop buckets and stockades -- but on the bright side, it’s kind of like Disney World!

Joliet city officials are vying to make what was once known as one of nation’s toughest prisons, the Joliet Correctional Center, into an interactive museum. A place that once housed inmates together in 4-foot-wide cells may now house fanny-packed tourists clicking away with their digital cameras.

The proposed museum will be based on the history of the prison, known to locals as Joliet Prison, which shut down in 2002. If city officials make it happen, the museum will have iPod audio tours, former prison guards serving as tour guides and interactive exhibits.

If they’re lucky, your kids may even get a field trip or two out of the place. If they’re even luckier, they’ll seize the opportunity to get their mug shots taken, the perfect prison day souvenir.

No, but seriously. They’ll actually take your mug shot as a souvenir.

Using the motto “Visit Joliet. Stay for Ten to Twenty,” the city is trying to revamp its image as an economically depressed and crime-filled area.

"This could be Joliet's Disney World," Rebecca Barker, a city marketing manager told the Chicago Tribune outside the prison Friday. "We want to embrace the fact that it's in Joliet. It's something to be proud of; it put a lot of people here through college."

City officials opened Joliet Prison Park on Saturday, an asphalt parking lot outside of the prison where four large signs stand explaining the prison’s history and Joliet’s amenities.

The actual prison is owned by the state and is not yet open for any exhibits, but Barker said a task force is working with a consultant to see if opening part of the prison as a museum is a possibility.

But Barker said the proposed museum will not glorify crime or criminals in any way, promising that none of the current or future displays will include information about infamous inmates.

Joliet Prison's claims to fame come from when parts of the movies “Natural Born Killers” and “The Blues Brothers” were shot at the prison.

So no, a visit to Joliet won’t lead you to a parade led by Mickey Mouse and Goofy, but if you’re looking for a good dose of history -- or a good, “hey, Mom, look at this mug shot from PRISON!” Christmas card picture -- a trip to Joliet may be a worthwhile one.

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