About 3,500 people came and an estimated $100,000 or more was raised at the Great Joliet Prison Break-In on Saturday, according to a preliminary count from the event.
The turnout was an inspiration for those trying to convert the old Joliet prison into a destination for tourists and visitors, said Greg Peerbolte, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
“We were floored by the support and enthusiasm,” Peerbolte said while at the prison Monday to help clean up the place before the first official tours Tuesday. “Just looking around and seeing people here, seeing people enjoy themselves, seeing lines across the place with people waiting to get into the buildings, it was everything we had hoped for and more.”
Peerbolte said because of a rush in ticket sales in the last days before the event and the numbers of people who bought tickets at the front gate, he believes the targeted 3,000 tickets were sold along with the 500 complimentary tickets issued to event sponsors.
“We’re comfortable in saying we had 3,500 people in here,” he said.
He did not have a final number but said the event generated “what looks like will be in six figures” for prison restoration.
The Great Joliet Prison Break-In was designed to be both a fundraiser for prison restoration and a grand opening event.
The museum starts official tours Tuesday, and both are full, Peerbolte said. The plan is to do two tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Oct. 31.
Peerbolte said the turnout Saturday confirmed organizers’ expectations of public interest in opening up the prison, which was closed in 2002 but has been part of Joliet since it was first put to use in 1858.
“The enthusiasm we always hoped was in the community is in the community,” he said.
The city of Joliet in December leased the prison from the state to get some control of the facility, which had been subject to trespassers, vandalism and arson for years. The city and museum have been working together.
City Economic Development Director Steve Jones said he heard from many people interested in having another large event at the prison.
“The prison is becoming the type of asset that, if we could have more than one event a year like that, we would be well served,” Jones said.
One problem was water ran out on a hot night. More vendors would have been helpful to avoid long lines, Jones said. But people were pleased in general, he said.
“I’ve heard nothing but praise,” Jones said, adding he heard from many people who attended, “I hope you do this again.”