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Local News

Old Joliet Prison draws 14,000 visitors since opening to public

Management wants big ‘Blues Brothers’ anniversary event in 2020

Natalie and Steve Clews from England stopped at the Old Joliet Prison on Thursday while visiting locales associated with the movie, “The Blues Brothers.”

Because they were only stopping to take pictures, the Clews won’t be counted in the official visitor statistics. The Old Joliet Prison has had 14,181 visitors for tours and events and has generated $407,654 in revenue since being opened to the public in August 2018, according to the Joliet Area Historical Museum that oversees operations.

Most revenue is offset by costs, and even net revenue of about $40,000 will be devoted to building restoration.

But prison operators and state tourism officials believe that people such as the Clews will continue to make the former Joliet Correctional Center a destination spot.

“I’ve been a fan of ‘The Blues Brothers’ – John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd – since I was 10,” Natalie Clews said. “We went to a few of the places in Chicago, too. We went over the bridge.”

The Clews were there at the same time a group from the Illinois Office of Tourism arrived for a tour that would include discussion about staging an event next year for the 40th anniversary of “The Blues Brothers.”

“Pop culture is a huge draw,” said Jan Kemmerling, acting deputy director for the Illinois Office of Tourism, after her visit to the prison.

Kemmerling said she was impressed by what she saw at the Old Joliet Prison.

“I was very pleased to see other tourists out there on a Thursday morning,” she said. “It is working.”

More than 6,300 people have been to the prison for tours.

Through Aug. 31, 7,440 people visited the Old Joliet Prison this year for tours and other events, generating nearly $195,000 in revenue.

That’s compared with 2018, when the prison was only open for about three months at the end of the year, but attracted 6,741 people and generated $213,000.

One difference was the lower turnout this year for the Great Joliet Prison Break-In, the main fundraiser for the prison. About 2,000 people came this year compared with 3,500 in 2018, when the Break-In marked the first event to open the prison to the public since it was built in 1858.

Prison operators want to stage more large events in 2020.

“We’ve had one big event – the Break-In,” said Greg Peerbolte, director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum. “We want to translate that into four or five big events – once a month – out there.”

Peerbolte said tours have been successful.

The prison will attract more than 6,000 people for tours this year. Another 1,158 have booked spots on upcoming tours.

“We’ve been really, really happy with them,” Peerbolte said. “To me, just as big an accomplishment as the numbers and the money is that we’ve been able to offer safe tours and well-managed experiences.”

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