Old Joliet Prison Tour: History and Hollywood - Atlas Obscura

Joliet, Illinois

Old Joliet Prison Tour: History and Hollywood

Trace the footsteps of inmates, guards, wardens, and, yes, movie stars on this tour of a 160-year-old suburban Chicago prison.

Join Atlas Obscura on an exclusive two-hour walking tour of Old Joliet Prison, learning all about its history as a penitentiary and a film set.

Looming over the town of Joliet, Illinois, the Old Joliet Prison boasts a rich but troubled history. Made of locally quarried limestone in the gothic architectural style, the site was designed by Chicagoan W.W. Boyington, who also designed the Chicago Water Tower. It's easy to see why the prison's opening in 1858 impressed people around the state and country, but the image of Old Joliet quickly changed.

Within 20 years, the penitentiary was filled well past capacity, leading to unsanitary and dangerous conditions. In 1907, one newspaper reported, "The cells are not provided with sufficient air, and other features of life there are bad for the inmates." Although people continually called for the prison's closure, it continued to house offenders until the 21st century—including a few fictional inmates from films like The Blues Brothers and Derailed and the TV series Prison Break and Empire.

Led by a docent from the Joliet Area Historical Museum and Kelli Marshall (film professor turned Atlas Obscura field agent), this tour explores the engaging history of Old Joliet Prison, not only as a place for people convicted of serious crimes, but also as a playground of sorts for Hollywood.


  • Please check in with Kelli in the Old Joliet Prison parking lot, 1125 Collins St., Joliet, Illinois.
  • This walking tour runs rain or shine.
  • Guests ages 10+ are welcome.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes. Please note that since the site encompasses eight acres, a substantial amount of walking is required.  
  • Plenty of parking is available at the prison.
  • Photography is allowed and encouraged.
  • This tour is not ADA-approved, but 70 percent of it is accessible for all patrons.
  • All participants must sign a waiver of liability/hold harmless agreement before the tour.
  • This ticket is non-refundable, but you can transfer your purchase by following this handy Eventbrite tutorial.


Email Kelli Marshall at kelli.marshall@atlasobscura.com.

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Advance tickets only. All sales final. No refunds or exchanges.