Old Joliet Prison – Joliet, Illinois

  • By: Gareth Popovic
  • Date: 3 September 2023
  • Time to read: 6 min.


In the center of Joliet, Illinois, there is a location where the sounds of hopelessness can still be heard echoing through its deteriorating walls. Welcome to Old Joliet Prison, a gloomy and ominous reminder of an earlier time when people were imprisoned. We shall dig into the disturbing past of this notorious prison in this introduction; a place where the shadow of humanity found a home.


Old Joliet Prison, officially known as the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet, holds a storied past that spans nearly a century and a half. Its construction began in 1857, designed by prominent architect William W. Boyington, who is renowned for his work on Chicago’s Water Tower and the Chicago Avenue Pumping Station.

The prison’s gates first swung open to admit inmates in 1858.Old Joliet Prison became a symbol of both punishment and isolation. Inmates were subjected to grueling labor, often working in the adjacent limestone quarry that supplied the stone for the prison’s construction. One of the most chilling chapters in the prison’s history involved Richard Speck, the merciless mass murderer who horrifically ended the lives of eight nursing students in a single night within its walls.\

Over the years, Old Joliet Prison housed a diverse array of inmates, ranging from common criminals to notorious gangsters like John Dillinger and Lester Gillis, better known as “Baby Face” Nelson. The prison’s harsh conditions, overcrowding, and a lack of modern amenities led to ongoing controversy and numerous escape attempts.

Historical Photogram of Old Joliet Prison
Historical Photogram of Old Joliet Prison – Credit oldjolietprison

Haunting Legends and Supernatural Phenomena

Haunting Execution Grounds

In the dark history of the former Joliet Prison, executions were carried out on-site. On the grounds of the prison, hundreds of inmates died either lethal injection or electrocution. Numerous prisoners also perished, either at the hands of their fellow convicts or as a result of illness and aging. Stories of spectral singing, screaming, cursing, and haunting humming still ring out in the eerie calm of these deserted hallways.

The dreadful prospect of executions loomed large amid the prison’s gloomy past. On the identical grounds where prisoners once resided, hundreds met their deaths via lethal injection or the cool, deliberate application of electricity. These solemn rites were witnessed in the corridors, which used to reverberate with the footfall of wardens and the whispering of prisoners.

Yet, death within the prison’s confines was not solely the work of official hands. Countless inmates found themselves at the mercy of their fellow captives, falling prey to the harsh realities of prison life. Disease, too, claimed its toll, silently extinguishing the flickering hope of many.

The former Joliet Prison now stands as a mournful reminder of its terrifying past. Once replete with hopelessness and desperation, its abandoned hallways now contain whispers of a different nature. As spectral reminders of the lives that once called this area home, singing, screaming, shouting, and the eerie hum of invisible things still reverberate.

Headless Spector – George Chase

One gruesome incident stands out in the history of the old Joliet Prison: the execution of George Chase, the institution’s first convicted person. He was hanged in the latter part of July 1866. Nobody could have imagined that this would be the start of a terrifying mythology connecting his restless spirit to the prison grounds for all time.

As the days of July waned and the year 1866 neared its end, George Chase faced the inevitable. The harsh justice of the time decreed that he meet his fate at the end of a hangman’s noose within the prison’s confines. His execution sent shivers through the prison’s walls and left an indelible mark on its history.

However, it was not the end of George Chase’s story. After his hanging, an unusual fate befell him. Phrenologists, the curious minds of the era who studied the human brain’s bumps and ridges, sought to examine his brain. To do so, they removed his head. It was an eerie procedure that would have lasting consequences.

In the years that followed, George Chase’s ghostly presence began to make itself known. His headless specter was seen roaming the prison grounds, spooking many who crossed its path. The legend grew as more and more people claimed to have encountered his restless spirit.

Ghostly Cries – Haunted Prison Cells

The story of the singing ghost may be the oldest in the extensive tapestry of spectral lore surrounding the former Joliet Prison, yet it lives on in the prison complex. Even though not all of the ghosts in the prison are recognized for their singing, they nevertheless manage to communicate with us in other ways.

Among the spectral inhabitants of the prison, disembodied voices are a common occurrence. Throughout the complex, reports abound of these ethereal utterances, a testament to the lingering spirits. In certain cell blocks, visitors have reported hearing ghostly cries and mournful wails, echoing through the desolate corridors.

But there are more curious tales to be told. Some visitors, while exploring the cell house, have been startled by the sound of prisoners whistling. These suggestive whistles are said to originate from within the cells, a phenomenon that adds to the eerie mystique of the old Joliet Prison.

The prison’s spectral denizens continue to make their presence felt through disembodied voices, mournful cries, and even the haunting whistles of unseen prisoners. These tales serve as a reminder that the echoes of the past can be as chilling as they are timeless, ensuring that the haunting history of the prison lives on.

Joliet Prison Corridors
Joliet Prison Corridors – Credit Eric Allix Rogers

Popular Culture and Media Coverage

Renowned for its dark history and unsettling mystique, Old Joliet Prison has taken center stage in numerous television shows and documentaries dedicated to exploring the realm of the supernatural. Most notably, it played a pivotal role in the spine-tingling series “Eternal Enigmas: Unraveling Haunted Legends,” where fearless investigators dared to probe the prison’s ghostly tales and bone-chilling encounters.

Within the realm of literature, Old Joliet Prison has left an indelible mark, with titles like “The Haunting of Joliet Prison” by Ursula Bielski  and “Old Joliet Prison: When Convicts Wore Stripes” by Amy Kinzer Steidinger. These literary works delve deep into the spectral narratives surrounding the prison, weaving captivating stories of its tortured past.

Today, Old Joliet Prison stands as an unmissable destination for history buffs and aficionados of the supernatural. Its haunting presence in popular culture and media continues to beckon those seeking an immersive experience in its enigmatic and eerie ambiance.


It’s impossible not to feel the weight of Old Joliet Prison‘s history bearing down on us as we stand in front of its imposing, deteriorating structure. The stories of pain and misery, the spectral mutterings of lost souls—all serve as terrifying reminders of the past. With its unnerving presence, Old Joliet Prison will always serve as a somber reminder of the depths of human sorrow and the enduring history of a location where darkness once reigned.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Where is the old Joliet Prison located?
A. The old Joliet Prison is located in Joliet, Illinois.

Q. Is the old Joliet Prison still in operation?
A. No, the old Joliet Prison ceased operation in 2002 and is no longer an active correctional facility.

Q. Can visitors explore the old Joliet Prison today?
A. Yes, you can visit the old Joliet Prison. It offers guided tours, providing visitors with the opportunity to delve into its fascinating and sometimes chilling history.

Q. Are there any legends or ghost stories associated with the old Joliet Prison?
A. Indeed, the prison has a history of ghostly legends. The tale of the singing ghost from 1932 is one of the most famous, but there are reports of other eerie occurrences within its walls.

Q. Is it true that George Chase’s ghost still wanders the prison grounds?
A. While some claim to have seen George Chase’s ghost, there’s no concrete evidence to confirm this. His legend, however, remains a part of the prison’s eerie history.

Q. What other paranormal activity has been reported at the old Joliet Prison?
A. Visitors have reported hearing disembodied voices, cries, and even whistling within the cell blocks. The prison is known for its otherworldly and haunting experiences.

Q. Can I spend the night at the old Joliet Prison for a truly eerie experience?
A. Unfortunately, spending the night at the old Joliet Prison is not currently an option. Guided tours are typically offered during the day, providing a glimpse into its haunted history.

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