Old Joliet Prison in Joliet Illinois

Old Joliet Prison

Whistling ghosts and singing specters reportedly haunt this former Illinois state prison

Paranormal Activity at Old Joliet Prison

  • Photos taken around the prison are said to contain unexplained shadowy anomalies
  • Sounds of disembodied cries and wails have been heard from cell blocks
  • Ghostly whistling has been heard
  • Sudden negative, oppressive feelings have been encountered in certain buildings
  • Electronics are known to malfunction and have their batteries drain in the prison
  • A singing ghost reportedly roams the prison’s old cemetery

The Haunted History of Old Joliet Prison in Illinois

Travel up Collins Street in Joliet, Illinois, and you’ll find something shocking: prison. More specifically, the historic Old Joliet Prison. The complex’s castle-like structure looms over the surrounding neighborhood. It casts a shadow as long as the prison’s history.

Old Joliet Prison’s walls held some of the nation’s most infamous criminals. And after closing, it became the backdrop of some famous films and TV shows. The prison is a popular tour location, but some visitors say the prison is still haunted by its past.

Tales of the paranormal at Old Joliet Prison have been common since the complex opened to the public. It seems some inmates are still serving time, and startling tourists.

Timeline of Old Joliet Prison's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Old Joliet Prison through the years

Would you being brave enough to spend your night locked inside of illinois' most haunted prison?


Old Joliet Prison started life as the Illinois State Penitentiary. The prison was built in 1858. This was a few short years after the incorporation of Joliet, to solve overcrowding at a prison in Alton. It was constructed of local Joliet limestone. Limestone quarried by some of the same prisoners who would call the complex home.

The new prison became immediately iconic thanks to its imposing gothic architecture. A report in the Chicago Tribune made a glowing review of the prison when it opened. But as is often the case with prisons, the good conditions didn’t last.

The impenetrable walls of the most haunted prison in illinois


By 1878, Old Joliet Prison was jammed with over 2,000 inmates. Filled beyond capacity, the prison’s accommodations and support systems crumbled. Unsanitary and unsafe conditions became common. By 1905, talk grew about closing the aging prison. Slow modernization and overcrowding spurred the construction of a new prison in 1917.

Called Stateville Correctional, this new prison opened in 1925. While it was planned to replace Joliet’s prison, this plan never happened. Both prisons operated for the rest of the century.

Joliet, Illinois' imposing, walled off Old Joleit Jail is rumored to be haunted


Old Joliet Prison avoiding closure in 1925. It went on to house several notorious criminals. Perhaps most famously, it housed gangster Baby Face Nelson in the early 1930s. Nelson’s time in the prison was short. He escaped shortly after arriving during a prisoner transfer.

By the 1960s, it operated a large reception and classification (R&C) system. This meant it briefly held new prisoners before their final prison assignments. During this time, the prison processed as many as 20,000 R&C cases each year.

Paranormal investigators visiting this haunted jail in illinois have reported photographic evidence upon review


In the late 20th century, even as Old Joliet Prison kept housing prisoners, it saw a second life in show business. The prison became a setting and backdrop in films and TV shows of the era. Most famously, it was a notable filming location for the 1980 hit film “The Blues Brothers.”

But as its star rose, its function faltered. By the late 1990s, the prison still held over 1,000 prisoners, but had long since become obsolete. It was finally closing by gubernatorial order in 2002.

Old Joliet Prison's Castle like exterior


In its empty years, Old Joliet Prison remained a film and TV staple. It became a filming location for the first season of “Prison Break” and for the 2006 film “Lets Go to Prison.” The empty complex opened for tours in 2018 after coming under city control the year prior.

Despite years of vandalism, it became a popular tourist stop in the city. Since opening to the public, it’s had continuing stream of ghost stories. This has built to a palpable paranormal lore around the prison.

Singing Spirits of Old Joliet Prison

Reports of paranormal activity have been common recent years. However, ghost stories around the prison go back almost a century. The first big ghost story of to come out of this haunted prison began back in 1932.

In 1932 prisoners and townsfolk began hearing singing from the convict cemetery nearby. And this distant, ghostly voice quickly caused a media firestorm. Every night for a month that summer, the ghost could be heard singing. It was said to resemble church hymns spoken in a foreign language.

A less-than-spooky explanation was soon identified for the singing ghost. A prisoner who was in charge of the sump pumps in the nearby quarry had been singing on his nightly treks to the pumps. His voice carried through the undeveloped area, creating a ghostly echo in the night.

But, holes began appearing in this story almost immediately. Prisoners couldn’t go to and from the quarry alone. And, the quarry had been searched by 1930s ghost hunters nightly, and no trace of anyone was ever spotted. So, despite potential explanations, the legend of the singing specter endures, unsolved.

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Interesting Paranormal Evidence from Old Joliet Prison

Spirits around the Old Joliet Prison are also regularly seen. Enough that they have become fixtures of photos taken during tours of the complex. Strange mists and shadow figures appear in photos taken throughout the haunted prison.

High fences and barbed wire keep the spirits of Old Joliet Prison in place

Some of the prison’s ghosts show willingness to appear on camera. Yet, this former Joliet correctional center’s ghosts sometimes mess with camera equipment. Visitors to the prison have reported unexplained issues with their cameras and electronics. This occurs most frequently in the main yard. Reports show that these issues mysteriously resolve when the visitors leave the area.

A crumbling cellblock where humming and singing are sometimes heard within the haunted Old Joliet Prison in Illinois

Ghostly Cries from Old Joliet’s Cells

Despite being the oldest ghost story, the singing ghost is said to be lingering in the prison complex. Most ghosts within the prison walls aren’t as known for singing. Yet, they make their voices heard in different ways.

A Haunted cellblock with Illinois' most haunted jail - Old Joliet Prison

Disembodied voices are common throughout the complex. In some cell blocks, reports of ghostly crying and wailing have also been reported.

Some visitors to the cell house have even heard the sound of prisoners whistling. Reports say the suggestive whistling came from the cells.

The spirits of former inmates can still be heard through this haunted jail in illinois

The Angry Sprits of Illinois’ Most Haunted Jail

The ghosts of Old Joliet Prison have also known to give sudden and intense feelings to visitors. These feelings have ranged from senses of being watched to electrifying chills. In some cases, more oppressing feelings of negativity.

Visitors suffering from the negative feelings have a similar report. The feeling is akin to the emotions of angry prisoners. Could over a century and a half of prisoner fury still permeate through Old Joliet Prison?

Visit the Haunted Old Joliet Prison Yourself

It’s been over twenty years since this joliet correctional center closed down. However, the complex has experienced an unlikely revival. Tours of the old prison complex have become increasingly popular year-over-year. This is due to the continued lead of the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

Although only open to the public for a few years, prison tours a cornerstone of Joliet tourism. Old Joliet Prison also offers a haunted house attraction near halloween. The haunted attraction is widely regarded as the scariest haunted house in Illinois. And, as its fortunes have grown, so too have its ghost stories.

The ghostly reports around Old Joliet Prison have become more popular than ever. This is due to tourist stories and visits from Destination Fear and Ghost Adventures. So next time you find yourself in traveling Route 66 in northern Illinois, book one the guided tours. (All available on their website.) You might just experience something there worth singing about.